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Edna Doré

Edna Doré.

Actress

Born May 31, 1921; Died April 11, 2014.

EDNA Doré, who has died aged 92, was best known as Mo Butcher, the iconic, hard-faced matriarch in EastEnders. She played the role for a little over two years between 1988 and 1990. But there was a lot more to her career than one memorable role in a soap opera.

In the 1940s, Doré danced near-naked with the legendary Phyllis Dixey in revues in London. In the 1970s and early 1980s she worked regularly at the National Theatre in London, when the Scot Bill Bryden was director.

And she was a member of that international acting elite that includes Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert and Tilda Swinton - actresses who have won prestigious European Film Awards.

Doré won the Best Supporting Performance accolade in 1989 for High Hopes, the Mike Leigh film that premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival the previous summer and marked Leigh's graduation from television drama to one of English cinema's most distinctive and successful directors.

Leigh's breakthrough owed much to Doré's memorable performance as Mrs Bender, one of the last council tenants holding out against the advancing hordes of yuppiedom in her Islington neighbourhood.

At the awards ceremony she was announced as "Edna Door" and was heard muttering: "You'd think that at least in Paris they'd pronounce my bloody name right."

Doré was as big a character off-screen and she was on. She could spin a tale as compelling as anyone on Jackanory, though she may have struggled to find suitable subject matter or language for children's television.

Mike Leigh noted in the Guardian: "Edna Doré swore like a trooper, smoked like a chimney, and didn't suffer fools ... her filthy jokes were legendary."

A keen gardener, she delighted in recalling how on one occasion the police occupied her greenhouse to watch a neighbouring property, which they suspected was being used for drug deals. They seemed not to notice or mind that her greenhouse was home to a healthy crop of cannabis plants.

She was born Edna Lillian Gorring in Bromley, Kent, in 1921, the daughter of a railway porter and a cleaner. At 15 she won a scholarship to the drama school attached to Croydon Repertory Theatre, where she began her career as an actress and assistant stage manager. She revealed on radio that she also lost her virginity to one of the directors there, noting that it took only five minutes.

During the Second World War, she entertained the troops as a dancer with ENSA, the Entertainments National Service Association, and subsequently appeared in Phyllis Dixey's shows. "I was one of the dancers who wore next to nothing," she later recalled.

In 1946 she married actor and director Alexander Doré and they ran their own theatre company in Wales for several years. In the 1960s she began appearing regularly on television and she was Mrs Sowerberry in the musical Oliver! in the West End.

At the National she appeared in everything from Cinderella to The Cherry Orchard and played Mrs Noah in the company's production of The Passion at the Edinburgh Festival in 1980.

When she joined the cast of High Hopes, she was initially sceptical about Leigh's emphasis on improvisation, but she warmed to the task and her performance was a triumph.

Just as High Hopes was winning acclaim, she debuted on EastEnders as Mo Butcher, who moves to Albert Square to be near her son Frank (Mike Reid), landlord of the Queen Vic. Mo took a variety of jobs and never missed an opportunity to interfere in the affairs of her son, his family, her employers or her neighbours.

But Mo also had her softer side and was Brown Owl in the local Brownies, until the organisation discovered her true age. The real Brownies were unhappy about their portrayal and complained.

Doré had to portray her character's gradual deterioration with Alzheimer's disease. The storyline encouraged families to discuss the condition more openly, but it was curtailed when Doré decided to leave the series.

"I shall always be grateful to EastEnders - it gave me recognition," she said later. "But compared with the theatre or film it was lacking in job satisfaction, because it was so quick." The writers had her character go off to live with her daughter and a few years later it was mentioned that she had died.

Doré's new celebrity status led to a string of offers of well-paid television and film work, including Gary Oldman's film Nil by Mouth (1997), Doctor Who (2006) and recurring roles in Peak Practice (2000) and the sitcoms Time Gentlemen Please (200-02) and Eyes Down (2003-04).

Her husband died in 2002. She is survived by their son Michael, who is a publican, three grandsons and a granddaughter.

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