Actress and EastEnders star;

Born: October 30, 1914; Died: July 7, 2013.

Anna Wing, who has died aged 98, became one of the most familiar faces on British television as the indomitable EastEnders matriarch Lou Beale in the early episodes of the long-running BBC soap opera.

Lou Beale was one of the original characters when the show went on air in 1985. Wing was hardly a star at the time, but she went in to meet the producers and demanded they give her the role. She had been born and grew up in the East End of London and she talked of pedigree and birthright. It was exactly the sort of attitude that would come to typify the character of Lou Beale on screen.

In the end, Wing decided to leave the role after only three years and the writers killed the character off. Unusually for a soap death, she passed away peacefully in bed, but not before she had gathered the Beale and Fowler clan around her and told them exactly what she thought of them, offering words of encouragement here, and caution there.

Along with her neighbours Dot Cotton (June Brown) and Ethel Skinner (Gretchen Franklin), Lou helped create the soap's persona, and specifically the abiding image of the older EastEnders women: resilient, outspoken individuals who were not going to take any nonsense from anyone. That was especially true of Lou.

Wing herself was a resilient character too. She made up her mind as a girl that she wanted to be an actress, but money was tight and she worked in other jobs, including as an artist's model and nursery teacher, while raising a family and continuing to nurture the dream that one day she would become a star.

She was in her late forties before she began being cast in supporting roles in the likes of Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars, on TV in the 1960s. And she was into her seventies before EastEnders belatedly elevated her from chorus line to celebrity status.

With three years of soap opera exposure behind her, and bearing in mind that she was a decade beyond the normal retirement age, Wing left the show and went on to appear in a number of other television series, feature films and stage plays.

She was born Eva Lydia Catherine Wing in Hackney. Her family had been living in East London for generations. She decided she wanted to become an actress after seeing John Gielgud on stage and was helped by an anonymous benefactor, who paid her fees and helped support her parents while she attended the drama school attached to Croydon Theatre.

During the Second World War she trained and worked as a nurse, but only after a brief spell in a jail cell in Scotland. Her boyfriend was a seaman and she visited him at Scapa Flow. She arrived back in Aberdeen just as war broke out, and with no-one to vouch for her was locked up.

She married during the war and had a son, Mark Wing-Davey, who became an actor and theatre director. They would later work together. The marriage ended in divorce after just a few years.

After the war, Wing returned to working in repertory theatre in the south of England and had a long relationship and a second son with the fledgling poet Philip O'Connor. At times it was a struggle to make ends meet.

In the 1960s she began winning small roles in drama series and one-off television plays, and the occasional film, including Billy Liar (1963). She also worked at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre, where she was in Happy Days (1966), Phaedra (1966) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1970).

In 1969 she appeared at the Edinburgh Festival in the Nottingham Playhouse Company's The Hero Rises Up and in 1983 she featured in a production of George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House as part of the Edinburgh Royal Lyceum's centenary season. However, credits such as "Countrywoman" in Edward the Seventh (1975) and "Old Lady" in The Naked Civil Servant (1975) hardly suggested a breakthrough role might be just over the horizon. Later, she had a memorable and creepy cameo in Doctor Who as a ghostly figure that haunted the mind of the Doctor's companion Tegan.

The career of small parts and cameos changed, however, when Wing went along to the audition for EastEnders with her birth certificate and argued she was born to play Lou Beale.

The producers were doubtful that, in her seventies, she would be able to meet the demands of a twice-weekly soap opera, but she went on to appear in more than 100 episodes. The formidable dowager was more than a little uncertain of the changing world and tended to stay at home, which meant many of her scenes were shot with her sitting in her armchair.

Although she was more than familiar with the East End milieu, Wing was more outgoing than her best-known character. She was a Quaker and an active supporter of the CND.

After EastEnders she appeared in French and Saunders (1994), Casualty (1996 and 2000) and TV Burp (2002), and in the films Tooth (2004), as an elderly fairy; and The Calcium Kid (2004), with Orlando Bloom.

She worked into her nineties and turned up in 2007 in Silent Witness, in The Bill as a pensioner caught up in a drugs deal, and as the grandmother in the hit film Son of Rambow. In 2009 she became an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours. She is survived by her two sons.