On this day in history : 28th May 1911 – The birth of actress, comedienne, presenter and writer Dame Thora Hird – who with a career spanning more than 70 years was to become a British institution….

Dame Thora Hird, 1974 – Image : Allan Warren, own work CC BY-SA 3.0

Thora was born in Morecambe, Lancashire…. Her mother, Mary Mayor, had been an actress and her father Henry Hird, managed entertainment venues in Morecambe…. Thora’s first stage appearance was at just 2 months old, during a play at the Royalty Theatre, one of the venues her father managed….

On leaving school Thora worked in the local Co-op store and in 1937 she married James Scott…. The couple had a daughter in December 1938, Jeanette Scott, who was also to become a successful actress….

Thora joined the Morecambe Repertory Theatre and then made her West End debut in 1944 in the play ‘No Medals’…. She was to make several film appearances, alongside big names such as Laurence Olivier, before finding her niche in TV comedy…. We probably remember her best for sitcoms such as ‘Meet the Wife’, ‘In Loving Memory’, “Hallelujah!’ and of course as Edie Pegden in ‘Last of the Summer Wine’…. But whilst we may particularly remember her for comedy roles Thora was a versatile actress, winning a BAFTA for best actress in two of Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’ monologues – and she won another BAFTA for her role in the 1999 TV film ‘Lost for Words’…. She was awarded an OBE in 1983 and made Dame Commander in 1993….

She had a heart bypass operation in 1992 and was widowed in 1994…. Suffering from severe arthritis Thora became a wheelchair user in later life…. However, this was not going to stop her from acting…. In December 1998 she played the part of Dolly’s mother in Victoria Wood’s hit TV comedy’Dinner Ladies’…. Her final acting role was for radio, ‘The Last of the Sun’ – a monologue written for her by Alan Bennett…. Thora died on the 15th of March 2003, aged 91….

1964 Bournemouth Pier Theatre programme – Image : Alwyn Ladell via Flickr
Radio Times, 4th May 1968 – Image : Bradford Timeline via Flickr

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