Barbara Windsor's Funny Girls. Barbara Windsor. Copyright: Just Radio / Made In Manchester Productions.

Barbara Windsor's Funny Girls

BBC Radio 2 documentary. 6 episodes (2 series) in 2011. Features Barbara Windsor.

Press Clippings

Barbara Windsor winds down her series celebrating female giants of American comedy with the inimitably outrageous Phyllis Diller, now 94 and still living in her glamorous Los Angeles home. Roseanne Barr, Ruby Wax and writer David Sedaris all contribute to a profile of the woman credited as America's first stand-up, whose exhaustive CV also includes film, stage and record performances.

David Oppedisano, Radio Times, 18th October 2011

A few years ago a pub "fact" did the rounds that went something like: "at every minute someone somewhere in the world is watching an episode of I Love Lucy". Whether it's true or not, it goes some way to demonstrating the enduring popularity of a show produced in the 1950s and its star Lucille Ball. Following the success of her series on British funny ladies, Barbara Windsor starts her profiles of female American comics with Lucy's story.

We hear that behind the zany screen persona was a tough cookie: she became the first woman to head a Hollywood studio (Trekkies should be grateful - she gave the nod for Star Trek) and her TV show pioneered the multi-camera technique that has become the norm for shooting television comedy in front of a studio audience.

Tony Peters, Radio Times, 4th October 2011

Barbara Windsor's Funny Girls featured an unmistakable voice which works extremely well on radio. Whether sharing a joke with 5 Live's Richard Bacon during the recent coverage of Wimbledon, or filling in for Elaine Paige on Sundays, Windsor always oozes fun and professionalism. In part two of three programmes, she reflected on the life and career of her "old mate" from the Carry On movies, Hattie Jacques.

While the format was somewhat formulaic and occasionally got bogged down in details about Jacques' personal life, this was a moving rollercoaster of a programme as it charted the much-loved performer's professional highs and emotional lows.

Lisa Martland, The Stage, 21st July 2011

This three part series sees the Carry On actress look at three different female comedians. However, the first she has profiled is one that I had never heard of until now: Hylda Baker.

For those like me who were ignorant of her work, Lancashire-born comedian Baker was most famous for starring in the sitcom Nearest and Dearest alongside Jimmy Jewel (they played a bickering brother and sister), and for her stage act in which she played a Northern gossip, accompanied by stooge Cynthia, who was always played by a man in drag much bigger than her (one version of Cynthia was played by Matthew Kelly).

Amongst the things I learned about Baker was that she seemed to be quite egotistical. For example, she never allowed any of her Cynthias to do interview or talk to the public. When Baker appeared on This is Your Life, the Cynthia at the time revealed himself. Baker was furious at him and had him sacked. Also, like many sitcom stories, in Nearest and Dearest the main actors were arguing both on and off the camera. Baker and Jewel were constantly insulting each other. Jewel thought that Baker was unfunny and Baker thought she deserved top billing.

However, there was a fair bit of tragedy in her comic life as well. Her marriages failed, she had two entopic pregnancies after which it was discovered that she could not have children, so adopted two pet monkeys as pets (one of which ate all her tax info). Her memory began to fail so she had to use cue cards, and in her later life she suffered from Alzheimer's, eventually dying of pneumonia at the age of 81. The biggest tragedy of course is that she is no longer remembered.

This documentary certain shone a light on someone I had never heard of before and made me more curious to find out more info, which for me is the ultimate sign of any good documentary.

Ian Wolf, Giggle Beats, 12th July 2011

Iconic film and TV star Barbara Windsor celebrates three female comic actresses, continuing with Carry On co-star Hattie Jacques (1922-80), who appeared in 14 features in the parody/slapstick film series, most famously as the no-nonsense Matron. Jacques did time as a nurse and a welder prior to her theatrical debut at London's Player's Theatre. Radio appearances included the 1950s comedies Educating Archie and Hancock's Half-Hour, and in the 60s and 70s she starred with Eric Sykes in two of his major TV projects. The programme explores the turbulent private life of a woman considered warm, kind and endearing by her peers, and does not ignore the fact that Jacques was never happy that the subject of her weight problem was considered acceptable comic material. Contributors include her son Robin Le Mesurier, friend Joan Le Mesurier (her husband's third wife), biographer Andy Merriman and Carry On co-star Anita Harris.

Radio Times, 12th July 2011

On the Sunny Side of the Street plays in the background over an opening montage of quotes on the career of Hattie Jacques, from Sophie Tuckshop in ITMA on the radio to all those Carry On films. Barbara Windsor says she was "a national treasure", Eric Sykes (who played her brother in their long-running TV series) calls her "feisty", everyone says what a generous person she was. This isn't a totally sunny story, as anyone who saw that BBC docu-drama on her broken marriage to John Le Mesurier will recognise. But it is a kind one.

Gillian Reynolds, The Telegraph, 11th July 2011

My most vivid memory of Hylda Baker is that bizarre 1978 Top of the Pops appearance with Arthur Mullard, but there was so much more to the comedy actress, as Barbara Windsor finds out. She was a diminutive Lancashire lass with a booming voice who soon became a music hall regular, before starring in sketches and sitcoms (most notably Nearest and Dearest). Baker was often labelled loud and vulgar at a time when funny men overshadowed their female counterparts, yet is now considered by many to be an influential figure. Her silent stooge Cynthia was surely a prototype for Dame Edna Everage's Madge, and her performances brimmed with catchphrases - "She knows, y'know!", "You big girl's blouse!" - long before Little Britain and Catherine Tate cornered the market. About time, then, that her unique talent was reappraised.

Chris Gardner, Radio Times, 5th July 2011

Barbara Windsor to front Radio 2 'Funny Girls' series

Barbara Windsor is to present a new series for Radio 2 about great female comics.

British Comedy Guide, 17th June 2011