HIRD, THORA

British Actor

Dame Thora Hird is one of Britain's finest character actresses. Her career spans some eighty years, from her earliest stage appearance at eight weeks old to the present day; it encompasses work in a range of media forms, including radio broadcasting and appearances in over one hundred films. In television, she has appeared both in her capacity as actress, and as presenter of the popular Songs of Praise. She has also written her autobiography, Scene and Hird (1976) as well as a number of books on prayer.

Her durability is due to both her versatility, revealed by her work in a number of television genres, and paradoxically, her ability to remain distinctly unique and individual. Her work for television includes an early drama for BBC TV, The Queen Came By about life in a general drapers, set in Queen Victoria's jubilee year. In the play her characterisation of Emmie Slee proved very popular. She has also appeared as the long suffering wife in the comedy series, Meet the Wife with Freddie Frinton; the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet for the BBC in 1967; Billy's overbearing mother in the situation comedy In Loving Memory (1986), set in a funeral parlour; and the tragicomic character in A Cream Cracker Under the Settee, one of the acclaimed series of Talking Heads monologues written by Alan Bennett, and broadcast in 1988.

All of these roles offered Hird the opportunity to exercise her particular brand of Lancastrian wit, which may be firmly located within the music hall based tradition of northern, working class comedy, characteristically "down to earth", anecdotal and always constructed in opposition to the "pretentious and privileged" south of England. In much the same vein as the seaside postcards of her Morecombe birth place, Hird's typical roles are as an all-seeing boarding house landlady, a gossiping neighbour, or as a sharp tongued mother-in-law, in each case the "eyes and ears" of the (female) community. And just as the veneer of the garishly painted seaside piers cracks to reveal the old and slightly rotten wood beneath, so Hird's skillful characterisations offer a hint of the underlying sadness and pathos, that is often found beneath the proud facade. Recently she has been taken up by the comedienne, Victoria Wood, who extends the tendency of this brand of comedy to take the everyday, the ordinary, and exaggerate elements to make it extraordinary. Parodying one of its chief icons creates hilarious results and establishes a double articulation of the humour of social observation with which Hird is commonly associated.

Whilst Hird has earnt considerable recognition and respect within her profession, critical and audience acclaim for many of her roles, and was the subject of a South Bank Show monograph in 1995, there is yet to be an academic study of her contributions to television. This may be due to the fact that she tends to play roles that are located within genres such as situation comedy, which is afforded a lowly status in many aesthetic and critical hierarchies. Potentially, however, there is much critical currency in exploring how these roles or types represent working class women, and indeed, how older actress may often be subject to typecasting.

-Nicola Strange

 

THORA HIRD. Born in Morecambe, Lancashire, England, 28 May 1911. Attended The Misses Nelson's Preparatory School, Morecambe, Lancashire. Married James Scott in 1937 (died 1994); children: Janette. Followed parents into the theatre as a child; gained early experience with the Royalty Theatre Repertory Theatre Company, Morecambe, before establishing name on London stage in Flowers for the Living, 1944; film debut, 1940; subsequently played a range of classical and contemporary roles on the stage and also acted in films and on television, starring in several comedy series. D.Litt.: University of Lancaster, 1989. Officer of the Order of the British Empire, 1983; Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 1993. Recipient: Pye Female Comedy Star Award, 1984; British Academy of Film and Television Arts Award, 1988. Address: Felix de Wolfe, Manfield House, 376=-378 Strand, London WC2R 0LR, England.

TELEVISION SERIES (selection)

1964 Meet the Wife
1979 In Loving Memory

TELEVISION SPECIALS (selection)

1962 A Kind of Loving
1988 Talking Heads: A Cream Cracker Under the         Settee
1992 Memento Mori

FILMS

Spellbound, 1940; The Black Sheep of Whitehall, 1941; The Foreman Went to France, 1941; Next of Kin, 1942; The Big Blockade, 1942; Went the Day Well?, 1942; Two Thousand Women; The Courtneys of Curzon Street, 1947; My Brother Jonathan; Corridor of Mirrors; The Weaker Sex; The Blind Goddess; Portrait from Life; Once a Jolly Swagman, 1948; A Boy, a Girl and a Bike; Fools Rush In; Madness of the Heart; Maytime in Mayfair; Boys in Brown; Conspirator; The Cure for Love; The Magnet; Once a Sinner; The Galloping Major; The Frightened Man; Emergency Call, 1952; Time Gentlemen Please!; The Last Hours; The Great Game; Background; Turn the Key Softly; The Long Memory; Personal Affair; Street Corner; A Day to Remember; Don't Blame the Stork; For Better, For Worse; The Crowded Day; One Good Turn; Love Match; The Quatermass Experiment, 1955; Tiger by the Tail; Lost; Women Without Men; Sailor Beware!; Home and Away; The Good Companions; These Dangerous Years; A Clean Sweep; Further Up the Creek; The Entertainer, 1960; Over the Odds; A Kind of Loving, 1962; Term of Trial, 1962; Bitter Harvest, 1963; Rattle of a Simple Man; Some Will, Some Won't; The Nightcomers, 1971; They Came in Khaki; Storks Don't Talk; Shop Soiled; Simon and Laura; Consuming Passions, 1988; Wide Eyed and Legless, 1993.

STAGE (selection)

No Medals, 1944; Flowers for the Living, 1948; The Queen Came By, 1948; Tobacco Road, 1949; Dangerous Woman, 1951; The Happy Family, 1951; The Same Sky, 1952; The Trouble-Makers, 1952; The Love Match, 1953; Saturday Night at the Crown, 1957; Come Rain Come Shine, 1958; Happy Days, 1958; Romeo and Juliet; No, No, Nanette; Me, I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf; Afternoon Off.

PUBLICATIONS

Scene and Hird (autobiography). London: W.H. Allen, 1976.

Praise Be Notebook, 1991.

Praise Be Year Book, 1991.

Praise Be Christmas Book, 1991.

Praise Be Book of Prayers, 1992.

Praise Be I Believe, 1993.