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Last Updated: Monday, 10 July 2006, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Wendy Richard's dramatic soap life
Wendy Richard's decision to give up her role as Pauline Fowler in BBC soap EastEnders brings to an end two decades of turbulence, trauma and familial strife.

Bill Treacher and Wendy Richard in EastEnders
Pauline and Arthur gave birth to baby Martin in 1985
Since making her debut in the programme in its very first episode on 19 February 1985, Pauline has lost her mother, her twin brother, her husband and a son.

She has given birth, become a grandmother, married again and inherited a dog.

Along the way, she has seen her teenage daughter have an illegitimate child, her adult son reveal he was HIV positive and her husband suffer a nervous breakdown.

The long-suffering Pauline, who, as Albert Square's resident washerwoman, has seen more than her fair share of dirty laundry over the years.

In real life, Richard has seen drama as well, having been divorced three times, battled breast cancer and faced persistent criticism of her character's dowdy look.

Wendy Richard and Ray Brooks in EastEnders
Earlier this year, her character married Joe Macer (Ray Brooks)
Health concerns have limited her screen time in recent years, and she began to publicly question how long Pauline could be Albert Square's resident matriarch.

"You do sometimes think, I wonder how long I can keep this up for," she told the Guardian earlier this year.

But the fact that she has been such an enduring staple will make it hard for fans to cope with her departure, says Inside Soap editor Steven Murphy.

"It's huge in soap terms," he says. "She's a character people love to hate - you just assumed she would be there forever."

Jonathan Hughes, editor of All About Soap magazine, agrees. "She's an absolute legend," he says. "You can't imagine the show without her.

"People will miss her because she's been such an important part of EastEnders for so many years."

You can't really have her on the sidelines - you have to have her central or not at all
Steven Murphy
Inside Soap editor
Both editors agree, though, that Pauline's presence has been largely peripheral for some time.

"Her marriage in February was the biggest story she'd had in years," says Mr Hughes.

"Obviously Wendy's had things going on in her personal life so she hasn't had as heavy a work schedule.

"She may have been on a bit of a soap pension, content to be around but not necessarily drive the show."

Mr Murphy adds: "It's been an interesting year in EastEnders - a year of real change. Maybe this is the right time for her to go.

Wendy Richard
Richard has been in EastEnders since its first episode in 1985
"Pauline's such a strong character you can't really have her on the sidelines - you have to have her central or not at all."

As far as Mr Hughes is concerned, though, anything less than a dramatic exit will be a disservice to both Pauline and the woman who plays her.

"To do justice to the character, it would be best if she died," he tells the BBC News website.

Mr Murphy adds: "Part of you wants them to kill her because it would be so huge, but another part thinks they should give her some happiness.

"Maybe the ghost of her husband Arthur will come back and give her a heart attack, so she can join him in heaven."


SEE ALSO
Wendy Richard to leave EastEnders
10 Jul 06 |  Entertainment
Will you miss Pauline Fowler?
11 Jul 06 |  Have Your Say
World Cup fever hits Walford
14 Jun 06 |  Entertainment
EastEnders beats Corrie at awards
21 May 06 |  Entertainment
EastEnders star back at work
20 Nov 02 |  Entertainment

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