Date of Birth: 31 May 1921, Bromley, Kent, UK
Birth Name: Edna Gorring
Nicknames: Edna Doré
Edna Doré, was not only an outstanding character actor, best known for playing the battleaxe Mo Butcher, mother of Mike Reid's character, Frank Butcher, in the BBC's long-running soap EastEnders, but also an outstanding character; she was an authentic south Londoner who never lost her accent, or forthrightness, and delighted everyone she worked with.
She once told a radio interviewer that she was so fed up with being labelled a virgin in her early days at the Croydon Rep in 1937 that she asked the director of the company if he would help her to shed this unwanted burden. He invited her round to his place at 2.30pm the next day: "It lasted about five minutes, and that was that. Job done."And 10 years ago she told Paul O'Grady, with whom she appeared in a television bingo sitcom, Eyes Down, as Mary the cleaner, that in all her 70 years in the business she had never been sent home from a rehearsal room before; she and O'Grady, who played the bingo hall manager, were expelled for laughing too much and "ruining" (ie, enlivening) a day's work for everyone else.
Her appearance in EastEnders coincided with her best film performance, in Mike Leigh's High Hopes (1988), in which, as the lonely and bereaved old Mrs Bender, living in the last council flat on a gentrified Islington street, she was named best supporting actor at the European Film Awards. At the ceremony in Paris, she was called to the stage as "Edna Door". As she left clutching her prize she muttered (all too audibly): "You'd think that at least in Paris they'd pronounce my bloody name right."
This hilarious, good-natured chippiness and transparent honesty of thought and reaction informed all of her acting, which ranged across the media and included a decade at the National Theatre, where she was a notable member of Bill Bryden's wonderful company in the Cottesloe Theatre, appearing in Keith Dewhurst's brilliant adaptation of Lark Rise to Candleford and Tony Harrison's magical, working-class poetical version of The Mysteries.
She was born Edna Gorring and raised in Bromley, Kent, the younger daughter of a porter at Crystal Palace station and his wife, a cleaner and housemaid. She attended a local ballet school in Bromley and was encouraged by teachers to train at the Croydon Repertory theatre, where she worked as a stage manager and actor. She was a chorus girl with Ensa during the war and also appeared as a dancer with Britain's first "legitimate" striptease star and "Queen of Glamour", Phyllis Dixey, at the Whitehall theatre.
Dixey formed her own company at the Whitehall in 1942 and produced a series of what she called Peek-a-Boo revues. This entrepreneurial spirit took hold of Edna when, in 1946, she married the actor and director Alexander Doré, and the two of them ran their own company for five years at the Little Theatre, Aberystwyth. This period stood out in the 17 years she spent in weekly rep, all over Britain, but predominantly in Wales, a country she grew to love.
She was busy in television from 1959 onwards, appearing regularly in Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars and numerous dramas. In the 1960s, she spent four years at the Albery theatre (now the Noël Coward) playing Mrs Sowerberry in Lionel Bart's Oliver! She returned to the role when the show was revived at the Piccadilly theatre in 1967, this time with Barry Humphries (the first Mr Sowerberry) as Fagin. Her other big West End show was John Barry and Don Black's Billy, starring Michael Crawford, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1974, in which she played Mrs Crabtree.
After her stint at the National, she was established as an "older" character actor in EastEnders (1988-90) and High Hopes, both roles signalling the onset of Alzheimer's. Her last stage role followed in 1990 when she played Anfisa, the nurse, in Chekhov's Three Sisters at the Queen's Theatre, produced by Thelma Holt and directed by the great Georgian director of the Rustaveli theatre, Robert Sturua, starring three Redgraves: Vanessa, Lynn and their niece Jemma.
She scored a personal success, too, in Gary Oldman's blistering debut as a film director, Nil By Mouth (1997), starring Ray Winstone and Kathy Burke as a married couple in a violent, alcoholic south London family of the sort she knew well. And, inevitably, she played a bag lady in the documentary composite of people on the underground system, Tube Tales (1999), as well as small roles in Leigh's All or Nothing (2002), with Timothy Spall as a depressed, philosophical taxi driver, and the equally downbeat Another Year (2010).
Doré was regularly to be seen on television throughout the 90s, in Casualty, Peak Practice, Hotel Babylon and Doctors. And she continued to exploit her vaudeville roots not only in Eyes Down, but also opposite David Jason in ITV's Diamond Geezer (2007). There were appearances in a Christmas Special of James Corden and Ruth Jones's Gavin & Stacey (2008), Shameless on Channel 4 (2010) and finally in an episode of Midsomer Murders (2011).
An enthusiastic gardener, Doré kept an allotment near her home in Barnes, south-west London, for 50 years, serving as chairman of the Barn Elms Allotment Society, regularly winning the flower class in the annual garden show, and was lately installed as life president.