Gretchen Franklin

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Gretchen Franklin
Ethel skinner.jpg
Gretchen Franklin as Ethel Skinner in the BBC soap opera EastEnders .
Born(1911-07-07)7 July 1911
Died11 July 2005(2005-07-11) (aged 94)
Barnes, London, England
Years active1929–2000
Spouse(s)John Caswell Garth
(m. 1934–1953) (his death)
Relatives Clive Dunn (cousin)

Gretchen Franklin (7 July 1911 – 11 July 2005) was an English actress and dancer with a career in show business spanning over 70 years. [1] She was born in Covent Garden, west London. She played Ethel Skinner in the long-running BBC 1 soap opera EastEnders on a regular basis from 1985 until 1988. After this she returned to the show intermittently. These appearances became briefer and more widely spaced as time went on. Her final appearance was in 2000, when her character was killed off.

Covent Garden district in London, England

Covent Garden is a district in London, on the eastern fringes of the West End, between St Martin's Lane and Drury Lane. It is associated with the former fruit-and-vegetable market in the central square, now a popular shopping and tourist site, and with the Royal Opera House, which itself may be referred to as "Covent Garden". The district is divided by the main thoroughfare of Long Acre, north of which is given over to independent shops centred on Neal's Yard and Seven Dials, while the south contains the central square with its street performers and most of the historical buildings, theatres and entertainment facilities, including the London Transport Museum and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Ethel Skinner

Ethel Skinner is a fictional character from the BBC soap opera EastEnders, played by Gretchen Franklin. Ethel also features in a 1988 EastEnders special episode, entitled "CivvyStreet", set on Albert Square during World War II, in which she is played by Alison Bettles.

BBC One is the first and principal television channel of the British Broadcasting Corporation in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and Channel Islands. It was launched on 2 November 1936 as the BBC Television Service, and was the world's first regular television service with a high level of image resolution. It was renamed BBC TV in 1960, using this name until the launch of the second BBC channel BBC2 in 1964, whereupon the BBC TV channel became known as BBC1, with the current spelling adopted in 1997.


Early life

Gretchen Franklin was born into a theatrical family. Her father had a song-and-dance act, while her grandfather was a well-known music hall entertainer at the turn of the century. [1] Her younger cousin was the comedian Clive Dunn (1920-2012). [2]

Clive Dunn English actor, comedian, artist, author, and singer

Clive Robert Benjamin Dunn was an English actor, comedian, artist, author, and singer. He played the elderly Lance Corporal Jones in the BBC sitcom Dad's Army.

She entered show business as a teenager, making her début as a pantomime chorus girl in Bournemouth. In 1929, she took dancing lessons at the Theatre Girls Club in Soho in London's West End and she later became a tap dancer and founder member of a quartet known as Four Brilliant Blondes. [1] Franklin was a Tiller Girl, known for their high kicks, at the London Palladium.

Bournemouth Town in England

Bournemouth is a coastal resort town on the south coast of England, east of the 96-mile-long (155 km) Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site. At the 2011 census, the town had a population of 183,491, making it the largest in Dorset. With Poole to the west and Christchurch in the east, Bournemouth is part of the South East Dorset conurbation, which has a population of 465,000.

Soho District in London, United Kingdom

Soho is an area of the City of Westminster, part of the West End of London. Originally a fashionable district for the aristocracy, it has been one of the main entertainment districts in the capital since the 19th century.

West End of London Area of Central London, England

The West End of London refers to a distinct region of Central London, west of the City of London and north of the River Thames, in which many of the city's major tourist attractions, shops, businesses, government buildings and entertainment venues, including West End theatres, are concentrated.

She toured in variety with the comedians Syd and Max Harrison and on the Gracie Fields Show , and performed with another dance group, The Three Girlies, before making a gradual switch to straight dramatic roles.

Gracie Fields English singer and comedienne

Dame Gracie Fields, was an English actress, singer and comedienne and star of both cinema and music hall. She spent the later part of her life on the isle of Capri, Italy. Fields was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for Services to Entertainment in 1938, and in 1979, seven months before her death, she was invested a Dame by Queen Elizabeth II.

Acting career

Her break came during the Second World War when she was cast in Sweet and Low , the first of a series of highly successful West End revues. Staged at the New Ambassadors Theatre, the revues starred Hermione Gingold. Franklin and Gingold became close friends and were reunited in another revue, Slings and Arrows (Comedy Theatre, 1948). [3]

<i>Sweet and Low</i> (musical) musical

Sweet and Low is a musical revue produced by Billy Rose and starring James Barton, Fanny Brice, George Jessel, and Arthur Treacher. It features sketches by David Freedman and songs by various composers and lyricists.

A revue is a type of multi-act popular theatrical entertainment that combines music, dance, and sketches. The revue has its roots in 19th century popular entertainment and melodrama but grew into a substantial cultural presence of its own during its golden years from 1916 to 1932. Though most famous for their visual spectacle, revues frequently satirized contemporary figures, news or literature. Similar to the related subforms of operetta and musical theatre, the revue art form brings together music, dance and sketches to create a compelling show. In contrast to these, however, revue does not have an overarching storyline. Rather, a general theme serves as the motto for a loosely-related series of acts that alternate between solo performances and dance ensembles.

Ambassadors Theatre (London) West End theatre in London

The Ambassadors Theatre, is a West End theatre located in West Street, near Cambridge Circus on Charing Cross Road in the City of Westminster. It is one of the smallest of the West End theatres, seating a maximum of 444, with 195 people in the dress circle and 251 in the stalls.

She also appeared in several plays and made one of her early screen appearances in Before I Wake (1954). Her other films included Cloak Without Dagger (1956), Flame in the Streets (1961), The Murder Game (1965), Twisted Nerve (1968), The Night Visitor (1971), The Three Musketeers (1973), Quincy's Quest (1979), and Ragtime (1981), among others.

<i>Cloak Without Dagger</i> 1956 film

Cloak Without Dagger is a 1956 British thriller film directed by Joseph Sterling and starring Philip Friend, Mary Mackenzie and Leslie Dwyer. It was also released as Operation Conspiracy

<i>Flame in the Streets</i> 1961 film by Roy Ward Baker

Flame in the Streets is a 1961 film directed by Roy Ward Baker and based on the 1958 play Hot Summer Night by Ted Willis. It opened at the Odeon Leicester Square in London's West End on 22 June 1961.

The Murder Game is a 1965 British crime film starring Ken Scott, Marla Landi, Trader Faulkner, Conrad Phillips and directed by Sidney Salkow. The film was distributed by Twentieth Century-Fox.

Franklin appeared in several productions for the BBC and on stage. One of Franklin's best known stage roles was playing Mrs Roper in the 1958 play Verdict by British mystery writer Agatha Christie. It was produced by Peter Saunders and directed by Charles Hickman, and ran for 250 performances.

Franklin was acting on stage in the West End in Spring and Port Wine in 1965 when she was cast as the first Mrs Alf Garnett in a pilot episode of Till Death Us Do Part , with Warren Mitchell. However, she missed the chance to become a permanent part in what was to become a successful series – because she couldn't obtain her release from her stage role (unable to take a regular role in the series, it was Franklin who recommended her friend Dandy Nichols for the part in the series). Franklin and Nichols have cameo parts in two films directed by Richard Lester, the Beatles film Help! (1965) and How I Won the War (1967) which stars John Lennon.

Later Franklin had regular roles in several television series, including Crossroads , in which she played Myrtle Cavendish (later Harvey); the short-lived soap Castle Haven ; the British sitcom George and Mildred as Mildred's mother, Mrs Tremble, and Rising Damp as Rigsby's Aunt Maud and she appeared in The Fenn Street Gang (Episode "A Fair Swap") as Aunt Harriet (the brides mother). She was also a regular supporting figure on television dramas such as Dixon of Dock Green and Z-Cars . She appeared with Eartha Kitt in an episode of the British espionage series The Protectors ("A Pocket Full of Posies", 1974) performing a song and dance routine. She had bit parts in series such as Danger Man , Follyfoot and the final Quatermass serial in 1979.

Franklin also played the cranky, troubled sad mother Mrs Janes an episode of the television adaptation of Enid Blyton's Famous Five ("Five on Billycock Hill", 1978) and played the witch Cordelia at the end of the first episode of The Black Adder ("The Foretelling", 1983) starring Rowan Atkinson.

Franklin played Daddy's Fiancée in an episode of Keeping Up Appearances broadcast in 1990, even though by this stage she was an established member of the EastEnders cast.[ citation needed ]


EastEnders creators Julia Smith and Tony Holland spent a long time trawling around pubs and street markets in the East End of London, soaking up the atmosphere and making mental notes for when they were to actually create the characters for their show. Smith was very taken with an elderly lady clutching a Yorkshire Terrier dog in one hand and a glass of Guinness in the other, she was the life and soul of the party; Smith saw that there was much comic mileage to be gained from such a character, and as a result Ethel Mae Skinner was created. [4]

In the programme, Ethel was a gossip who did not always get her facts right and this was often used to comic effect, as was her use of malapropisms. However, when Julia Smith announced that the character of Ethel was to go into an old people's home, Franklin resigned, saying "I didn't want Ethel becoming a sad old dear who the others visited occasionally." She did make return visits to the series, but remained bitter at how her character had been sidelined.[ citation needed ]

Franklin's character owned a dog, a pug named Willy. The writers had intended it to be a Yorkshire terrier but a suitable canine could not be found. Franklin was less than pleased to find out that Willy the pug was being chauffeur-driven to the BBC's Elstree Studios where EastEnders is made, yet she had to struggle in on the bus. Returning to her earlier skills as a Tiller Girl, when Pat Wicks married Frank Butcher in EastEnders Franklin provided the high-kicks at the wedding reception – even though she was 78 at the time.

Her character departed in 1997 when it was revealed that she had left Walford to live in a retirement village. Franklin returned in July 2000, when her character re-appeared in the show and informed her close friends that she was terminally ill with cancer. She was killed off in the episode which aired on 7 September 2000, in a controversial euthanasia storyline. Ethel had learned that she was terminally ill, and asked Dot Cotton (June Brown) to assist her in taking her own life by an overdose of her morphine tablets.

Franklin's departure from EastEnders marked the end of her acting career at the age of 89.

Personal life and death

Franklin was married to John Caswell Garth [5] from 1934 until his death from cancer in 1953 at the age of 50. Franklin, who was 42 at the time, never remarried. They had no children.

Off-screen, Franklin devoted much of her later life to charity and gave away all the royalties she received from EastEnders repeats to her favourite animal charities. "At my age one isn't buying new fur coats and diamonds", she said. "If you get that lot of repeat fees four times a year you can afford to be a bit more generous to other people." [3]

In May 2005 at 93 years old, it was announced that Franklin would present the Lifetime Soap Achievement Award to former colleague June Brown at the British Soap Awards but was too ill to attend. It was later given by another EastEnders actor Anna Wing who played Lou Beale, who mentioned her in the speech.

Franklin died at her home in Barnes on 11 July 2005, four days after her 94th birthday. [3] Her life and work was honoured at the British Academy Television Awards in 2006. In 2007 it was revealed that she had left a sum of £872,772 in her will. One third went to charity Help The Aged, while the rest went to friends and relatives, one of whom was her cousin Clive Dunn, who played Corporal Jones in Dad's Army . [6]

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  1. 1 2 3 "Obituary: Gretchen Franklin". BBC News . BBC. 12 July 2005. Archived from the original on 20 January 2009. Retrieved 9 October 2006.
  2. "EastEnder Ethel leaves £200,000 to elderly". The Evening Standard . 24 February 2007. Retrieved 12 December 2018.
  3. 1 2 3 Pensotti, Adam (12 July 2005). "EastEnders favourite Gretchen Franklin dies at 94". The Stage . Archived from the original on 27 April 2006. Retrieved 9 October 2006.
  4. Smith, Julia; Holland, Tony (1987). EastEnders – The Inside Story. Book Club Associates. ISBN   978-0-563-20601-9.
  5. "Gretchen Franklin". The Telegraph . Telegraph Media Group Limited. 13 July 2005. Archived from the original on 13 March 2007. Retrieved 9 October 2006.
  6. Myall, Steve (24 February 2007). "EastEnder Ethel leaves £200,000 to elderly". Mail on Sunday . Associated Newspapers Ltd. Archived from the original on 4 August 2012. Retrieved 3 March 2007.