On this day in history….10th November 1998

On this day in history : 10th November 1998 – The death of English actress and singer Mary Millar – who played Rose in the highly successful BBC TV comedy series Keeping Up Appearances….

Mary Millar as Rose in ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ – Fair use

Mary was born on the 26th of July 1936 in Doncaster, Yorkshire, to music hall singers Horace and Irene Weston…. Her parents had an act, Sweethearts in Harmony and as a child Mary would go on tour with them…. At first she had her heart set on becoming a stable hand – but changed her mind and began singing arias on stage at the age of 14….

In 1953, aged 17, Mary made her first TV appearance in Those Were the Days…. She went on to appear in The Dick Emery Show and The Stanley Baxter Show…. But she is probably best remembered as Rose, the youngest sister of Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances…. Rose, with her eye for the men (especially married ones) and her love of skimpy clothes, who brought shame to her social climbing snobbish elder sister….

The cast of ‘Keeping up Appearances’ – Fair use

In 1962 Mary made her acting stage debut in Lock Up Your Daughters; in the same year she married Rafael D Frame and the couple had a daughter in 1972…. Mary had a busy and constant theatrical career and was in the original cast of Phantom of the Opera…. Her final performance was in 1998 as Mrs Potts in the West End production Beauty and the Beast…. She left the production in February 1998 as her health was deteriorating – she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer the previous month…. Mary lost her battle with her illness in the November of 1998, dying in Brockley, London, with her husband and daughter at her bedside….

On this day in history….30th April 1947

On this day in history : 30th April 1947 – The birth of English actor Leslie Grantham; who amongst his varied acting roles was to play ‘Dirty Den’ in the BBC1 soap opera ‘EastEnders’….

Grantham as ‘Den Watts’ – Fair use

Leslie Michael Grantham was born in Camberwell, South London and in 1965, at the age of 18, he joined the Army – enlisting with the Royal Fusiliers…. He was soon to be sent to Germany but the young Grantham found himself in the situation of being unable to cope financially and he quickly fell into debt…. In desperation he resorted to crime….

It was on the 3rd of December 1966 that things were to go so catastrophically wrong – resulting in a man losing his lie…. Felix Reese was a taxi driver and Grantham attempted to rob him at gunpoint…. A struggle occurred and the gun went off; Reese sustained a gunshot to the head…. Grantham was arrested and charged with murder – he claimed he did not know the gun was loaded….

Grantham came to trial in April 1967 and was convicted of murder, receiving a sentence of life imprisonment…. However, because the sentence was greater than two years it could not be served in Germany and he was transferred to a British prison – Leyhill Prison in Gloucestershire…. He was also dishonourably discharged from the Army….

After serving ten years Grantham was released in 1977…. Whilst in prison he had become involved in amateur dramatics, performing in plays for other inmates…. One of his fellow prisoners was disgraced Labour politician T. Dan Smith, who was serving time for corruption charges…. He spotted that Grantham had a natural flair for acting and encouraged him to pursue it…. Encouragement also came from the actress Louise Jameson, known for roles such as ‘Leela’ in Dr Who, ‘Susan Young’ in Bergerac, ‘Rosa de Marco’ in EastEnders, ‘Blanche Simmons’ in Tenko and for Emmerdale fans she plays the part of ‘Mary’…. Louise Jameson and Grantham were to become good friends….

Upon his release from prison the encouragement Grantham had received from his friends led him to enrol in the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art…. It was at stage school in 1977 that Grantham was to meet his wife, Jane Laurie…. The couple were married for 31 years before divorcing in 2013…. They had three sons, Spike, Jake and Daniel…. Daniel plays the part of ‘Reggie Jackson’ in the BBC’s Call the Midwife….

Grantham’s TV debut came in 1982 when he played the character ‘Boollie’ in Jake’s End, a production for BBC2’s Playhouse…. A number of minor roles followed; he played ‘Frank’ in the short-lived sitcom Goodnight and God Bless, ‘Davros’ in Dr Who and the part of a signals sergeant in the series The Jewel in the Crown….

Then in 1984 Grantham’s big break came, when he auditioned for the BBC’s new soap opera EastEnders…. The original audition was for the role of market trader ‘Pete Beale’ (former husband of ‘Kathy Beale’ and father of ‘Ian Beale’)…. Grantham was not offered the part of Pete – but he was offered the part of ‘Den Watts’, landlord of the Queen Victoria public house…. His long suffering, alcoholic, onscreen wife ‘Angie’ was played by Anita Dobson…. Grantham’s character soon got the name ‘Dirty Den’, which was well-deserved with his long string of extramarital affairs…. One of the most memorable storylines being when he fathered the child of 16-year-old ‘Michelle Fowler’ (played by Susan Tully) who was the best friend of his own adopted daughter ‘Sharon’ (played by Letitia Dean)….

On Christmas Day 1986 some 30 million viewers (then more than half of the British population) watched ‘Den’ serve ‘Angie’ with divorce papers – delivering them with the words…. “Happy Christmas, Ange”….

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During 1988 his character began to be seen less of…. ‘Den’ had sold the pub and fewer main storylines were to come his way…. Grantham announced his intention to leave EastEnders, giving the producers of the soap a major headache – as Anita Dobson was also about to leave and they could not afford to lose two main characters in one go…. Therefore, intense advanced filming took place, enabling Grantham to move on in the autumn of 1988 – but leaving behind enough footage for his presence onscreen to continue into 1989….

The continuing plot of the soap saw ‘Den’ become involved with a criminal gang – imaginatively called ‘The Firm’…. The story unfolded over the summer of 1988…. ‘Den’ had to disappear from Albert Square after falling out with ‘The Firm’ – but was to ‘feel the heavy hand of the law’, landing him on remand in prison…. ‘The Firm’ ambushed the vehicle taking ‘Den’ to Court but somehow he managed to escape both the gang and the police…. But then, on the towpath beside the canal, he met his ‘demise’…. All we saw was a bunch of daffodils concealing a gun – and then with a splash ‘Dirty Den’ was gone…. No body was to be found – until a year later when a decomposed corpse turned up in the canal and it was presumed to be ‘Den’….

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We all thought ‘Dirty Den’ was finally pushing up daisies – but behind the scenes the BBC were trying to persuade Grantham to return to EastEnders…. In the meantime he had undertaken various other roles, such as Danny Kane in the TV crime series The Paradise Club (1989-90)…. He had a part in The Detectives in 1993 and produced and starred in the sci-fi mini series The Uninvited…. He co-hosted the game show Fort Boyard with Melinda Messenger from 1998-2001 and in 2000 co-starred with Anita Dobson in the two-part The Stretch on Sky One….

Then on the 29th of September 2003 – “Hello Princess”…. ‘Dirty Den’ had returned to Albert Square, walking into the E20 nightclub – now owned by his daughter ‘Sharon’…. It turned out he hadn’t died in the shooting but had survived and fled to Spain, aided by his mistress ‘Jan’…. The twists and turns of life on Albert Square continued, including ‘Den’ trying to get the Queen Vic pub back in December 2004 – which was now run by ‘Sam Mitchell’ – sister of ‘Phil’ and ‘Grant’…. Don’t mess with the ‘Mitchells’!

Photo credit : Matt Pearson – Flickr CC BY 2.0

It was in May 2004 that in real life Grantham became embroiled in a sex scandal, resulting in his three attempts at suicide…. It was confirmed that this time ‘Den’ would be leaving EastEnders for good…. On the 18th of February 2005 16.2 million viewers watched his second wife ‘Chrissie’ hit him over the head with a doorstop during a fight…. Grantham was bitter about EastEnders and spoke out against it – claiming it to be untrue to real life….

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After EastEnders Grantham appeared on stage in the Jeffrey Archer play Beyond Reasonable Doubt – and he also appeared in pantomime…. He appeared in a couple of episodes of ITV’s The Bill and did some film work…. In 2010 he played ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’ in A Christmas Carol at the Lincoln Theatre Royal….

Grantham was to play the part of ‘John’ in The English Neighbour – a series on Bulgarian TV – and Bulgaria was now where he had made his home…. In June 2018 he returned to England for treatment for lung cancer…. He died on the 15th of June 2018 at the age of 71….

On this day in history….21st January 1924

On this day in history : 24th January 1924 – The birth of Alfred Hawthorne Hill – better known to us as the slapstick comedian and actor Benny Hill….

Waxwork of Benny Hill in character as Fred Scuttle on The Benny Hill Show – Ricardo Liberato via Wikimedia Commons

Hill was born in Southampton – both his father and grandfather before him had been circus clowns…. Hill had a variety of jobs after leaving school…. He worked in Woolworth’s, did a spell as a milkman, was a driver, a bridge operator and even a drummer – before finally becoming assistant stage manager for a touring theatre company….

In 1942 he was called up – and served as a truck driver, mechanic and search light operator in Normandy, France…. However, his talent to entertain did not go unnoticed and he was eventually transferred to Combined Services Entertainment – the division which provided entertainment to the British Armed Forces…. It was at this time he changed his name to Benny – after his favourite comedian Jack Benny….

After the War he performed on radio – and made his TV debut in 1950…. He pursued a film career, with credits including ‘Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines’, ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and ‘The Italian Job’ – amongst others….

But his real glory came from his long running TV series ‘The Benny Hill Show’…. With its sketches of slapstick, parody, mime and double entendre the show ran in one form or another from January 1955 to May 1989 – and aired in over 140 countries…. In 1971 audience in the UK peaked at more than 21 million viewers…. However, declining numbers meant that in 1989 the show was axed….

Hill never married, although he proposed to at least two women – he had no children…. By the late 1980s his health had begun to decline – and in February 1992 he was advised to have a heart bypass after a mild heart attack…. He declined….a week later he was also diagnosed with kidney failure…. Benny Hill died alone, in his armchair in front of the TV, in April 1992….

Portrait of Benny Hill, from Press Kit – Fair use

On this day in history….9th December 1960

On this day in history : 9th December 1960 – The very first episode of Coronation Street is aired at 7pm on ITV – and is watched by 7.7 million people….

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The soap, which was first broadcast in black and white, was only ever meant to have run for 13 episodes – but is now Britain’s longest running soap, having been aired nearly 10,000 times….

The brainchild of scriptwriter Tony Warren of Granada TV, the idea was at first rejected by the TV station’s founder, Sidney Bernstein…. However, producer Harry Elton persuaded Bernstein to run a 13 part pilot series….within 6 months it had become the most watched TV show in Britain…. It has since become a true British institution and part of our culture – even the Queen watches! Many fans around the world can also view it; it has been shown in Australia since 1963 and from 1964 in New Zealand…. It can be seen in Canada, the USA, South Africa and the Republic of Ireland…. Satellite channels make it available in countries such as Cyprus and Malta – and also in Asia and the Middle East….

The soap focuses on the everyday life of working class folk in Weatherfield, a fictional town based on Salford, Manchester…. In its fictional history The Street was built in 1902 as a tribute to the Coronation of King Edward VII….

Cast of Coronation Street, 1960 – Fair use

The very first words spoken in the first episode – “Now the next thing you’ve got to do is get a sign writer in” – were by the character Elsie Lappin as she handed over the reins of the corner shop to Florrie Lindsey…. Also in this first episode Elsie Tanner nags her 18-year-old son, Dennis, who has just served a prison sentence, to get a job…. She also discovers her daughter, Linda, has split up with her husband…. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Ken Barlow argues with his father, Frank, at the dinner table…. The rebellious Ken was later to cause outrage in a 1961 episode when he uttered the first swear word of the soap – “bloody” – which received 83 complaints from viewers….

Ken Barlow in the first episode, 1960 – Fair use

The most watched episode ever was on Christmas Day 1987 – when 26.6 million tuned in to watch Hilda Ogden say “goodbye” to the Rovers…. Not bad viewing figures considering the negative reception it had from the media back in 1960…. The Mirror reported on it as “doomed from the outset”….as it objected to the depressing view of terraced houses with their smokey chimneys ~ and the dreary signature tune…. Even Granada’s general manager said he “couldn’t find a single redeeming quality” about it…. But obviously the British public thought differently….

Image from Wikimedia

On this day in history….23rd November 1963

On this day in history : 23rd November 1963 – The very first episode of the science fiction series Dr. Who is shown by the BBC….

‘An Unearthly Child’ was shown in four weekly parts and introduced William Hartnell as the first Doctor….with Carole Ann Ford as his granddaughter and companion….

William Hartnell as the first Doctor – BBC – Fair use

The first episode centres on school teachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton (played by Susan Foreman – with Jacqueline Hall and William Russell) discovering the Doctor and his TARDIS…. The rest of the story takes place in the Stone Age and follows the plot of warring tribes who have lost the knowledge of how to make fire….