With the recent news that television, film and theatre actress Dilys Laye has passed away at the age of 74 we take a closure look at her career; from roles in the Carry On’s to stints on Broadway and roles in soaps such as EastEnders and Coronation Street.
It was recently announced that veteran actress Dilys Laye had passed away at the age of 74 following a battle with cancer. The actress had a long and varied career appearing on stage, film and television from roles ranging from comedy to serious. Here we take a closure look at her long and varied career from the Carry On films right through to Coronation Street. Dilys Laye was born in 1934 in Muswell Hill, North London [near Alexandra Palace] and added an e onto her surname once she took on acting. She made her film and stage debut in the same year, 1948. On stage she appeared in The Burning Brush at the New Lindsey Theatre in West London.
The actress is probably best known to some viewers for her appearances in four Carry On films. Her first appearance in the film series was in 1962 in the first of the films to be shot in colour, Carry on Cursing. She took on the role of Flo Castle after Joan Sims had to drop out due to illness; Laye was cast just four days before filming started. The film starred Carry On regulars such as Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor and Sid James but the rest of the regulars, such as Charles Hawtry and Hattie Jacques, were notably absent. However, recurring Carry On actors such as Liz Fraser and Esma Cannon were amongst the cast. In the film her character, Flo, is on the boat with best friend Glad [Liz Fraser] hoping to find romance and although she initially peruses the captain [Sid James] she eventually ends up with the ship’s Doctor [Kenneth Connor].
Two years later she returned to the series for her second film, shot in black and white, the James Bond parody, Carry on Spying. Once again the film was bursting with regulars with Jim Dale, Charles Hawtry and Kenneth Williams the only real regulars in the film but it did introduce Barbara Windsor to the series and she would go on to be a regular. Also amongst the cast was Bernard Cribbins who had appeared in the previous film, Carry on Jack. In Spying Laye played Lila an agent appearing to work for enemy Doctor Crow, and her organisation, but was actually a double spy. Her character has a brief romance with Simpkins [Kenneth Williams]. In 1967 she was amongst the cast of Carry on Doctor, one of the best remembered films in the series. The film was full of the regulars such as Hattie Jacques, Joan Sims, Kenneth Williams and Bernard Bresslaw and comedian Frankie Howard and singer Anita Harris were also in the cast. In the film Laye played female patient Mavis who strikes up a friendship with male patient Ken [Bernard Bresslaw]. Mavis joins the male patients when they revolt against Doctor Tinkle [Kenneth Williams] and the Matron [Hattie Jacques]. The film is a firm favourite with fans of the franchise because it brimming with the regulars, and the recurring players too, and is full of witty dialogue.
Another firm favourite with critics and Carry On fans was 1969’s Carry on Camping, which was also bursting with regulars, which was Laye’s fourth and final Carry On film. Once again in the film she was paired up with Bernard Bresslaw but also enjoyed many scenes with Joan Sims, who she had replaced in Cursing, and Sid James – who she had worked alongside in Cruising. In the film Bresslaw and James’ characters chase after Babs [Barbara Windsor] and Fanny [Sandra Caron]. Other film roles included Doctor At Large , Petticoat Pirates  and On the Beat .
On television she had a variety roles from serious to comedy. In 1965 she appeared alongside Shelia Hancock, a friend of Laye’s, in the BBC comedy series The Bed-Sit Girl. Other television comedy roles included an appearance in the ITV Comedy Playhouse series and the ATV series Down the Gate. The series ran between 1975 and 1976 and was created by Reg Varney fresh from his role of Stan in the LWT comedy series On the Buses. Another comedy role for Laye was in 1989 when she starred in a two-part Campion episode on the BBC. The comedy detective series starred former Doctor Who actor Peter Davison in the title role. Early in the 1980’s Laye had written and starred in the Granada series Chintz. Produced in 1981 by Granada the series also starred Michelle Dotrice, Richard Easton and Christopher Benjamin.
As well as comedy roles the actress also took on more serious roles across her long career, even appearing in several soaps. Laye appeared in three editions of the ABC, later Thames Television series Armchair Theatre. The series of plays, often tackling contemporary issues, was a critically acclaimed especially when it was produced by Sydney Newman between 1958 and 1962 who left ABC to join the BBC and is widely regarded as one of the creators of Doctor Who. When ABC became Thames Television in the late 1960s the series was briefly dropped before returning in 1974 under a slightly different format. Laye also appeared in the ITV Play of the Week, another series that is still highly regarded by critics.
In 1981 she guest starred in the LWT police drama series The Gentle Touch which starred Gill Gascione as DI Maggie Forbes. Much like Juliet Bravo on BBC One at the same time the series detailed the life of a female officer in the police and the difficulties she may encounter from her male colleagues.
Roles on television also included appearing in soaps. In the mid 1990’s she appeared several times in EastEnders as Maxine Palmer, the mother of regular character Debbie Tyler [Nicola Duffett]. The character appeared in 1994 and then returned in 1995 following the death of Debbie. At the turn of the century she had a recurring role in ITV soap Coronation Street. Between 2000 and 2001 she played Isobel Stephens who was dying of Alzheimer’s. Isobel’s husband, Anthony [John Quayle] was having a relationship with Rita [Barbara Knox] while Isobel was dying, much to his daughter’s disapproval. Isobel died of heart failure in 2001 and shortly after Rita ended her relationship with Anthony. Also in 2000 Laye guest starred in an episode of Holby City, during its second season. The actress once again appeared in the medical drama in 2002, playing a different role. Holby City wasn’t the only BBC medical drama she appeared in the 2000’s as she also appeared three times, playing different characters, in daytime series Doctors. Laye appeared in 2001, 2004 and 2007.
In 2006 the actress played Queen Elisabeth II in two episodes of the BBC series The Amazing Mrs Pritchard. The series, which starred Jane Horrocks in the title role, revolved around an “everyday” woman winning an election and becoming the Prime Minister. However, she soon begins to have doubts about her abilities as Prime Minister but a chat with the Queen convinces her to at least give it a go. In 2008 she appeared in the BBC Four drama Rather You Than Me, a biopic on comedian Frankie Howard. The drama was part of a series on BBC Four about famous but conflicted comedians. In the drama she played Howard’s mother, Edith, Laye had of course worked alongside Frankie Howard in Carry on Doctor, one of his two appearances in the films. Another for the actress in 2008 was in Lynda La Plante’s ITV drama series The Commander, which stars Amanda Burton in the title role.