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


Click to follow
The Independent Online

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 The bitter, withdrawn widow is seen living alone in the last council flat on a gentrified street in King's Cross, London – just one of the characters improvised by the cast, in the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.