Anna Karen, who starred in On the Buses and EastEnders, died in a house fire in London at the age of 85.

Anna Karen has died in a house fire in east London.

The British-South African actress best known for her role as Olive in the 70s comedy On The Buses, gained attention for her role as Aunt Sal, the sister of Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor) in EastEnders.

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.’

Her agent Shane Collins added: ‘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.’

An EastEnders spokeswoman 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 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.

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.

Neighbours are said to have raised the alarm when they spotted smoke pluming from her front door last night.

Sivalai Pavananthakumar, 33, said: ‘There was a lot of smoke, and flames, people in the street had seen what was happening and came out to try and help.

‘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.

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