Mona Hammond obituary | Television

Mona Hammond, who died aged 91, was a pioneer for black actors in Britain who co-founded the theater group Talawa before finding TV stardom in EastEnders as Clan Jackson matriarch Blossom.

His EastEnders character moved in with his grandson, Alan, and his partner, Carol, into Dot Cotton’s former Albert Square home in 1994. While supporting Alan (Howard Antony) as he passed through a series of jobs and to Carol (Lindsey Coulson) whenever she needed a sympathetic shoulder to cry on – as well as Carol’s four children – Blossom worked at the Bridge Street cafe alongside Kathy Beale (Gillian Taylforth).

She struck up a platonic friendship with neighbor Jules Tavernier (Tommy Eytle), another wise leader, before sharing deeper feelings with Felix Kawalski (Harry Landis), a Holocaust survivor who reunited with his sister in Israel. . In 1997, Blossom accepted his offer to join him there.

Hammond said she was leaving EastEnders after three years due to nervous exhaustion caused by the program’s production schedule. She briefly returned to the soap opera in 2010 for the funeral of Blossom’s great-grandson Billie, Alan and Carol’s only child.

Mona Hammond, second from left, in EastEnders, 1996. From left: Natalie Cassidy, Sid Owen, Patsy Palmer and Dean Gaffney. Photography: BBC

Prior to joining EastEnders, Hammond had made an impression on screen with a handful of appearances throughout the five-year run of the sitcom Desmond’s (1989-94). She played Aunty Susu, the obnoxious older sister of Shirley (Carmen Munroe), who was married to the title barber Peckham played by Norman Beaton. They were a distinguished triumvirate of actors who had paved the way for black performers in Britain.

Hammond’s character in Desmond’s, who had arrived visiting from Jamaica, was described as the “dream girl” of Desmond’s old friend Porkpie (Ram John Holder) and became his fiancée, but was eventually deported to his home country. Hammond then appeared in two episodes of the spin-off sitcom Porkpie, returning from the Caribbean – where she had married another man and stolen his life savings – after hearing about Porkpie’s £10m lottery win.

Hammond was born Mavis Chin in Tweedside, Jamaica, her surname deriving from her father’s Chinese heritage. In 1959, she moved to Great Britain on a scholarship and worked for architects Norman and Dawbarn. Passionate about drama, she took evening classes at the City Literary Institute in London for two years and obtained a scholarship for Rada, from which she graduated in 1964.

Changing her name to Mona Hammond to avoid being pigeonholed, she made her professional debut the following year at the Everyman Theater in Liverpool, in Jack of Spades, a musical written by Beaton and Ken S Hignett.

She played Gillian, Danny Daniels’ immigrant girlfriend who faces racism, social deprivation and is beaten by the police after arriving from Guyana. The Times called the piece “brave”.

Mona Hammond at Desmond.
Mona Hammond at Desmond. Photography: YouTube

Hammond first came to the attention of London theater critics when she played the title role in The Black Girl in Search of God (Mermaid theatre, 1968), based on George Bernard Shaw’s short story book. Then, at the Roundhouse in 1972, she played the wife of Oscar James’ main character, revamped as Mbeth, in The Black Macbeth – the first all-black version of Shakspeare’s play – directed by Peter Coe. It was set in Africa instead of Scotland, among the Barotse tribe of what is now Zambia, and featured African and West Indian actors. In 1989 she played Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, performing at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle, Bloomsbury Theatre, London and Cork Opera House.

It was for Talawa, the company Hammond had founded three years earlier, with Carmen Munroe, Yvonne Brewster and Inigo Espejel performing black versions of plays written for white actors, as well as original productions. Its name comes from a Jamaican word meaning brave and strong.

For Talawa’s 1994 production of King Lear at London’s Cochrane Theatre, Hammond played the madman as a split personality – with his makeup applied to the middle of his face.

Mona Hammond during rehearsals for George Bernard Shaw's play The Black Girl in Search of God at the Mermaid Theater in London, 1968.
Mona Hammond during rehearsals for George Bernard Shaw’s play The Black Girl in Search of God at the Mermaid Theater in London, 1968. Photography: Bob Aylott/Getty Images

At that time, she was also breaking into television. Having had many unique roles and appearing in the Play for Today productions of In the Beautiful Caribbean (1972) and Victims of Apartheid (1978), she played the proud mother of the black British detective featured in Wolcott, a groundbreaking ITV mini-film from 1981. series. Four years later, she had a regular role on the legal drama Black Silk as Marjorie Scott, ex-wife of the lawyer played by Rudolph Walker.

She made her first appearance on EastEnders in 1986, as a midwife delivering Vicki Fowler, Michelle’s (Susan Tully) daughter. In 1988 she was on Coronation Street for a handful of episodes as Mrs. Armitage, unhappy that her daughter Shirley was moving in with Curly Watts.

Several of Hammond’s later television roles were as grandmothers, notably in the three-generation West Indian family sitcom Us Girls (1992-93), the children’s series Pig Heart Boy (1999), and the family drama The Crouches (2003). -05). ), with Walker as her husband.

Her other soap opera role was on radio as Mabel Thompson, mother-in-law of motorcyclist-turned-vicar accountant Alan Franks (John Telfer), in The Archers for a short run (2003-04), with brief return visits in 2008 and 2009. In 2005 she was made an OBE.

Hammond’s marriage to Michael Sanders (1965-87) ended in divorce. She is survived by their son, Matthew.

Mona Hammond (Mavis Chin), actress, born January 1, 1931; passed away on July 4, 2022

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