Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Hird, Thora (1911-2003)


Main image of Hird, Thora (1911-2003)

Had Thora Hird retired at sixty, she would have had a solid career behind her as a versatile stage and screen actress equally at home in comedy (talent-spotted by George Formby, she made her screen debut opposite Will Hay in The Black Sheep of Whitehall, d. Basil Dearden, 1941) and drama (The Entertainer, d. Tony Richardson, 1960), gritty realism (the waspish mother-in-law in A Kind of Loving, d. John Schlesinger, 1962), airy fantasy (Anna Neagle musical comedies The Courtneys of Curzon Street and Maytime in Mayfair, d. Herbert Wilcox, 1947/49) and even sci-fi and horror (The Quatermass Xperiment, d. Val Guest, 1955; The Nightcomers, d. Michael Winner, 1971). Although rarely cast in lead roles and often given little material to work with, she nonetheless made an indelible impression whenever she was on screen despite, as she herself put it, not being at the front of the queue when looks were given out.

But from the 1960s onwards, she metamorphosed from respected character actress into an authentic British national treasure. This was largely thanks to television: in the sitcom Meet The Wife (BBC, 1963-66) in which she played opposite Freddie Frinton as bickering couple Fred and Thora Blacklock, and the drama series The First Lady (BBC, 1968-69), where she played a crusading local councillor, she defined her popular image as a strong-willed, no-nonsense Northerner, good-humoured but sharp-tongued, essentially kindly but not afraid to speak her mind when it suited her.

When she finally took on a regular role in Last of the Summer Wine (BBC, 1973-) in 1986, it seemed as though she was already part of the scenery - and in many ways she was, since Roy Clarke's long-running sitcom was drawn from popular images of Northern women that Hird had played a major role in establishing in the public's collective imagination thanks to these and similar roles. Her other TV series included In Loving Memory (ITV, 1979-86), Flesh and Blood (BBC, 1980) and Hallelujah (ITV, 1983), and she was also a regular presenter of the BBC's main religious programmes Songs of Praise (1961-) and Praise Be! (1979-), which provided her public outlets for exploring clearly heartfelt beliefs.

But all this cosy familiarity should never detract from her talent: her three BAFTAs for Best Actress certainly weren't given for sentimental reasons, even though she was nearly eighty when she received the first. Two were for A Cream Cracker Under the Settee (BBC, tx. 24/5/1988) and Waiting for the Telegram (BBC, tx. 11/11/1998), monologues written especially for her by Alan Bennett, the culmination of a six-play collaboration in which writer and actress were perfectly matched; the third was for Lost for Words (BBC, tx. 3/1/1999), Deric Longden's autobiographical piece about his mother's declining health. Other outstanding single dramas included Memento Mori (BBC, tx. 19/4/1992), Wide-Eyed and Legless (BBC, tx. 5/9/1993) and the Victoria Wood-scripted Pat and Margaret (BBC, tx. 11/9/1994).

Born in Morecambe on 28 May 1911, she made her stage debut at the age of two months, but was never star-struck: despite frequent hob-nobbing with royalty in later years, she would always bring herself down to earth by recalling mental images of her childhood and adolescence: seeing wounded men returning from the First World War, scrubbing the steps of her parents' house or spending ten years behind the counter at Morecambe Co-op, an experience that gave her a veritable encylopaedia of character references to draw on in her later work.

She married musician James Scott in 1937, their daughter is the actress Janette Scott, whose second marriage (1966-77) made Hird, incongruously but strangely appropriately, the mother-in-law of American crooner Mel Tormé. But even when visiting the family in Beverly Hills she remained a Lancastrian at heart, appreciating the place's attractions but bemoaning the absence of corner shops.

Michael Brooke

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Boys in Brown (1949)Boys in Brown (1949)

A progressive Borstal governor tries to reform his boys

Thumbnail image of Crowded Day, The (1954)Crowded Day, The (1954)

The lives and loves of department store workers during Christmas week

Thumbnail image of Cure For Love, The (1949)Cure For Love, The (1949)

Robert Donat directs and stars in a gentle Lancashire comedy

Thumbnail image of Entertainer, The (1960)Entertainer, The (1960)

Olivier shatters his Shakespearean image as a seedy music-hall artiste

Thumbnail image of Go to Blazes (1942)Go to Blazes (1942)

Will Hay shows how not to deal with fire bombs in a comic instructional film

Thumbnail image of Kind of Loving, A (1962)Kind of Loving, A (1962)

New Wave film about a man torn between desire and responsibility

Thumbnail image of Madness of the Heart (1949)Madness of the Heart (1949)

Melodrama with Margaret Lockwood as a blind nun

Thumbnail image of Magic Box, The (1951)Magic Box, The (1951)

Star-studded biopic of British film pioneer William Friese-Greene

Thumbnail image of Magnet, The (1950)Magnet, The (1950)

Lesser-known Ealing comedy about a young boy with a guilty conscience

Thumbnail image of Maytime in Mayfair (1949)Maytime in Mayfair (1949)

Light Anna Neagle comedy set in the world of haute couture - in Technicolor

Thumbnail image of Next of Kin, The (1942)Next of Kin, The (1942)

Brutally effective WWII propaganda film on the dangers of careless talk.

Thumbnail image of One Good Turn (1954)One Good Turn (1954)

Norman Wisdom comedy set in an orphanage

Thumbnail image of Quatermass Xperiment, The (1955)Quatermass Xperiment, The (1955)

The first big-screen spin-off from Nigel Kneale's legendary TV series

Thumbnail image of Simon and Laura (1955)Simon and Laura (1955)

Soap opera satire: a real-life couple plays a happier version of themselves

Thumbnail image of Two Thousand Women (1944)Two Thousand Women (1944)

Drama set in a women's internment camp during World War II

Thumbnail image of Went the Day Well? (1942)Went the Day Well? (1942)

Chilling classic imagining a brutal Nazi invasion of a small English village

Thumbnail image of Afternoon Off (1979)Afternoon Off (1979)

Tragicomedy about an Asian waiter on a blind date in Hartlepool.

Thumbnail image of Last of the Summer Wine (1973-2010)Last of the Summer Wine (1973-2010)

Elderly pranks and misadventures in the BBC's longest-running sitcom

Thumbnail image of Lost For Words (1999)Lost For Words (1999)

Moving drama about a dying mother that won Thora Hird her third BAFTA

Thumbnail image of Me! I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1978)Me! I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1978)

Mournfully funny Alan Bennett play about a cripplingly shy English lecturer

Thumbnail image of Memento Mori (1992)Memento Mori (1992)

Outstanding adaptation of Muriel Spark's unsettling novel

Thumbnail image of Pat and Margaret (1994)Pat and Margaret (1994)

Comic drama about two very different sisters reunited after 27 years

Thumbnail image of Say Something Happened (1982)Say Something Happened (1982)

Bittersweet play about an elderly couple and a naive social worker

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Funny Women on TVFunny Women on TV

Comedy with a female slant

Thumbnail image of Thora Hird and Alan BennettThora Hird and Alan Bennett

A great actress and writer scaled career peaks in their work together

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Bennett, Alan (1934-)Bennett, Alan (1934-)

Writer, Actor, Presenter