On this day in history….14th September 1910

On this day in history : 14th September 1910 – The birth of actor Jack Hawkins – who appeared in films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Zulu and The Bridge on the River Kwai…. He was voted No 1 star of the British Box Office in 1954….

Jack Hawkins – Image credit : Allan Warren – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

Hawkins was one of Britain’s best known and popular film actors of the 1950s…. He was born in Wood Green (now Haringey) London and at around the age of 10 he joined the local operatic society…. He made his stage debut in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience with the society…. Encouraged by his parents he then enrolled in the Italia Conti Academy…. His London stage debut came at the age of 11, as the Elf King in the pantomime Where the Rainbow Ends, alongside a young Noel Coward….

During the 1930s Hawkins built on his stage career, having made his Broadway debut at 18 in Journey’s End…. He had also begun to venture into film, making a number of quota quickies; at the time there was a requirement for British cinemas to show a percentage of British films in an aim to revive a flagging British film industry…. In 1932 Hawkins was to marry actress Jessica Tandy, they had a daughter in 1934 but divorced in 1940….

World War 2 saw Hawkins join the Royal Welch Fusiliers as an officer – he was to become Colonel in the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA)…. Then after being demobilised in 1946 he resumed his acting career, meeting actress Doreen Lawrence, whom he married in 1947…. They were to have three children, two sons and a daughter….

True stardom arrived for Hawkins in the 1950s – after the release in quick succession of three successful films:- Angels One Five (1951), The Planter’s Wife (1952) and The Malayan Emergency (1952)…. In these films Hawkins played strong authoritative characters who at the same time showed a sympathetic side…. These characters were different to the ones he usually portrayed – but the roles suited him…. His next film, The Cruel Sea (1953), in which he played a naval officer, was the most successful film of that year….

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He received his first offer from Hollywood in 1955, as the part of a Pharaoh in Land of the Pharaohs…. He then returned to the UK, made a few minor films – and then landed one of the main parts in The Bridge on the River Kwai, alongside Alec Guinness and William Holden in 1957…. He was awarded a CBE for his services to drama in 1958 and continued on to star in successful films such as Ben-Hur in 1959 and League of Gentlemen, 1960….

Ben-Hur trailer – Public domain

Hawkins was a star at the top of his game – but he had a vice…. He was an extremely heavy smoker, going through three packs a day…. In the late 1950s he began to experience problems with his voice…. This was unknown to the public at the time – but explains why he took more or less any work that came his way…. For a star of his calibre he took on some surprisingly minor roles – his concern being that if his voice went, then so did his income…. He reduced the amount of cigarettes he was smoking, from 60 to 5 a day and took voice coaching lessons….

He still managed to land some good roles in big films such as Lawrence of Arabia in 1962, in which he played General Allenby…. Then Zulu, in 1964, he was cast in the supporting role, as a priest who was none too brave – his days of the macho lead were over….

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In December 1965 Hawkins was diagnosed with throat cancer and in January 1966 his larynx was removed…. Amazingly his acting career continued, his voice being dubbed – although the dialogue was kept to a minimum…. Stubbornly he continued to smoke….

In May 1973 he underwent experimental surgery for an artificial voicebox…. However the following month he began haemorrhaging and was admitted to hospital…. A second haemorrhage occurred and Hawkins died on the 18th of July 1973….

A memorial service was held on the 14th of September 1973 on what would have been his 63rd birthday, at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London…. The address was read by Kenneth More and the lesson by Richard Attenborough….

Jack Hawkins – Image credit : Allan Warren – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….22nd August 1925

On this day in history : 22nd August 1925 – The birth of actress Honor Blackman – probably best known for her role as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and as Cathy Gale in The Avengers….

Honor in January 2000 – Image credit : Rob Young via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Honor was born in Plaistow, East London and was one of the four children of Frederick and Edith Blackman…. Her father, a civil service statistician, believed his strong Cockney accent had held him back in his career and he was determined to give his children the best opportunities in life that he could…. For her 15th birthday Honor was given elocution lessons by her parents…. This might not sound the most exciting of presents for a 15 year old girl – but it was Honor’s choice – she was offered either the lessons or a bicycle…. She chose wisely….

Following her lessons Honor was admitted to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama…. She graduated and landed the role of understudy in the West End play The Guinea Pig – and then in 1947 she appeared at the Apollo Theatre in The Blind Goddess….

Her film debut came in 1947 – a non-speaking part in Fame is the Spur…. She then went on to roles in films such as A Night to Remember, 1958, The Square Peg, 1958 and Jason and the Argonauts, 1963….

Honor as the goddess Hera in ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ – Public domain

Honor joined The Avengers in the first episode of the second series in 1962…. She played the part of Dr Cathy Gale alongside Patrick Macnee as John Steel…. Her character is remembered for her quick wit, her skill in judo and her love of tight fitting leather clothing….

Honor’s success in the series led her to be cast as Bond girl Pussy Galore in Goldfinger in 1964, opposite Sean Connery…. She was one of the oldest Bond girls to be cast, five years older than Connery – but according to public polls was perhaps the most popular….

Honor as Pussy Galore – Fair use

Honor’s theatre career continued and she became a familiar face on television in the 1990s sitcom The Upper Hand – which ran for 96 episodes….

In 1999 she portrayed Joy Adamson in the film To Walk with Lions and in 2001 appeared in Bridget Jones’ Diary’…. In her late eighties she toured in her one woman show Honor Blackman as Herself….

Honor married twice; firstly to Bill Sankey in 1948 only to divorce in 1956…. Then in 1961 he married British actor Maurice Kaufmann and they adopted two children…. This marriage ended in 1975 and Honor did not remarry again, saying she preferred to be single…. She died at her home in Lewes, East Sussex on the 5th of April 2020, aged 94….

On this day in history….9th August 1927

On this day in history : 9th August 1927 – The birth of actor, novelist and playwright Robert Shaw – who was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Henry VIII in ‘A Man For All Seasons’….

Robert Shaw – Public domain

Shaw was born in Westhoughton, Lancashire and was the son of a former nurse, Doreen Nora and a doctor of Scottish descent, Thomas Archibald Shaw…. He had a brother and three sisters and when he was 7 the family moved to Orkney, Scotland…. Shaw’s father was an alcoholic and a manic depressive – when Shaw was 12 his father committed suicide…. The family relocated to Cornwall….

Shaw was inspired by one of his schoolmasters, who would regularly take his students to see plays in London…. The first play Shaw saw was Hamlet in 1944, with Sir John Gielgud…. After a brief time of working as a teacher himself Shaw used a £1,000 inheritance from his grandmother to join the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art….

He graduated and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company – where he was to be directed by Gielgud…. After making his stage debut in 1949 Shaw was to tour Australia with the Old Vic and then go on to tour Europe and South Africa…. It was whilst performing in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ in Stratford during 1950 that he was spotted by Sir Alec Guinness – who suggested he ‘come to London to do Hamlet’…. Shaw had been discovered….

His first film role was a small part in the classic ‘Lavender Hill’…. It was also around this time that he married his first wife, actress Jennifer Bourne…. They were to have four daughters…. He went on to have parts in films such as ‘The Dam Busters’, ‘A Hill in Korea’ and a successful role as Dan Tempest in the 1956 film ‘The Buccaneers’…. It was around this time that he was to write his first novel, ‘The Hiding Place’ – which was to sell some 12,000 copies in the UK and around the same in the US and France…. He also began to write for television….

Robert Shaw in ‘The Buccaneers’, 1957 – Public domain

In 1959 Shaw met and began an affair with well-known actress Mary Ure, who was married to playwright and actor John Osbourne (Look Back in Anger)…. The pair were to work together and although both were still married had a child in 1961…. Shaw’s wife also gave birth around the same time…. They were to divorce, as were Ure and Osbourne – and in April 1963 Shaw and Ure married and went on to have three more children…. His film career continued; in 1963 he played the blond assassin Donald ‘Red’ Grant in the Bond film ‘From Russia With Love’….

Shaw had become a very familiar face to the cinema-going public…. He was to appear in ‘The Sting’ in 1973 and ‘The Taking of Pelham One Two Three’ in 1974…. But the role many will remember him for is as Quint, the Irish shark hunter in the 1975 film ‘Jaws’…. It was part he very nearly did not take on, as he was unimpressed with the script…. The film was to be one of the biggest box-office successes of the time, netting more than $100 million worldwide….

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However, he was to make little or no money from it, due to taxes he owed in the US, Canada and Ireland…. This was a bleak period for Shaw….his wife had died after taking an accidental overdose of prescription drugs – and he began to suffer from depression….

Despite his depression he continued to work….and he was to find love again, after falling for his secretary, Virginia Dewitt Jansen…. They married in July 1976 – he adopted her son and they were to have another of their own….

In 1977 Shaw began work on his next film ‘The Deep’ and also in the same year he starred in ‘Force 10 from Navarone’ – a sequel to ‘The Guns of Navarone’…. It was whilst making ‘Avalanche Express’ in 1979 that the film’s Director, Mark Robson, died….and production stopped…. As it turned out this film was also to be Shaw’s last – as by now his health was beginning to suffer on account of his alcoholism….

Shaw returned to Ireland whilst he waited for filming to resume…. It was while driving home to Tourmakeady, with his wife and son in the car, that he was taken ill…. The day had been spent playing golf with friends in Castlebar and shopping with his family…. As they neared home he began to experience chest pains – he pulled the car over and got out…. Shaw collapsed by the side of the road – an ambulance arrived 15 minutes later and he was taken to Mayo General Hospital, Castlebar, where he was pronounced dead…. Robert Shaw had died from a heart attack at the age of 51…. A memorial stone marks the location where he died….

Image credit : ClintMalpaso – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

On this day in history….31st July 1947

On this day in history : 31st July 1947 – The birth of English actor Richard Griffiths – perhaps best known for his role as Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter series of films….

Richard Griffiths at the 61st British Film Academy Awards, 2007 – Image credit : S Pakhrin CC BY 2.0

Richard was born in Thornaby-on-Tees, in the North Riding of Yorkshire…. His father was a steel worker who also took part in paid fights in pubs…. He and Richard’s mother had three other children, a daughter and two sons but all had died before Richard came along…. Richard’s parents were both deaf and mute, he grew up adept in sign language…. There was no TV or radio in the house – his was a very quiet childhood….

Richard left school at 15 – but returned to education to study drama at Stockton and Billingham College…. He then went on to the Manchester Polytechnic School of Drama…. Initially he kept all this a secret from his father – who was furious when he did eventually find out….

Following his graduation Richard landed a contract with the BBC for their Radio Drama Company…. He was then to join the Royal Shakespeare Company and was a natural in the comic roles, such as Falstaff…. He came to the attention of Trevor Nunn, the then RSC artistic director….

Richard’s early TV career saw him with small roles in ‘Minder’, ‘The Sweeney’, ‘Bergerac’ – amongst others…. He also had small parts in films such as ‘Chariots of Fire’, ‘Superman II’ and ‘Gandhi’…. His breakthrough came as Uncle Monty in 1987’s ‘Withnail and I’….Another of his best known characters was that of the disillusioned Inspector Henry Crabbe, a role made especially for him…. ‘Pie in the Sky’ ran between 1994-1997 and was about a policeman who was rather discontent with his work and between getting into scrapes and solving cases had a sideline of being the most amazing pie chef in his wife’s restaurant….

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A role as a ‘foodie’ suited Richard – as he was known for his rotund girth…. But he had actually started out skinny and underweight…. At the age of 8 he had been given treatment for his pituitary gland – and within a year had gained 60% more body weight…. He was picked on by his school mates but was more than capable of standing up for himself….

Richard met Irish actress Heather Gibson in a production of ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ – and they were married in 1980…. They were to have no children – but Richard was Godfather to comedian Jack Whitehall….

Many will associate Richard with the Harry Potter films…. He played the part of Uncle Vernon, married to Harry’s aunt Petunia and having grudgingly raised Harry from an early age was certainly not very nice to him…. He never explained to the boy how his parents had died or told him about the magical world….

When performing on stage Richard was not adverse to showing his displeasure towards the audience if his performance was disturbed – especially by a mobile phone…. In 2005 he ordered a man out of London’s National Theatre after his phone rang for a sixth time during a performance of Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’ (a role for which Richard was awarded with a Tony Award in 2006)…. In November 2005, whilst he was on stage in London’s Wyndham Theatre, a woman’s phone kept ringing – after the third time Richard stopped and had her ejected, to a loud applause from the audience…. Again, during a performance of History Boys, this time in New York’s Broadhurst Theatre he thundered at a member of the audience after their phone rang for a third time….

Richard was awarded an OBE in 2008…. He died on the 28th of March 2013 at University Hospital, Coventry after complications following heart surgery….

Richard Griffiths and Danny DeVito in The Sunshine Boys, Savoy Theatre, London, July 2012 – Image credit : Chris Beckett via Flickr

On this day in history….11th July 2005

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….

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