LOTSW's Dame Thora Hird

Tea Time Tidbit for the week of February 26, 2018

Tea Time Tidbit

Dame Thora Hird

Dame Thora Hird, who played Edie Pegden in Last of the Summer Wine for a total of 19 years, probably holds the record for being the youngest ever actress to appear on stage. At just eight weeks old, she starred at the theatre her father managed in the seaside town of Morecambe, as a bundled up baby whose character – played by Hird’s real-life mother – had been "done wrong" by a local squire’s son. Despite that early start, and the fact that Hird and her brother grew up living above theatre, when she left school at 14, she spent ten years working behind the cash register of the local Co-Op department store. It proved to be a better training ground than any drama school, as there she learned the art of characterization from simply observing the customers she served.

As Hird said in an interview with a reporter from the Guardian newspaper, "I used to look at some of the customers and think, `if I ever take up acting seriously, I'll play her.' People say to me: `That woman was so lifelike.' I say: `She is, she lives in Morecambe.'"

In 1931, Hird joined the Morecambe repertory theatre and in 1939, although still in her 20s, she was cast in a small role as a 60-year-old mother-in-law. Her performance was seen and admired by one of Britain’s top comedians, the ukulele-playing George Formby, who immediately got Hird a contract at Ealing Studios. Her first day on the job coincided with the day the war broke out and she spent most of it in a bomb shelter. By then Hird had been married for two years to her boyfriend of four years, James “Scotty” Scott. Their daughter, Janette, went into acting as a child and Scotty gave up his job as a musician to manage both his wife’s and his daughter’s career.

Janette Scott went onto become a well-known Hollywood starlet. Her first husband was the singer Mel Torme and Hird was a frequent guest at their home in Beverly Hills, of which she said “it’s perfect for a holiday, but there’s no corner shop, love.”

Tea Time Tidbit

Ladies of Last of the Summer Wine:
Jane Freeman, Dame Thora,
Sarah Thomas and Kathy Staff

While Hird never possessed the great beauty of her daughter, she used her talents as a character actress to secure small roles in more than 100 films, in which she appeared alongside such actors as Laurence Olivier and Marlon Brando. By the early 1960s, Hird had finally aged into the roles for which she was best suited and by the mid-1960s she could be seen almost every night on television, either in comedy series, game shows, serial dramas, variety shows, children’s programs, or commercials. Later, in 1987, Hird’s dramatic acting skills would be acknowledged when she took home a Best Actress Award for her monologue "A Creamcracker Under the Settee", in Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads series.

In the mid-1970s Hird hosted a Sunday early evening television program called Your Songs of Praise Choice (later renamed, Praise Be!), in which viewers requested their favorite hymns. It ran for 17 years. Hird was as well known for her spirituality as for her acting talents and in 1994, the same year that her beloved husband Scotty died, Hird led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, which she followed up the next year by taking a pilgrimage to Jordan.

Hird died in March 2003, after suffering a stroke at the London retirement home in which she lived. Her memorial service, held at Westminster Abbey, was attended by more than 2,000 people.

To contact Heather:
E-mail: heather@mpt.org
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Afternoon Tea is Maryland Public Television's weekday presentation of British programs.
Our host and Tea Lady is Heather Sanderson.
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