EastEnder Pauline Fowler has had to deal with more issues than most mothers, first her teenage daughter is impregnated by the local gangster, then her eldest son dies from AIDS, and to top that off her daughter in law leaves her youngest son to become a lesbian only to later change her mind.

But the battleaxe will be laid to rest this Christmas as Wendy Richard leaves the show ending a 22 year stint.

She first appeared as Pauline Fowler 21 years ago in the opening episode of EastEnders which launched on BBC ONE on 19 February 1985.

She has been part of some of the most memorable storylines which have dealt with ground breaking issues such as teenage pregnancy, middle age pregnancy, AIDS and homosexuality.

Wendy said: “When Julia Smith, the very first Executive Producer of EastEnders, first approached my agent to invite me to play the part of Pauline Fowler I never would have thought that 22 years later I would still be playing her, but nothing lasts forever and I’ve loved every minute of being part of this fantastic show, and will stay in touch with the many friends I’ve made.”

John Yorke, BBC Controller of Continuing Drama and Head of Independent Drama, said: “Wendy has been at the centre of EastEnders for 21 years, and consequently occupies a huge place in people’s hearts.

“To be a star in one show is an achievement that can sometimes be down to luck; to be a star in two separate shows – at two different times of life – denotes a level of skill and expertise that is easy to underestimate.

“Wendy is a consummate professional who has proved herself again and again in both drama and comedy.

“There are many things EastEnders will miss about Wendy, but above all it will be the sheer pride and love she showed for her character, her fictional family, and of course the show.”

Kate Harwood, Executive Producer, EastEnders, said: “For many years Wendy simply was EastEnders for the audience and Pauline’s indomitable nature typified the grit and fight that embodies the EastEnders spirit as she took on the world and battled through her many troubles.

“We thank her for everything she has done for the show and wish her well.”

Wendy Richard is also well known for playing the lovely Miss Brahms in BBC Television’s Are You Being Served? in the Seventies.

Her film credits include On The Buses, Carry on Girls, Carry on Matron, the film version of Are You Being Served? and Gumshoe with Albert Finney.

Pauline will die on Christmas Day after collapsing. It follows a fall out with her whole family, but the question remains over what problems she will leave behind.