On The Buses star Anna Karen has died in a house fire in east London.
Firefighters were called to the scene on Windsor Road, Ilford shortly after 10.30pm last night.
It took the crew less than an hour to bring the blaze on the ground floor of a terraced house under control. But the actress had tragically died by then.
Fire chiefs say they are still investigating the cause of the tragic inferno.
The 85-year-old was best known for her role in 70s comedy On The Buses, but also appeared in EastEnders as Aunt Sal, sister of Peggy Mitchell, played by Barbara Windsor, her lifelong friend.
A family friend told Mail Online: ‘We are absolutely horrified at the news about Anna.’
Singer Cheryl Baker led the tributes on social media, tweeting: ‘I have just heard the awful news that my fabulous mate, #AnnaKaren has died in a house fire.
‘What an horrific way to die, I can’t bear to think about it. I adored her – She was an absolute treasure, both on and off the screen.’
EastEnders star Rita Simons, who played Roxy Mitchell in the soap, added: ‘I just heard the awful news about the wonderful Anna Karen. Horrific and awful and so so sad.
‘She was one of the best. Sleep well lovely Anna. Sending all my love to her family and friends.’
Carol Challis, wife of Only Fools and Horses star John, said: ‘So sorry to hear that Anna Karen has died. John and I met her often at conventions and she was such a lovely lady. Not fair.’
Karen is understood to have lived alone with her dog – who managed to escape the fire alive – and was unwell for some time.
Health concerns led to her pulling out of a big TV comedy which sources said would have been a fitting end to her career.
Friends added that she refused to go into a home, preferring to live in her own property, with regular visits from carers.
It is not known whether she died before the fire or as a result of the blaze – a fact set to be confirmed by coroners at a later date.
Anna Karen was best known for her role as Olive in the 1970s sitcom On The Buses
Anna Karen in January 2020 holding a copy of the On The Buses board game
The 85-year-old also appeared in EastEnders as Aunt Sal, sister of Peggy Mitchell, played by Barbara Windsor
Neighbours are said to have raised the alarm when they spotted smoke pluming from her front door last night.
‘The fire brigade and police were here quickly and kicked down the door, there was so much smoke.’
He added: ‘I recognised her and would see her everyday when I took my children to school, she was a nice old lady and always said hello.’
Another neighbour added: ‘I knew her from Eastenders, it was like having a celebrity living in the street, she was a lovely old lady and always spoke to everyone.’
Barbara Windsor’s widower, Scott Mitchell, told MailOnline: ‘I am desperately sad and shocked to hear of how Anna has passed away.
‘Barbara and Anna were lifelong friends and Anna was always what I considered to be Barbara’s only real girlfriend.
‘Anna had seen Barbara go through every stage of her life and their late night phone calls together before Barbara’s illness, will always be a fond memory for me of hearing them put the world to rights.
‘Anna and I had kept in regular contact since Barbara’s passing and she was a good friend and support to me when things were tough and we spoke a couple of weeks ago. It was a fun chat and I thought how upbeat she sounded.
‘We always shared memories and jokes about Barbara. Anna was one of three I asked to speak at Barbara’s funeral.
‘I will remember her straight talking, great humour and intelligence. May she rest in peace. ‘
Karen was born in Durban, South Africa as Ann McCall to an Irish father and an English mother.
She appeared in productions in South Africa before moving to London aged 17 and enrolling in The London School of Dramatic Art.
Karen made her screen debut in the titillating 1961 film about naturists, Nudist Memories.
She had a small part in Ken Loach’s gritty 1967 classic Poor Cow and appeared alongside Windsor in 1969 in Carry on Camping.
But it was the On the Buses sitcom – which centred on the Number 11 bus, at the Luxton and District Motor Traction Company – that would make her famous.
Her character Olive was the sexually frustrated younger sister of Stan Butler, played by Reg Varney and was one of the hit comedy’s main stars, alongside Stan’s sidekick Jack, played by Bob Grant, and their nemesis, Stephen Lewis’s Blakey.
When Lewis died in 2015, she paid tribute outside his funeral service in east London, telling mourners: ‘I just want to say that he will be very sadly missed.
‘He was an extremely talented and very funny man and wonderful to work with.’
Anna Karen made her name in On The Bus, which centred on the Number 11 bus, at the Luxton and District Motor Traction Company
Her character Olive was the sexually frustrated younger sister of Stan Butler, played by Reg Varney and was one of the hit comedy’s main stars, alongside Stan’s sidekick Jack, played by Bob Grant, and their nemesis, Stephen Lewis’s Blakey (pictured together)
After the Buses series ran its course, she appeared in various comedies and pantos with the likes of Ian Lavender, Kenneth Williams and Dick Emery before later playing Aunt Sal in EastEnders.
She was close friends with Barbara Windsor and one of her last known public appearances was attending her funeral in January last year.
She married fellow comic actor Terry Duggan in 1967, living under this surname away from showbusiness, and bringing up his daughter from a previous relationship, Gloria.
A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said: ‘Sadly, a woman has died following a house fire on Windsor Road in Ilford.
‘Part of the ground floor of a mid-terrace house was damaged by fire. Sadly a woman was pronounced dead at the scene.
‘The Brigade was called at 2240 and the fire was under control by 2338.
‘Three fire engines and around 20 firefighters from Ilford and Barking fire stations attended the incident. The cause of the fire is under investigation.’
A London Ambulance Service spokesperson added: ‘We were called at 10:43pm yesterday evening (22 February) to reports of a fire at a residential address on Windsor Road, Ilford.
‘We sent a paramedic in a fast response car and an incident response officer.
‘Sadly, a person died at the scene.’
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