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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Meet the Wife
1979 In Loving Memory
A Kind of Loving
1988 Talking Heads: A Cream Cracker Under the Settee
1992 Memento Mori
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.
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.
Scene and Hird (autobiography). London: W.H. Allen, 1976.
Be Notebook, 1991.
Praise Be Year Book, 1991.
Be Christmas Book, 1991.
Be Book of Prayers, 1992.
Praise Be I Believe, 1993.