There’s no doubt she still has the cleavage. Now Barbara Windsor has made a short film about the beginnings of her famous bosom. Everyone’s favourite Carry On star is one of 11 actors to take part in Sky1’s Little Crackers – a series of 15-minute films showing this Christmas based on a significant “first” in their subject’s life. Windsor’s opens the series on Sunday.
She smiles as she remembers the development process, when she and the makers were trying to decide which major moment in her life to go for. “I always say I haven’t got much of an ego, but the ego in you goes, ‘Ohhh,’” she does a little shimmy of pleasure as she recalls some significant firsts. “Right, first time I stopped the show in Fings Aint What They Used T’Be, I got this standing ovation. And the first time I opened on Broadway…” She feigns the breathless diva remarkably accurately.
“Of course then when you settle down and say, hold on a minute, you’ve got to make it so the public also identify with you.”
So, she decided to tell the story of buying her first brassiere (“They weren’t called bras, it was brassiere”). The young Barbara is played by Samantha White, and her mother by Sally Hawkins. Windsor herself plays the sales assistant at the bra shop. It was a gift for the EastEnderswriter enlisted for the task: a coming-of-age story about the assets for which Windsor is best known.
Windsor, 74, reflects: “I was always made to feel like they were the most ugliest things. It’s funny that – I know a lot of people that think of me as boobs.”
Today her ample bosom is clothed in a chaste, high-necked pink sweater, and there’s a hint of a belly nestling beneath. “I took after my father’s side and they were fat,” she whispers. “My fat Nanny.”
She is, in general, quieter than you would expect from her public persona. Her voice has all the dramatic variation of a professional actor but it is hushed, and she has a wonderful, throaty laugh, although she refrains from the saucy cackle of the Carry On days.
Still, the stories come thick and fast, layered with detail that brings them to life. The one that forms the backdrop to her Little Cracker is rich in the telling – 15 year-old Barbara, already in showbiz, was told off for her fast-developing breasts because she was supposed to be playing a 10 year-old.
Surprisingly, the tale presents a very fond picture of her father, who rejected her after divorcing her mother. “In that era, I was very much a daddy’s girl,” she says with a sad smile.
Shortly afterwards he would walk out of her life. Windsor paints a vivid picture of the scene on the courtroom steps after she was awarded to her mother.
“I always remember, he used to wear these tacks on his shoes and I heard these tacks, and he’d worn a terrible, bright yellow V-neck sweater, and he was red with rage because he had this terrible temper, and he walked straight past me. Then I never saw him for 30 years.”
That, she says, is what drove her to the kind of men she has long been associated with, the East End “bad boys” (though she disputes the term). Married to gangster Ronnie Knight for 21 years, she was also involved with Charlie Kray, the elder brother of the notorious twins.
But, she says, it wasn’t the element of danger so much as their manners that drew her in. “Guys like that, they come all dressed up, they’re very polite and so I got attracted to that kind.”
That has all changed now, she says, looking over at her current husband Scott Mitchell, who is sitting in on the interview.
Married in 2000, Mitchell is 26 years Windsor’s junior and the pair still seem very happy. “He’s the guvnor now, which is great,” says Windsor.
He was, in fact, the reason she cited for quitting EastEnders last year. “I should spend a bit more time with my old man; he’s not getting any younger,” she quipped at the time.
There is a touch of bitterness when she talks about the soap now. She says she doesn’t think she would go back for a guest appearance – “I haven’t ever been asked” – and seems sad that Peggy has been written out of history since she left – “It’s silly really not to talk about her.”
But she is grateful for the role that made her a national treasure. “You should walk down the road with me. It’s great, innit?” she says shouting over to Scott. “It’s fab. I won’t have cars with all those windows blacked out. Let people see me because you never know, they might be walking down the street, they might be miserable and something has happened to them, and they might see my little face,” she does a silly grin, “and go, I feel good.”
Little Crackers is on Sky1, Sunday 18 December at 9.00pm