A FOCUS ON
Dame Thora Hird, DBE
Dame Thora Hird, DBE (28 May 1911 – 15 March 2003), British actress and comedian of stage and screen, presenter and writer.
Hird became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1983 Birthday Honours and raised to Dame Commander (DBE) in 1993. Lancaster University presented her with an honorary D.Litt. in 1989.
In 1937 Hird married musician James Scott who she deeply loved, then a year later in 1938 they had a daughter, (actress) Janette Scott. Following 57 glorious years of marriage this great lady was sadly widowed in 1994.
Dame Thora Hird – Her Early life and career
Dame Thora Hird was born in the traditional seaside town of Morecambe, Lancashire, the youngest of three children of Mr and Mrs James Henry Hird’s. Her first appearance on stage was at the age of two months in a play her father was running at Royalty Theatre.
Hird had employment at the local Co-operative Group store before joining the Morecambe Repertory Theatre.
Theatre was in her DNA. Her father managed a number of entertainment venues in Morecambe, including the Royalty Theatre where she made her first appearance, and the Central Pier, while her mother, had been an actress. Thora described her father, who at the beginning didn’t want her to be an actress (stage or screen), as her worse critic and credited her talent to his management. Come 1944 Hird made her debut in the West End in an Esther McCracken play. No Medals.
Hird left Morecambe in the late 1940s, however, her affection for the town was without doubt, constantly referring to herself as a “sandgrownun”, the colloquial term for a person born by the seaside.
Hird made consistent appearances in films, including; Went the Day Well? (1942, known as 48 Hours in the USA), in which she brandishes a rifle defending a house from German paratroopers. Working with Will Hay the British film comedian and subsequently starring in The Entertainer (1960), alongside Laurence Kerr Olivier (22 May 1907 – 11 July 1989), in addition to A Kind of Loving (1962) with Sir Alan Bates (17 February 1934 – 27 December 2003).
Hird however really shot to fame with her television comedy roles (sitcoms) like Meet the Wife (1963–66), In Loving Memory (1979–86), Hallelujah! (1983–84), and for nearly 20 years as Edie Pegden in the BBC’s Last of the Summer Wine (1986–2003). However, she played a variety of roles, and winning Best Actress at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for her roles in two of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues.
Hird had a soft spot throughout her life for the Salvation Army which predominately lead to her starring as Captain Emily Ridley in the hit sitcom Hallelujah! (1983–84), Hird also portrayed Mrs Speck, housekeeper to Mayor of Gloucester in the TV film The Tailor of Gloucester – a television Christmas special first broadcast on 28 December 1989 on ITV, based on the children’s story by Beatrix Potter. She played the screen mother of Deric Longden in Wide Eyed and Legless (aka the Wedding Gift) and Lost for Words, which won her a BAFTA for Best Actress.
In a profession covering more than 70 glorious years, she appeared in more than 100 film and TV roles, without doubt a household name and British institution. A three-time winner of the BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress, she won for Talking Heads: A Cream Cracker Under the Settee (1988), Talking Heads: Waiting for the Telegram (1998) and Lost for Words (1999).
Hird’s film credits also include; The Love Match (1955), The Entertainer (1960), A Kind of Loving (1962) and The Nightcomers (1971).
This incredible lady appeared not once but twice on This Is Your Life: in January 1964 by Eamonn Andrews, and December 1996 with Michael Aspel surprising her on location for Last of the Summer Wine.
Dame Thora Hird – Her Later life
Using a wheelchair, Dame Thora Hird played a brief but energetic cameo role (December 1989) as the mother of Dolly on Dinnerladies, a British sitcom created, written and co-produced by Victoria Wood. Two series were broadcast on BBC One from 1998 to 2000. Hird played a bitter character who continually belittled her daughter.
One of her final career highlights was on BBC Radio 7: written for her by Alan Bennett entitled The Last of the Sun, in which she played a forthright, broad-minded woman, immobile in an old people’s home but still able to take a stand against the censorious and politically correct attitudes of her own daughter.
Dame Thora Hird died on 15 March 2003 aged 91, at a nursing home Brinsworth House, Twickenham, London, after suffering a stroke. A memorial service at Westminster Abbey held on 15 September 2003 was attended by more than 2000 people, including the likes of Alan Bennett, Sir David Frost, Melvyn Bragg and Victoria Wood.
Dame Thora Hird, DBE (28 May 1911 – 15 March 2003)
Header Image (C) By Allan warren [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons