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Nichols, Dandy (1907-1986)


Main image of Nichols, Dandy (1907-1986)

Best remembered as 'silly old moo' Else Garnett, impervious foil to the bigoted Alf in Till Death Do Us Part (BBC, 1966-75), Dandy Nichols also enjoyed a long and distinguished theatrical career, playing opposite John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson in the Royal Court opening of 'Home'. Her doughy face became familiar in big-screen comedies from the 1940s onward, typically essaying cockney charladies, domestics and dowdy housewives.

Born Daisy Sander, she initially acted on an amateur basis, using her income as a secretary to pay for drama, diction and fencing classes. After being spotted in a charity show she joined a Cambridge repertory company, choosing the stage name of Barbara Nichols, which she later amended to Dandy - her childhood nickname. Her theatrical career was put on hold for two years with the outbreak of WWII, but she subsequently toured with ENSA, going on to make her film debut in Hue and Cry (d. Charles Crichton, 1947).

Over the next two decades she alternated between minor character parts in the cinema and more substantial theatrical fare, also appearing in episodes of Emergency - Ward 10 (ITV, 1957-67), Dixon of Dock Green (BBC, 1955-76), and Armchair Theatre (ITV, 1959-74), and providing a memorable cameo in the Beatles' Help! (d. Richard Lester, 1965). The following year she made her debut as Else in Till Death Do Us Part - a part originally played by Gretchen Franklin in the Comedy Playhouse pilot (BBC, tx. 22/7/1965). Focusing on the narrow-minded rants of Warren Mitchell's Alf Garnett, the show ran until 1975 and spawned two feature spin-offs. The put-upon and usually uncomprehending Else quickly became a focus of audience sympathy, frequently (and unintentionally) puncturing her husband's balloon with an off-hand remark. However, by the last series Nichols had tired of the role, so Else was moved to Australia to live with her sister.

She later won acclaim opposite Alastair Sim in Play for Today's 'The General's Day' (BBC, tx. 20/11/1972), and offered a malevolent take on Else as an absent-minded kidnapper in the Bergerac episode 'A Message for the Rich' (BBC, tx. 9/1/1983). She twice returned to play Else, first in an ITV revival, Till Death... (ITV, 1981), and finally in In Sickness and in Health (BBC, 1985-1992). As Nichols was now suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, Else was confined to a wheelchair. She died shortly after the transmission of her final appearance in the 1985 Christmas special.

Richard Hewett

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