27 FEBRUARY 2009

'EastEnders' favourite Wendy Richard dies aged 65

Gallery: A life on the screen

Jade Goody joined Wendy Richard's EastEnders colleagues in paying tribute to one of the greats of British TV following the actress' death on Thursday. The reality star revealed how a chance meeting with the actress in hospital where they were both being treated for cancer lifted her spirits.

"She was just brilliant to me. She told me to keep fighting and make the most of my life," said the 27-year-old, who also received a congratulatory phone call from her friend before her wedding last weekend.

In Albert Square, where she played launderette manager Pauline Fowler for 22 years, the sadness was palpable. And BBC bosses marked her passing by dedicating Thursday's episode to her.

Bill Treacher, who played Pauline's long-suffering husband Arthur, led the cast's memories of a dear colleague. "Wendy and I worked together for 11 years – and in all that time we never quarrelled," he revealed.

Todd Carty – her screen son Mark - praised the actress for her "heart of gold", calling her "a British institution".

Also among those offering condolences to Wendy's husband John Burns were Barbara Windsor, Esther Rantzen and Sir Terry Wogan.

Perhaps their grief was best summed up by Natalie Cassidy, her daughter-in-law in the programme. Wiping away tears outside the London home the TV favourite shared with John she said: "I loved Wendy with all my heart. I feel like I have lost a second mum."

Photo: Rex
As news emerged that one of Wendy's final acts before she passed away on February 26 was to congratulate Jade on her wedding, her EastEnders family led the tributes to her. "I loved Wendy with all my heart," said Natalie Cassidy, her on-screen daughter-in-law