30 Facts About Anna Karen


Ann Harrison McCall, professionally known as Anna Karen, was a British actress best known for playing Olive Rudge in the ITV sitcom On the Buses from 1969 to 1973 including its film spin-offs and stage version and Aunt Sal in the BBC soap opera EastEnders on a recurring basis from 1996 to 2017.


Anna Karen reprised the role of Olive Rudge in The Rag Trade from 1977 to 1978, while her film roles included parts in two Carry On films: Carry On Camping and Carry On Loving.


Anna Karen's Irish father was an accountant while her mother was English.


Anna Karen developed an interest in acting at a young age, and joined the South African National Theatre at the age of fifteen.


Anna Karen starred in several touring productions over the next two years.


Anna Karen shared a room with two other girls in a girls' hostel in Paddington and enrolled at the London School of Dramatic Art.


Anna Karen began working as a kitchen porter, washing up at a local restaurant in the evenings to help pay for her rent and drama school fees, however she learnt that she could earn twice as much money if she worked as a striptease dancer at London's Panama Club, which she did.

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Anna Karen then had a role as a schoolgirl in Carry On Camping in which she has a fight with Barbara Windsor at the start of the film, although she can be clearly seen in later scenes, including the "bikini-flying" sequence; Karen and Windsor became good friends.


Anna Karen played the part of Olive, the role for which she is best remembered, in all seventy-four episodes of the series.


Anna Karen, who was actually a model in her spare time, donned an unstylish wig, an unflattering pair of thick glasses and large amounts of padding to become Olive, whom Anna Karen described as the "ugliest woman on television".


Anna Karen maintained a successful acting career alongside On the Buses.


In 1975 however, Anna Karen starred alongside her On the Buses co-star Bob Grant in a comedy pilot called "Milk-O" released under the Comedy Premiere series.


From 1977 to 1978, Anna Karen reprised the role of Olive in the LWT revival of the sitcom The Rag Trade created by the same writers as On the Buses.


The series depicted a group of female workers in a clothes factory; Anna Karen appeared in all twenty two episodes.


In 1981, Anna Karen had a main role in the sci-fi children's film Stainless Steel and the Star Spies about a group of robots intending to invade Earth to claim a crystal ball with extraterrestrial qualities.


From 1985 to 1986, Anna Karen had a main role in the sitcom Troubles and Strife alongside Annette Badland, however the series was not a success.


Anna Karen appeared in several children's television series towards the late 1980s, including Roland Rat and The Sooty Show.


Anna Karen played Aunt Sal, the sister of Windsor's Peggy Mitchell.


Alongside EastEnders, in the late 1990s, Anna Karen appeared in a number of educational films as well as an episode of Goodnight Sweetheart.


In 2006, Anna Karen used her experience as a striptease dancer to act as a judge in the final edition of Channel 4's reality television documentary Faking It.


Anna Karen was a regular in pantomimes over the years, and played the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella at the Millfield Theatre, in Edmonton, London, at Christmas 2008.


In 2014, Anna Karen had a role in an episode of Doctors while she later starred in the thriller film No Reasons.


Anna Karen regularly appeared at fan conventions until at least 2019.


In 1957, Anna Karen married Richard Smart with whom she lived in Italy for several years while he trained to be an opera singer; however the pair divorced and Anna Karen returned to England.


Anna Karen was best friends with Dame Barbara Windsor, having met her during the filming of Carry On Camping.

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Anna Karen regularly taught drama on Saturday mornings at Brewers Academy, based in Hornchurch, East London.


Anna Karen still filmed scenes for Peggy's death in EastEnders in March 2016 and again in May 2016; when the scenes were broadcast, she was seen with a walking frame.


Anna Karen was later seen in a wheelchair during her final scenes in EastEnders in January 2017 and at Windsor's funeral in January 2021, which would be her final public appearance.


Metropolitan Police said her death was not suspicious and later concluded that the fire was started after Anna Karen fell asleep with a cigarette.


Anna Karen's funeral took place on 18 March 2022 at Golders Green Crematorium and was attended by many of her co-stars, including John Altman, Jamie Borthwick, Peter Dean, Linda Lusardi, Kate Williams and Vicki Michelle.