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Hayes, Patricia (1909-1998)


Main image of Hayes, Patricia (1909-1998)

Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to the diminutuve, warm-natured character actress Patricia Hayes is that so many top comedians such as Arthur Askey, Tony Hancock, Arthur Haynes, Benny Hill and Frankie Howerd chose to work with her. Whether playing a moaning battleaxe, a sophisticated fashion editor or a mother doing the washing up in a spoof commercial, Hayes was one of the finest straight women in the business. However, she is probably best remembered for the serious title role of Edna the Inebriate Woman (BBC, tx. 21/10/1971).

Born in Camberwell, London, on 22 December 1909, she was on stage from the age of 12. At 18, she joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, leaving in 1928 to spend ten years in repertory theatre. During the 1940s, she appeared in numerous films including Alberto Cavalcanti's Went the Day Well? (1942) and Nicholas Nickleby (1947). However, by the 1950s, radio and television comedy had become her mainstay.

She appeared in several BBC sketch shows, usually as the unglamorous butt of the jokes. These included The Benny Hill Show (1955), The Arthur Haynes Show (1957), and The April 8th Show (Seven Days Early) (1958) - a one-off April Fool's show starring Peter Sellers. She also appeared in the classic Hancock's Half-Hour (1959), and over the following decade, she would continue to play supporting roles in sitcoms, usually playing a cockney character, in The Arthur Askey Show (1961), Hugh and I (1962) and Till Death Us Do Part (1965).

She continued to work in sketch shows including the Spike Milligan vehicle The World of Beachcomber (BBC, 1968-69), as well as rejoining Benny Hill for his Thames Television shows of the 1960s and 1970s. A radio sitcom with Beryl Reid, about two elderly women living uneasily together as tenant and lodger, transferred to television as The Trouble With You Lilian (ITV, 1971) with Dandy Nichols playing the role of the tenant Madge.

But 1971 was also a career watershed. Hayes took leave from The Benny Hill Show to star in a Play For Today written by Jeremy Sandford, author of Cathy Come Home (BBC, tx. 16/11/1966). Her performance as the drunk and displaced Edna earned widespread acclaim, cemented by a BAFTA for Best Actress.

However, instead of consolidating her career with more serious acting, she preferred to return to comedy. Her supporting roles continued, including an appearance in Frankie Howerd - The Laughing Stock of Television (ITV tx. 14/4/1971), but her post-Edna profile meant that she was increasingly offered more prominent roles in sitcoms such as The Last of the Baskets (ITV, 1971-72), and Spooner's Patch (ITV, 1979-82). Thames' brief Alf Garnett revival, Till Death... (ITV, 1981) gave a higher profile to her character Min.

Her first starring role saw Hayes back in Edna territory playing a feisty, battling tramp alongside Pat Coombs in Channel 4's The Lady is a Tramp (1983). She then went on to play Patricia Routledge's mother in Marjorie and Men (ITV, 1985). In 1987, she was awarded the OBE for services to drama, and her film career also had a renaissance, with appearances in the lavish two-part production of Little Dorrit (d. Christine Edzard, 1987), the fantasy epic Willow (US, 1988), the hit comedy A Fish Called Wanda (d. Charles Crichton, 1988) and Derek Jarman's War Requiem (1989).

Hayes continued acting well into the 1990s, with appearances in The Bill (ITV tx. 20/11/1990), Lovejoy (BBC, tx. 19/9/1993) and a regular role in the sci-fi revival Tomorrow People (ITV tx. 1995). She died on 19 September 1998 at the age of 88.

Eddie Dyja

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Little Dorrit (1987)Little Dorrit (1987)

Ambitious two-film adaptation of one of Dickens' greatest works

Thumbnail image of Benny Hill Show, The (1969-89)Benny Hill Show, The (1969-89)

Massively successful, often controversial comedy sketch series

Thumbnail image of Cymbeline (1983)Cymbeline (1983)

BBC Television Shakespeare adaptation

Thumbnail image of Edna the Inebriate Woman (1971)Edna the Inebriate Woman (1971)

Powerful drama about society's indifference to the destitute.

Thumbnail image of Till Death Us Do Part (1966-75)Till Death Us Do Part (1966-75)

Controversial comedy with Warren Mitchell as the bigoted Alf Garnett

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