On The Buses star Anna Karen dies in house fire aged 85

The actress was also known for playing Aunt Sal in Eastenders.

Anna Karen, the last surviving star of the hit ITV sitcom On The Buses, has died in a house fire at the age of 85.

The actress, who played Olive Rudge in the programme from 1969 to 1973, died in east London on Tuesday night.

Karen was also known for her role as Aunt Sal in Eastenders and appeared in some of the Carry On films.

The Metropolitan Police said the circumstances of the fire on Windsor Road in Ilford do not appear to be suspicious.

Karen’s agent Shane Collins told the PA news agency: “It is a terrible tragedy. I loved Anna. I’ve known her since I was a kid and she’s been the most wonderful lady.

“I’ve been privileged to look after her as her agent for the last few years.”

Mr Collins said Karen, who was born in South Africa, was best friends with the late Dame Barbara Windsor, adding: “It’s just very, very sad.”

Mr Collins said Karen “wasn’t able to move terribly well”, and asked if she was in the house alone, he said: “Yeah she wanted to be in the house by herself. She didn’t want anybody with her.

“She was very happy there by herself. She didn’t want to be in a home. We tried to talk her into going into various places and getting secure housing and all that.

“But she felt she wanted to be where Terry lived, where her husband lived.”

An EastEnders spokesperson said: “We are deeply saddened to hear that Anna Karen has passed away.

“Anna created a sharp, quick-witted and extremely popular character in Aunt Sal that the audience will never forget, just as those who worked with her at EastEnders will never forget her warmth, kindness fun and good humour.

“Our love and thoughts are with Anna’s family and friends.”

Scott Mitchell, husband of the late Dame Barbara said he is “desperately sad and shocked” to hear about Karen’s death.

He said: “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.”

Stephen Lewis, Doris Hare, Bob Grant and Anna Karen from On The Buses
Anna Karen, right, with from left On The Buses co-stars Stephen Lewis, Doris Hare and Bob Grant (PA)

Former EastEnders actress Rita Simons, who played Roxy Mitchell in the soap, tweeted: “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.”

Daniella Westbrook, who starred as Sam Mitchell in the soap, wrote on Twitter: “I’m devastated at the loss of lovely Anna, my condolences to her family may she Rest In Peace.”

Co-star Jake Wood, who played Max Branning, tweeted: “So sad to hear of the passing of Anna Karen. Loved working with her, so funny and full of character RIP x.”

Cheryl Baker, who won the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest as part of Bucks Fizz, tweeted: “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.”

Craig Walker, a fan of On The Buses who has written books about the show, said it is the “end of an era”, adding that Karen will be “remembered and cherished”.

He told the PA news agency: “She was always sort of regarded as the queen of On The Buses.”

London Fire Brigade (LFB) said they were called at 10.40pm and the fire was under control by 11.38pm with around 20 firefighters at the scene.

“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,” LFB said.

The Metropolitan Police said formal identification is still to take place, adding: “The cause of the fire is under investigation, though early indications suggest it is not suspicious.”

A London Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We were called at 10.43pm yesterday evening (February 22) 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.”

Fire brigade forensic officers were seen entering a terraced house in Windsor Road on Wednesday afternoon.

The building was taped off and two uniformed police officers stood nearby. A fire engine was parked across the road in the quiet residential street.

Neighbour Pavananthakumar Sivalai said: “I was in my bedroom and my children said they could see flashing blue lights (from the emergency services).

“There was a lot of smoke.”

The 43-year-old said firefighters broke the door and went into the house with torches.

He added that the police then told everyone to go back inside their homes as it was dangerous.

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