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Dora Bryan

Actress.

Born: February 7, 1924; Died: July 23, 2014

Dora Bryan, who has died aged 91, was an actress known for her roles in comedies such as Absolutely Fabulous and Last of the Summer Wine but she also appeared in British classics such as The Blue Lamp, the film which inspired Dixon of Dock Green, and played a part in the kitchen-sink revolution of the 1960s, appearing in A Taste Of Honey, the controversial film that tackled many of the issues that had been pretty much taboo until then: race, gender, sexual orientation among others.

She became best known for comedy though: she appeared in Carry On Sergeant, the first of the Carry On films, as well as The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery and Hancock's Half Hour on radio. For five years, she also played Ros Utterthwaite in the BBC1 sitcom Last Of The Summer Wine, finally bowing out in 2005, and appeared in Victoria Wood's sitcom Dinnerladies.

She was born Dora May Broadbent in Southport in Lancashire and for most of her career played plucky northern types, with the occasional Cockney thrown in.

Her mother ran a dress shop and encouraged the young Dora's ambitions to dance and act. By the age of 12 she was in a dance troupe and by 15 she was appearing in pantomime at the Hippodrome in London.

Certain of her ambitions, she left school and became an assistant stage manager at the Oldham Repertory Theatre before gradually winning small roles on stage and touring in rep as an actress.

During the Second World War, she worked for Ensa, the entertainment arm of the armed forces, and on her return to civilian life began to win roles in the West End. Her debut was in Noel Coward's Peace in Our Time in 1947. Bryan was also encouraged to change her original surname of Broadbent by Coward while working in a production of Private Lives, which he wrote. She also appeared in No Room at The Inn, a play about wartime evacuees.

By the early 1950s, her talent for comedy had been spotted and she was appearing in musical revues in London. She was also starting to win small parts in films including Odd Man Out in 1947, The Fallen Idol the following year and The Cure for Love in 1949.

Her first major role was A Taste of Honey, the 1961 film based on Shelagh Delaney's play about a northern teenager who becomes pregnant to a black sailor. Rita Tushingham played the teenager and Bryan played her domineering mother, winning a Bafta for best actress.

The 1960s was a good decade for Bryan: she appeared in one-woman shows and in 1966 starred as Dolly Levi in the London production of Hello Dolly! She also played Lorelei Lee in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes at the Prince's Theatre in the West End.

She appeared in her own television series in the 1970s called Our Dora but by this time she was suffering from personal problems. She had married the cricketer Bill Lawton but after a number of miscarriages, she had a nervous breakdown. She also struggled with alcoholism and recovered through Alcoholics Anonymous.

In the 1980s, she took a break from performing and ran a hotel in Brighton, which she later converted into flats. After running into debt, though, she returned to acting, appearing in panto but also more serious roles that won her some acclaim.

She was Mistress Quickly in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Mrs Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer among others. She also earned an Olivier award for best supporting actress in 1995 for her performance in The Birthday Party.

She continued performing into her 80s and had a guest role in Absolutely Fabulous as a bonkers friend of Eddie's mother, played by June Whitfield. She also appeared in Dinnerladies in 1999 and had guest roles in Casualty and Heartbeat.

In recent years, she had been living in a nursing home in Hove, East Sussex, as her health deteriorated. Her friend and manager David Hill, who confirmed her death, said: "She was razor sharp with an incredible brain. You were always aware when you were with her that she had been a big star. Dora was very quick-witted and very funny."

Among those paying tribute was comedian Jenny Eclair who said: "I met Dora Bryan backstage at Theatre, Royal Brighton - she was hilarious within 10 seconds."

A gala charity show was staged in Bryan's honour at Her Majesty's Theatre in London in 2009 which featured Sir Cliff Richard with guests such as June Whitfield, Rita Tushingham - with whom she had appeared in A Taste Of Honey - and Joanna Lumley. Bryan was a good friend of Sir Cliff with whom in the 1970s she organised a Festival of Light promoting family values after she became a born-again Christian.

She was made an OBE in 1996 and is survived by her sons Daniel and William.

Her husband Bill Lawton, to whom she had been married for 54 years, died in 2008 as a result of Alzheimer's. Her adopted daughter Georgina died of alcoholism when she was 36.

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