Anna Karen (born 19 September 1936) is a South African-born English film, television and theatre actress. Prominent in soap opera and comedy her best-known roles are in the sitcoms On The Buses and The Rag Trade. She has also made recurring appearances in soap opera EastEnders from 1996 on a recurring basis.
Early in her career, Anna Karen worked as a striptease dancer at London’s Panama Club. She has appeared in many films and television programmes, including the BBC sitcom Wild, Wild Women, between 1968 and 1969. That same year she played a schoolgirl in the classic bikini-flying scene in the film Carry On Camping (even though she was 32 years old). In both these roles she acted with Barbara Windsor (herself a 31-year-old “schoolgirl” in the film).
Karen is best remembered for her role in the LWT sitcom On The Buses (1969–73). In this series, Karen played Olive, the dowdy bespectacled elder sister of Stan (Reg Varney), and wife of Arthur Rudge (Michael Robbins). She also appeared in the film spin-offs, On the Buses, Mutiny on the Buses, and Holiday on the Buses. From 1977 to 1978, Karen reprised the role of Olive in the LWT revival of the sitcom The Rag Trade created by the same writers.
In 1995, Anna Karen played a supporting role in the film Beautiful Thing, as a neighbour of the main characters, Ste and Jamie. A year later, Karen reunited with Barbara Windsor, this time in the popular BBC soap opera EastEnders. Karen plays Sal Martin, the sister of Windsor’s Peggy Mitchell. Although Karen has never been a permanent cast member in the soap, she continues to appear as ‘Aunt’ Sal Martin occasionally, usually for only one or two episodes at a time.
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. In 2008, Karen was a guest on the Channel 4’s Sunday Night Project, again with Barbara Windsor.
Karen has also been a regular in pantomimes over the years, and played the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella at the Millfield Theatre, in Edmonton, London at Christmas 2008.
Anna Karen lives in Essex, and was married to actor/comedian Terry Duggan until his death in 2008. Their daughter Gloria was Terry’s adopted daughter from his previous marriage to Pat Lyons. Karen teaches drama at Brewers Academy, based in Hornchurch, Essex.