On the Buses and EastEnders star Anna Karen dies aged 85 in house blaze

23 February 2022, 14:29 | Updated: 23 February 2022, 16:28

The actress died in a house fire.
The actress died in a house fire. Picture: Alamy/Getty/Rex/Shutterstock

By Emma Soteriou

On the Buses and EastEnders actress Anna Karen has died in a house fire in Ilford.

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She was best known for playing Olive in On the Buses, being the last surviving cast member of the show, as well as appearing in EastEnders as Aunt Sal - the sister of Peggy Mitchell, who was played by Barbara Windsor, her lifelong friend.

Emergency services were called to the scene of the house fire on Windsor Road just after 10.30pm on Tuesday, where it is understood Ms Karen lived alone with her dog.

London Fire Brigade said the cause of the fire was "under investigation".

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The Brigade 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."

Anna Karen was the last surviving member of the On the Buses cast.
Anna Karen was the last surviving member of the On the Buses cast. Picture: Alamy

A family friend confirmed the incident, telling the Mail: "We are absolutely horrified at the news about Anna."

Her agent Shane Collins said: "We're so sad about what happened to Anna. She was such a lovely lady and a great comedian.

"The only comfort is she will be happy to be reunited with her husband Terry Duggan and her best pal Barbara Windsor."

One of the star's neighbours, Sivalai Pavananthakumar, 33, told the Sun: "There was a lot of smoke, and flames, people in the street had seen what was happening and came out to try and help."

Others said they recognised her in the local area, acknowledging how lovely she was.

Anna Karen starred in On the Buses.
Anna Karen starred in On the Buses. Picture: Alamy

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."

Singer Cheryl Baker paid tribute to her friend online, saying: "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."

Rita Simons, who played Roxy Mitchell alongside Ms Karen in EastEnders, 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."

Carol Challis, wife of the late John Challis - best known for his role in Only Fools and Horses - tweeted: "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."

Jake Wood, who played Max Branning in EastEnders, tweeted: "So sad to hear of the passing of Anna Karen. Loved working with her, so funny and full of character RIP x"

Ms Karen's career spanned over 50 years, having also appeared in two Carry On films, The Bill, Doctors and Wild, Wild Women.

Despite spending the majority of her life in the UK, Ms Karen was born in Durban, South Africa.

She moved to London in her late teens, joining the London School of Dramatic Art before beginning her career.

She made her debut in a naturist film - Nudist Memories - working all the way through to 2017, where she made several guest appearances in EastEnders.

It was her time as Stan Butler's little sister in the 70s show On the Buses that made her name in the industry, with her becoming one of the comedy's main stars.