1911 - 2005
Born in Covent Garden on July 7th, 1911, a cousin of the actor Clive Dunn, Gretchen Franklin began working as a £2.00 a-week chorus girl in panto and was a Tiller Girl at The London Palladium. Her first West End break came during the war when she landed a part in the first of a series of reviews at the Ambassadors Theatre in 'Sweet and Low.' She made her big screen debut in 1954 in 'Before I Wake' and went on to be one of the most recognisable 'walk on' actresses of the British film industry making one of her short appearances in the Beatles film 'Help!'.
On television she appeared as Warren Mitchell's wife Elsie, in the pilot episode of 'Till Death Us Do Part', but missed her chance to continue the role in the full series because she couldn't obtain her release from a stage role she was playing at the time. Instead, she recommended her friend Dandy Nichols for the part in the series. She also starred in the early evening soap 'Crossroads' in which she played Myrtle Cavendish; the short-lived soap 'Castle Haven'; the sitcom 'George and Mildred' as Mildred's mother Mrs Tremble, and 'Rising Damp' as Rigsby's Aunt Maud. She was also a regular supporting figure on television dramas such as 'Dixon of Dock Green' and 'Z-Cars'. She had bit parts in series such as 'Danger Man', 'Follyfoot' and 'Quatermass' but was more often seen in comedy.
Franklin landed her most celebrated role at the age of 73, in another soap opera, 'EastEnders'. As Ethel Skinner, Franklin was one of the original members of cast for the long-running BBC series and almost formed something of a double-act with June Brown who played the part of Dot Cotton. When 'EastEnders' producer Julia Smith announced that the character of Ethel was to go into an old people's home, Franklin, in her own words "resigned on the spot". "I didn't want Ethel becoming a sad old dear who the others visited occasionally." In one of the series most dramatic and contraversial storylines of the series, Ethel persuades her best friend to administer an overdose of morphine tablets to save her from the pain of dying from cancer.
Off screen Franklin devoted much of her time to charity and gave away all the royalties she had recieved 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.”
In May 2005 it was confirmed that Gretchen would present the Lifetime Soap Achievement Award to former co-star June Brown at the British Soap Awards but was too ill to attend. It was later given to her other co-star Anna Wing who played Lou Beale, who mentioned her in the speech.
Franklin died at her home in Barnes on July 11th, 2005, just four days after her 94th birthday. Her life and work was honoured at the British Academy Television Awards in 2006. In 2007 it was revealed that she had left £872,772 in her will. One third went to charity Help The Aged.
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