Barbara Ann Deeks was born in Shoreditch, London, in 1937 – the only child of John Deeks, a costermonger, and his wife, Rose, a dressmaker.
She was evacuated to Blackpool during WWII, and after completing school, her mother paid for her to have elocution lessons and she trained at the Aida Foster School in Golders Green.
Barbara made her stage debut at the age of 13 and her West End debut in 1952 in the chorus of the musical Love From Judy, which ran for two years.
She took the stage name “Windsor” in 1953, inspired by the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
During the mid-50s, Barabara Windsor was the singer with Ronnie Scott’s Band for a while. She joined the band as a replacement for Annie Ross and apparently spent much of one tour ignoring knocks on her hotel bedroom door each night (though in the case of trumpet star Les Condon she says she rather regretted that he acted like a perfect gentleman as she rather fancied him!).
Her first film role was in The Belles of St Trinian’s released in 1954. She joined Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East, coming to prominence in Littlewood’s film Sparrows Can’t Sing (1963), achieving a BAFTA nomination for Best British Film Actress.
One of her most iconic scenes was in Carry On Camping in 1969, where her bikini top flew off during outdoor aerobic exercises. The top was actually pulled off with a fishing line and hook, controlled by an elderly props man. It was a cold autumn day and the mud on the ground had been sprayed green to look like grass.
On the first attempt, the bikini top failed to come off and Barbara, who was 4′ 11″, was pulled over, falling into the mud. “Get her up, mop her down and let’s go again,” shouted director Gerald Thomas.
Before her marriage to Ronnie Knight in March 1964, Barbara had a one-night stand with notorious East End gangster Reggie Kray (pictured at right) and a longer affair with his older brother Charlie Kray.
Between 1973 and 1976, whilst married to Knight, she had a much-publicised affair with Carry On co-star Sid James. She apparently also enjoyed liaisons with Victor Mature, footballer Georgie Best and Bee Gee Maurice Gibb.
In 1994, Barabara joined the regular cast of EastEnders as Peggy Mitchell – a role for which she won the Best Actress award at the 1999 British Soap Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2009 British Soap Awards.
She was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2000 New Year Honours.
A debilitating case of the Epstein-Barr virus forced a two-year absence from the role between 2003 and 2005, although Windsor was able to make a two-episode guest appearance in 2004.
She rejoined the cast full-time in the summer of 2005. In October 2009, Windsor announced she would leave the show, saying she wanted to spend more time with her husband.
In April 2014, Windsor was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and she elected not to make the condition public, but it was known to her friends and colleagues. On 10 May 2018, Windsor’s husband, Scott Mitchell, publicly revealed her condition.
She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to charity and entertainment.
Dame Barbara Windsor died in a London care home on Thursday 10 December 2020. She was 83.