On this day in history : 11th July 2005 – The death of actress and dancer Gretchen Franklin – with a career spanning over 70 years but best known to us as Ethel Skinner in the BBC soap ‘EastEnders’….

Gretchen Franklin as Ethel Skinner in EastEnders : Image from the BBC

Gretchen was born on the 7th of July 1911 in Covent Garden, London, into a theatrical family…. Her father was a singer and dancer and her grandfather had been a famous music hall entertainer…. She was also the cousin of Clive Dunn….

She made her stage debut in a pantomime in Bournemouth, as a chorus girl, whilst still a teenager…. In 1929 she began dancing lessons at ‘The Theatre Girls Club’ in Soho – she was to go on to become a Tiller Girl at the London Palladium….

Gretchen married her husband, John Caswell Garth – a writer, occasional actor and the manager of an acting company – in 1934…. They were to have no children and he died of cancer in 1953; Gretchen never remarried….

Her acting career really took off during World War Two, when she was cast in the West End musical ‘Sweet and Low’…. Her film career began in the mid 1950s and she was then to go on to a long and varied television career…. Her appearances included ‘Crossroads’, ‘George and Mildred’, ‘Rising Damp’, ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ and many, many more – but what we really remember Gretchen for most is her role as Ethel, best friends with Dot Cotton and Lou Beale, in ‘EastEnders’….

Dot Cotton, Ethel Skinner, Lou Beale – Fair use

Ethel Mae Skinner – with her little pug dog ‘Willy’, her love to gossip (although rarely getting the facts right) and the odd tipple or two in the Queen Vic…. Ethel was one of the original characters in the soap when it first appeared on our TV screens in 1985…. She was eventually killed off in a controversial episode in July 2000 – when dying of terminal cancer she asked her life long, closest friend, Dot, to help her end her life with an overdose of morphine tablets….

Gretchen’s departure from EastEnders, at the age of 89, ended her acting career…. She died four days after her 94th birthday at her home in Barnes….

Image : Pinterest

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