Obituary for Mona Hammond

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

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

He enjoyed a platonic friendship with a neighbor, Jules Tavernier (Tommy Eytle), another wise man, before sharing deeper feelings with Felix Kawalski (Harry Landis), a Holocaust survivor who tracked down his sister in Israel. In 1997, Blossom accepted her offer to join him there.

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

Before joining EastEnders, Hammond had made quite an impression on screen with a handful of appearances over the five years on the sitcom Desmond’s (1989-1994). She played Aunt Susu, Shirley’s (Carmen Munroe) obnoxious older sister, who was married to the Peckham hairdresser of the title played by Norman Beaton. They formed a distinguished triumvirate of actors who had paved the way for black entertainers in Britain.

Hammond’s character in Desmond’s, who had come from Jamaica for a visit, was portrayed as the “dream girl” of Desmond’s old friend Porkpie (Ram John Holder), and became his fiancée, but was eventually deported to your country of origin. Hammond then appeared in two episodes of the spin-off sitcom Porkpie, flying back from the Caribbean, where she had married another man and stolen his savings, after learning of his £10 million lottery win. porkpie.

Hammond was born Mavis Chin in Tweedside, Jamaica, and her last name derives from her father’s Chinese heritage. In 1959 she moved to Britain on a scholarship and worked for the architects Norman and Dawbarn. Interested in acting, she attended night classes at London’s City Literary Institute for two years and won a scholarship to Rada, from which she graduated in 1964.

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

She played Gillian, Danny Daniels’ immigrant girlfriend who encounters racism, social deprivation and police beating after arriving from Guyana. The Times described the play as “brave”.

Hammond first came to the attention of London theater critics when she took on the title role in The Black Girl in Search of God (1968), based on George Bernard Shaw’s book of short stories. Then, at the Roundhouse in 1972, she played the wife of Oscar James’s title character, recast as Mbeth, in The Black Macbeth, the first all-black version of Shakespeare’s play, directed by Peter Coe. It was set in Africa rather than 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, performed at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle, Bloomsbury Theatre, London and the Cork Opera House.

This 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. His name comes from a Jamaican word meaning bold and strong.

For Talawa’s 1994 production of King Lear at London’s Cochrane Theatre, Hammond portrayed the Fool as a split personality, with makeup applied to half his face.

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

By then he was also making his way into television. Having had many one-off roles and appearing in the Play for Today productions of In the Beautiful Caribbean (1972) and Victims of Apartheid (1978), she starred as the proud mother of the black British detective featured in Wolcott, a groundbreaking mini-TV from 1981. series. Four years later she had a regular role on the legal drama Black Silk as Marjorie Scott, the estranged wife of the lawyer played by Rudolph Walker.

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

Several of Hammond’s later television roles were as grandmothers, including the three-generation West Indian family sitcom Us Girls (1992-93), the Bafta-winning 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 biker accountant-turned-vicar Alan Franks (John Telfer), on The Archers for a short time (2003–04), with a 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 her son, Matthew.

• Mona Hammond (Mavis Chin), actress, born January 1, 1931; died July 4, 2022

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