ATV Icon: Thora Hird

A celebration of a television name that for decades graced our screens, the late great Thora Hird.

Thora was born on 28th May 1911 in the Lancashire seaside town of Morecambe. The daughter of James Henry Hird and Jane Mary (née Mayor).

Her family background steeped in the world of the theatrical. Jane, her mother, had been an actress, while her father James had been the proprietor of several entertainment complexes in Morecambe, including the Royalty Theatre where she made her first appearance, and the Central Pier.

Thora first appeared on stage at the age of two months in a play her father was overseeing. Growing up she had a spell away from the spotlight working in a local Coop Supermarket before following in her parent’s footsteps into the footlights with the Morecambe Repertory Theatre

Thora often described her father as her ‘sternest critic’ as initially, he had been unhappy with her change in career to an actress. However, she felt his honest views on her performances attributed much of her talent as an actress and comedian to his guidance.

It was the mid-40s when she made her West End debut in the 1944 production of the Esther McCracken play No Medals.

Theatre roles soon led to big screen appearances, including the wartime propaganda film Went the Day Well?, in which she is shown wielding a rifle to defend a house from German paratroopers. She worked with the British film comedian Will Hay and featured in The Entertainer which starred Laurence Olivier, as well as A Kind of Loving with Alan Bates and June Ritchie.

Hird gained television fame via comedy and religious programming. She featured in sitcoms Meet the Wife (1963–66), In Loving Memory (1979–86), Hallelujah! (1983–84), and for nearly two decades as Edie Pegden in Last of the Summer Wine (1986–2003). It, however, wasn’t all play for laughs on the small screen Thora had a variety of acting roles, including the nurse in Romeo and Juliet, and won BAFTA Best Actress awards for her roles in two of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues. Hird also portrayed Mrs Speck, the housekeeper of the Mayor of Gloucester in The Tailor of Gloucester (1989).

A committed Christian, she turned to presenting with the BBC religious programme Praise Be!, a spin off from Songs of Praise.

In 1993 she played Annie Longden, mother of Deric Longden in Wide-Eyed and Legless and reprised her role in the 1999 TV film Lost for Words, which won her a BAFTA for Best Actress. 1998, using a wheelchair, Hird featured in a cameo role in Victoria Wood’s Dinnerladies, a part especially penned for Thora.

Despite failing health in her later years she continued to appear in Last of the Summer Wine up until her death, with her final scenes recorded in 2002 and also various adverts for senior products such as stairlifts.

Thora married James Scott in 1937, they had one daughter Janette Scott. James passed away in 1994. Thora took her final curtain call on 15th March 2003 aged 91.

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