She died on 26 February 2009 at the Harley Street clinic where she was being treated for breast cancer.
Richard, an only child, was born in Middlesbrough in 1943. Her parents, Henry and Beatrice Reay (née Cutter) Emerton, were publicans and ran the Corporation Hotel in the town. Emerton and Cutter married in Paddington in 1939. While Richard was a baby, her family moved to Bournemouth. They later moved to the Isle of Wight and then to London, where they ran the Shepherds Tavern in Shepherd Market, where Elizabeth Taylor and Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon are said to have been customers. Richard attended the local primary school, St George's, but her education was interrupted when her family moved again, this time to the Valentine Hotel at Gants Hill, then in Essex, now in Greater London. Another move, to the Streatham Park Hotel in south London, followed a few months later. It was there, in December 1954, that Richard's father committed suicide. Wendy, then 11, found his body. Her mother Beatrice never remarried, and died of liver cancer in May 1972.
Richard was enrolled at the Royal Masonic School for Girls at Rickmansworth after her father's death, as Henry had been a Freemason, and help with fees was provided by the organisation. She found the school unduly strict, and her art mistress called her paintings and drawings "affected, rather like herself." Richard dreamt of becoming a TV continuity girl or film star from a young age and, after leaving school at 15, helped to pay her way though the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London by working in the fashion department at Fortnum and Mason. It was at that time that she decided to change her surname to Richard, because "it was short and neat." While at the Italia Conti, Richard appeared on television with Sammy Davis, Jr. in the ATV programme Sammy Meets the Girls, and also in No Hiding Place.
Richard first became familiar to TV audiences playing Joyce Harker, a regular in the BBC's 1960s soap opera The Newcomers. Richard's first appearance in a television series, however, was as a teenager in Stranger on the Shore, which debuted in 1961. The theme tune of the series was the Acker Bilk clarinet solo of the same name.
In 1962, Richard's distinctive cockney vocals helped get her to No. 1 on the UK singles chart with the single "Come Outside" by Mike Sarne.
Richard appears in a scene cut from the released version of The Beatles movie Help! (1965).
In 1965, Richard appeared in an episode of the original Likely Lads series as a household cleaner saleswoman called Lynn. She also had a bit part the same year in Danger Man (US: Secret Agent) in the episode "Don't Nail Him Yet". Richard's first soap role was as teenage supermarket till girl Joyce Harker in The Newcomers, which ran on BBC1 from 1965 to 1969. She appeared in Dad's Army (first as Edith Parrish, and later as Private Walker's girlfriend Shirley), and Up Pompeii!.
She was a regular cast member of the 1970s sitcom Are You Being Served? as Miss Shirley Brahms, a shop assistant with a heavy Cockney accent. (Richard also appeared in the Are You Being Served? sequel Grace & Favour in 1992 and 1993; the programme was syndicated in the United States under the title Are You Being Served? Again!). Richard appeared in two Carry On films, playing a small role in Carry On Matron and a supporting part in Carry On Girls (both films also featured her future EastEnders colleague Barbara Windsor.) Richard's other film roles included No Blade of Grass (1970), Gumshoe (1971) starring Albert Finney, and the film versions of On The Buses (1971), Bless This House (1972), and Are You Being Served? (1977).
Richard subsequently found continued success as heroine and matriarch Pauline Fowler on the BBC soap opera EastEnders, a role she played from the first episode in 1985 until the character's death at Christmas 2006.
On 10 July 2006, the BBC announced that Richard had decided to leave EastEnders after more than 20 years on the show. An interview with The Sun revealed that problems with the EastEnders storyline (primarily Pauline's marriage to Joe Macer) were the main cause of her departure.
In 2007, Richard was awarded a British Soap Award for 'Special Achievement' for her role in EastEnders.
Richard appeared regularly on the BBC Radio programme Just a Minute from 1989 until 1994. She returned for further appearances in 2002 and 2003.
In 2000, Richard was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours.
In late 2006, Richard was seen as a guest presenter on the BBC's City Hospital series and on 31 March 2007, she presented the documentary A Tribute to John Inman, for BBC2. She also gave interviews for the first time in many years, making appearances on The Paul O'Grady Show, Big Brother's Little Brother, Loose Women, Parkinson, and the Biography Channel special Gloria's Greats with Gloria Hunniford, amongst others.
In April 2007, Richard announced that she would be appearing in a new role for the first time since leaving EastEnders, in a new sitcom penned by David Croft called Here Comes The Queen. The project came about after she personally asked Croft to write something for her. Richard had commented: "The part is like an older version of Miss Brahms". A pilot episode was made, which was considered to be poor, and it was never transmitted.
In late 2007, it was announced that Richard was to join the second series of ITV1's sitcom Benidorm playing a "loud-mouthed, rude" wheelchair-bound character; her episode aired in April 2008.
In January 2008, adverts for The Post Office featuring Richard (as a human cannonball) began to be shown. In February 2008, she landed the role of Mrs. Crump in the episode "A Pocket Full of Rye" of the Agatha Christie's Marple TV series starring Julia McKenzie. This was her final role, airing after her death in 2009.
Richard was married four times. Her first marriage was to a music publisher, Len Blach, in 1972, which lasted just five months. For six years she lived with an advertising director, Will Thorpe; though her co-stars on Are You Being Served? were aware that he physically beat her, she married Thorpe in 1980, finally leaving him after 18 months of marriage. Her third marriage, to Paul Glorney, a carpet fitter, took place in Westminster, London, in 1990. That marriage ended in divorce four years later. Richard later lived with John Burns, a painter and decorator 20 years her junior, in the Marylebone area of London. They lived together from 1996 until her death and married on 10 October 2008 at a hotel in London's Mayfair. She had no children.
Richard was a supporter of the Conservative Party. During the premiership of Margaret Thatcher, Richard was a frequent and conspicuous supporter of Thatcher's policies and accomplishments. At one point the EastEnders scriptwriters gave Richard a script in which Pauline Fowler launched into a tirade against Thatcher, and Richard refused to perform it.
Richard was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996; she had an operation and apparently recovered. She had a recurrence of the disease in 2002. Her cancer went into remission after years of treatment and she was given a clean bill of health in 2005. Articles about her departure from EastEnders suggest her health problems did not play any role in her decision to leave the series and that it was because her character in the soap remarried, to Richard's displeasure.
Richard later said she left because of stress and that she had been stress-free since leaving the show. She kept in touch with co-stars Natalie Cassidy, Todd Carty, and James Alexandrou after leaving.
It was reported in the Sunday Express on 5 October 2008 that Richard had been diagnosed with breast cancer again. In January 2008, cancer cells were found in her left armpit. Further investigation showed that this had metastasised to her left kidney and bones, including her spine and left ribs.
She made a half-hour programme called Wendy Richard: To Tell You the Truth, documenting the last three months of her life; it was broadcast on BBC1 on 19 March 2009.
Richard's agent, Kevin Francis, reported she had died on 26 February 2009 of breast cancer, aged 65, at a clinic, Harley Street, London. Her husband, John Burns, was at her bedside. Francis said: "She was incredibly brave and retained her sense of humour right to the end." On the day of her death, that evening's episode of EastEnders and a memorial programme, both dedicated to Richard, were broadcast on BBC One. Actor Bill Treacher, Richard's on-screen husband Arthur Fowler in EastEnders, said the actress was a "true professional." Richard's funeral, on 9 March 2009 at St Marylebone Parish Church, was attended by many in the media industry and many fans. Her body was later cremated at a private service at Golders Green Crematorium. It was reported the actress had already planned her funeral and written her will.
In July 2009, David Croft, the creator of Are You Being Served?, unveiled a Heritage Foundation commemorative plaque at The Shepherds Tavern in London, which Richard's parents had run. A number of entertainers were there to pay their respects on the occasion.Spectacular as Girl (1961; Episode - "Sammy Meets The Girl")
Hugh and I as Daughter (1962-1966)
The Arthur Haynes Show (1962)
Harpers West One as Susan Sullivan (1962; 4 Overall Appearances)
ITV Television Playhouse as Brunette Factory Girl (1963; Episode - "The Wedding Dress")
First Night as Carol (1963; Episode - "The One Night of the Year")
HMS Paradise as Genevieve (1964; Episode - "Call Me Madam and I'll Punch You on the Nose")
Danger Man as Sue (1964; Episode - "Don't Nail Him Yet")
Six as The Girl (1964-1965; 2 Overall Appearances)
The Sullavan Brothers as Renee (1965; Episode - "Put Them Away for Keeps")
The Likely Lads as Lynn (1965; Episode - "Last of the Big Spenders")
No Hiding Place as Smiler (1964; Episode - "An Eye for an Eye"), as Linda Hooper (1965; Episode - "The Hunted and the Hunters") and as Janet (1965; Episode - "Hi-Jack")
Pardon the Expression as Girl with Dog (1966; Episode - "Rustle of Spring")
Weavers Green as Jean (1966)
ITV Play of the Week as Miss Bufton (1963; Episode - "London Wall"), as Girl in Nightclub (1966, Uncredited; Episode - "Plays of a Married Life #1: A Catching Complaint") and as Betty (1966; Episode - "Plays of a Married Life #4: The Bright Side")
Turn Out the Lights as Veronica Woods (1967; Episode - "A Big Hand for a Little Lady")
The Wednesday Play as Delphine (1967; Episode - "The Voices in the Park")
The Newcomers as Joyce Harker (1965-1967; 92 Overall Appearances)
Up Pompeii! as Soppia (1970; Episode - "The Ides of Marsh")
Dixon of Dock Green as Jean Davis (1962; Episode - "The Outlaws") and as Barbara Walker (1971; Episode - "Nightmare Hours")
Please Sir! as Rita (1971; Episode - "The Pruning of the Hedges")
On the Buses as Elsie (1971; Episode - "The Busman's Ball")
Both Ends Meet as Maudie (1972; 7 Overall Appearances)
Comedy Playhouse as Shirley Brahms (1972; Episode - "Are You Being Served?")
The Fenn Street Gang as Myrna (1973; Episode - "Is That A Proposal, Eric?")
Z-Cars as Maureen Parker (1973; Episode - "Big Jake")
Bowler as Greta (1973; Episode - "Members Only")
Dad's Army as Edith Parish (later Shirley) (1970-1973; 4 Overall Appearances)
Not On Your Nellie as Doris (1975; 6 Overall Appearances)
Hogg's Back as Pearl (1975)
Spooner's Patch (1979)
West Country Tales (1983; Episode - "With Love, Belinda")
Function Room (1985; Episode - "Nurses Do")
Are You Being Served as Shirley Brahms (1972-1985; 69 Overall Appearances)
Grace & Favour as Shirley Brahms (1992-1993; 12 Overall Appearances)
Dimensions In Time as Pauline Fowler (Charity Short)
EastEnders as Pauline Fowler (1985-2006; 1,534 Overall Appearances)
Benidorm as Sylvia (2008; as "Wendy Richard, MBE")
Agatha Christie's Marple as Mrs. Crump (2008; Episode - "A Pocket Full of Rye")