Edna Doré : Matriarch of the Butcher family in 'EastEnders' who won an award for her role in Mike Leigh's 'High Hopes'

 

The character actress Edna Doré enjoyed a busy career on stage and screen for more than 60 years, but she will be best remembered for her two-year run in EastEnders as Mo Butcher, widowed mother of the Queen Vic landlord and second-hand car dealer Frank (played by Mike Reid). After joining in 1988, Doré quickly turned the busybody who spoke her mind into the matriarch of Albert Square, following the death of Lou Beale (Anna Wing).

Despite her razor-sharp tongue – and meddling in Frank's life that led to no-holds-barred arguments with his fiancée, then wife, Pat (Pam St Clement) – Mo had a heart of gold and headed the residents' campaign to save the community centre. She also arranged Frank and Pat's wedding celebration, a good old-fashioned street party. The couple took Mo into their home when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease after becoming forgetful and incontinent.

Doré's portrayal of her character's suffering brought viewer sympathy and plaudits for creating greater understanding of the condition. Mo left to live with her daughter in Essex in 1990, convinced that Frank and Pat were trying to kill her, and died off screen two years later.

During her run in EastEnders, Doré won a Best Supporting Performance European Film Award for her role as Mrs Bender in High Hopes (1988), Mike Leigh's window into the lives of those on both sides of the social divide in Thatcher's Britain. The bitter, withdrawn widow is seen living alone in the last council flat on a gentrified street in King's Cross, London – just one of the characters improvised by the cast, in the manner of all Leigh films.

She was born Edna Gorring in Bromley, Kent, the daughter of a Crystal Palace railway station porter and a cleaner. She took ballet lessons as a child then trained at a drama school attached to Croydon Repertory Company, where one of her fellow students was Paul Scofield.

During the Second World War she spent four years with the troops entertainment organisation Ensa as a dancer and half of a comedy double act. Returning to London, she played a stripper in the revue Peek-a-Boo (Whitehall Theatre), produced and hosted by the legendary singer, dancer and striptease artist Phyllis Dixey, with three performances a day, six days a week that were seen as morale boosters during the war years.

In 1946, she married the actor and director Alexander Doré – later to be remembered by millions as the First Spy in the 1968 film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – and took his name professionally. During her 17 years in repertory theatre, five were spent running the company at the Little Theatre, Aberystwyth, with her husband. In the West End she played Mrs Sowerberry in the Lionel Bart musical Oliver! (New Theatre, 1963-67, Piccadilly Theatre, 1967), Mrs Brodribb in Alan Bennett's Getting On (Queen's Theatre, 1972) and Mrs Crabtree in Billy (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 1974).

The director Bill Bryden then invited Doré to join his company at the National Theatre, where she was reunited with Paul Scofield. Between 1977 and 1990 she had roles such as Mrs Peveril in Lark Rise, Margie in The Iceman Cometh, Mary Mother in The Passion, Rebecca Nurse in The Crucible and Betty in The Threepenny Opera.

The actress was heading for 40 when she made her first television appearance, in 1959. Over the next three decades casting directors found her bit parts in many popular series, including six different roles in Dixon of Dock Green (1964-68). She mixed drama with comedy, from The Duchess of Duke Street (1976) and Tenko (1984) to The Liver Birds (1974) and Terry and June (1982).

High Hopes and EastEnders brought Doré recognition and better roles. On television she was a regular as Grace Taplow in Love Hurts (1993); Iris Cromer in the feuding-families seaside-town drama Westbeach (1993); Grandma Slater in another two-families drama, No Bananas (1996), this time set during the Second World War; Prof's mother in the pub sitcom Time Gentlemen Please (2000-02), starring Al Murray as the landlord; the cleaner Mary Hardcastle in the bingo sitcom Eyes Down (2003-04), alongside Paul O'Grady; and Lily in the comedy-drama All About George (2005). There were also one-off appearances in Doctor Who (2006), Diamond Geezer (2007), starring David Jason, and many other series. Her last television role was in Midsomer Murders three years ago.

Doré's other films included Gary Oldman's Nil by Mouth (1997) and Mike Leigh's All or Nothing (2002). A keen gardener who had an allotment near her home in Barnes, south-west London, she made a cameo appearance in another Leigh film, Another Year (2010), for a scene at the allotment tended by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen's happily married, late-middle-aged couple who are surrounded by friends with less happy lives.

Edna Lillian Gorring, actress: born Bromley, Kent 31 May 1921; married 1946 Alexander Doré (died 2002; one son); died Bramley, Hampshire 11 April 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss