The Importance of Being Pauline

By Mackenzie Lambert Wood

Wendy Richard's Pauline Fowler has been a cornerstone of EastEnders from the very beginning. While Lou Beale may have been the matriarch of the Beale/Fowler clan during the series' first few years, Pauline was the true backbone of the family. As the first episodes aired and the storylines unfolded, Pauline was there to bolster the family unit, and it was clear that she would be an important part of Albert Square, as well as the Fowler home.

From the first episode, Pauline has always been my favourite character on the show, though for a while there, Punk Mary the Punk was a close second. Wendy Richard's portrayal of an East End working- class mother of three was a far cry from the role that she had been famous for until then, 'Shirley Brahms', in the comedy farce, Are You Being Served? For the first several episodes of EastEnders, she does tend to keep the higher-ranged ranged voice of 'Miss Brahms' but she soon settles into the role of Pauline. Images of that other character are erased from your mind as you watch the daily struggles of Pauline and the Fowler family in the Square.

Through the years, we have seen Pauline and her family deal with many of life's joys and tragedies. Among them, the birth of her 3rdthird child at the age of 41; the deaths of her mother and her twin brother, Pete; her daughter's teenage pregnancy; her elderst son's rebellious teenage years, as well as his diagnosis of HIV. and subsequent death. Not to mention her marriage to the hapless Arthur, who never seemed to pick his battles well. His death was another blow to Pauline, though she stayed true to form, keeping up appearances and grieving in private. The Fowler family was a real family, and Pauline was the one to try and hold things together, even when she was laid up in hospital with exhaustion or working all hours at the local launderette. Wendy Richard played the role perfectly, causingmaking viewers to really care about her and the family.

In spite of Wendy's many protests, and visual proof of what the character wore during the series, Pauline Fowler did not live in a tatty cardigan. Where this idea came from is anyone's guess, but for the most part, Pauline tried in her own way to be fashionable. She also managed to have some fun. Remember the ladiesí darts team outing to Greenwich? And wWho can forget Tthe Glamorous Granny competition at the Vic? No cardigans that night! But tatty sweaters aside, Pauline's wardrobe in the beginning was very much in line with what someone would wear in her living situation. No flashy skirts and tops like Angie Watts, and no latest styles like her sister- in- law, Kathy. Pauline was a hard- working woman with an out- of- work husband, raising three children. She didn't have the money or the time to dress any way but functionally. Up until the last several years, her hairstyle and make- up also reflected this. I must say it is a bit off- putting now to see the year- round tan and ever shortening hairstyles of Wendy Richard that have crept into her portrayal of Pauline.

In the course of writing this, I have gone back and watched some of my old tapes of EastEnders, as I have the first 10 years or so on VHS, and it is so interesting to see Pauline in the early years of the show. Her character really is true to life, and she shows her inner strength and backbone from our first introduction to her. It is clear that her family is her life, and though her relationships with her children have never been as close and trouble free as she would have liked, it is also clear that she would move heaven and earth for each of them. Over the years, she has had more than her share of crises and drama... Arthur's Christmas Club fraud and subsequent nervous break down, the search for Mark and his fight with the HIV virus, Arthur's jail term and his affair with Mrs. Hewitt, Pauline's own flirtations with Danny Taurus, her brother Pete's connections to the Mmob, Martin's antics, as well as his one- night stand with SoniaSonya that resulted in the birth of Pauline's 3rdthird grandchild. These things, and much more, added to Pauline's burdens in life, but with all the deaths, births and dramas, she held her head high and put on a brave face for the people in Albert Square. It is hard to imagine life in Walford without Pauline Fowler.

Many people thought that Barbara Windsor's arrival in the Square, as the Mitchell trio's mother, Peggy, would over take Pauline as the unofficial mMatriarch of Albert Square. This fan, however, never saw it that way. To me, Peggy will always be a bit of an outsider. She has moved away from Walford several times and had too many long absences to be considered in such a role. Pauline has been there her whole life, and until the announcement of her departure recently, I would have thought she would be there till Dr. Legg arrived to sign the death certificate.pronounce the body. Saying thatEven so, we still don't know exactly how Pauline will exit 45 Albert Square.

As I watch the current episodes, I am starting to feel that maybe perhaps it is time for both Pauline and Wendy to move on. Her character has changed in the past several years, and though yes, people do change a bit over time, it seems that Pauline has undergone both a physical and emotional change that definitely isn't for the better. With no offenceoffense at all meant to Wendy Richard, (I am a big fan of hers), Pauline is becoming a bit too much like Wendy, and the writers have made some choices that have affected the very soul of the character. The same thing happened with Barbara Windsor after a few years on the show... she stopped wearing her Peggy Mitchell wigs and wardrobe, and simply looks like Babs Windsor serving drinks behind the Queen Vic bar.

Over the last few years, Pauline has taken more than a few trips to America to visit Michelle... am I forgetting that Pauline has won the lotto to be able to pay for these spur- of- the- moment trips? Returning with a darker tans, shorter hair and heavier make- up each time, it is clear that this was the choice of Wendy Richard and it distracts from the character of Pauline. The writers, too have written dialogue that has taken Pauline from a solid, loving, caring mother to a selfish, domineering, unreasonable shrew thatwho has alienated her youngerst son. and nearly driven off her more than patient second husband, Joe. She has spent more time literally looking down her nose with squintyed eyes at nearly everyone in the Square than she has folding smalls at the launderette these days. I am surprised that anyone would want to spend any amount of time with this woman, when she used to be the one that so many people came to for a cup of tea and a chat in her lounge. I just watched an episode from about the 2ndsecond year of the series, with Angie and Pauline sitting at the table sharing a concern over their teenage daughtersí interest in boys, over a bottle of stout. It is hard to imagine that same woman today, sitting at that table, sharing more than the sharp side of her tongue with whomever is in her sights at the moment.

Saying all thatThis being said, the Square does need someone like Pauline, or at least the Pauline Fowler that we have loved over the years. Who could step into the space she will leave? Going over the women currently residing in the Square, the only name that jumps out at me is that of Jane Collins. She may be in a dodgy story line now with Ian trying to pull the wool over her eyes yet again, but she is definitely the strong character with a big heart and decent morals that the Square needs. She can grow into this new role, once Pauline has moved on. and iIt is easy to see her as the one that the teenage girls come to for advice, that the teenage boys secretly have a crush on, and the regulars of Albert Square can depend on. With her fling with Grant Mitchell behind her, she can still learn from her mistakes and find her own footing, though I think we all believe she can do better than her current version of Arthur Fowler.

Pauline Fowler and Wendy Richard will both be dearly missed. The Fowler house will seem empty without Pauline's strong presence and begs one of the biggest questions of all....Will she be taking her cut- glass fruit bowl with her?

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