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Baker, Hylda (1905-1986)

Actor, Comedian

Main image of Baker, Hylda (1905-1986)

Hylda Baker was a hard-working stage star - the daughter of an earlier Lancashire comedian - who appeared in a few well-thought-of films (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, d. Karel Reisz, 1960; Up the Junction, d. Peter Collinson, 1967; Oliver!, d. Carol Reed, 1968) but made a bigger splash on the small screen. A highlight of her stage routine, interacting with stooge 'Cynthia' a lanky, silent chum (almost always played by tall men in drag), went down particularly well in shows like The Good Old Days (BBC) and Val Parnell's Saturday Spectacular (ITV) and ensured her regular appearances, which eventually resulted in her own starring series Be Soon (BBC, 1957-58). "Be soon!" was one of Baker's famous catchphrases, as was "She knows, you know!", often directed at the silent Cynthia.

But it was as star of the sitcom Nearest and Dearest (ITV, 1968-73) that she enjoyed her greatest popularity (as Nellie Pledge). Paired with fellow veteran comedy star Jimmy Jewel, the couple played bickering siblings left to run a pickle factory following the death of their father. Delivering their dialogue like a music hall double-act rather than in traditional sitcom style perfectly suited the earthy nature of the script and made the show a big hit (an estimated 20 million viewers in 1971). However in real life the two leads had a volatile relationship, and struggled to get through the shows.

After the series finished Baker appeared in Not On Your Nellie (ITV, 1974-75) playing a similar character (this time running a pub) but it fared less well. Throughout this years she was suffering from a failing memory, making it harder to learn lines (actually it was the early onset of Alzheimer's disease) and, following an accident on the set of Nellie (in which she broke her ankle), her appearances on TV became increasingly rare, though she did return for one remarkable swan song (in 1978), a comedy version of the Grease song 'You're The One That I Want', which she performed with the equally unlikely Arthur Mullard. She died in a nursing home in 1986.

Biography: She Knows, You Know! by Jean Ferguson (Breedon Books 1997)

Dick Fiddy

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Oliver! (1968)Oliver! (1968)

Lionel Bart's Oscar-winning musical adaptation of Dickens' Oliver Twist

Thumbnail image of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

Classic slice of Northern gritty realism that made a star out of Albert Finney

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