Saturday, 19 August 2017

Whatever Happened To ... Dandy Nichols?

 

I realised the other day that I had never written a blog about that celebrated character comedy actress, the late Dandy Nichols. Famed for her many years playing Else, the "silly moo" in Johnny Speight's legendary BBC comedy, Till Death Us To Part, Dandy enjoyed a long and varied career. Her Carry On contribution may have been brief but it still means she's worthy of a blog all of her own.

Dandy joined the Carry On gang in 1967, the year after rising to fame in Speight's sitcom. Playing the grumbling wife of Sid James' hospital patient, Nichols is glorious in a couple of short scenes which see her moan on about her dreadful life. Sid plugs in his headphones, barely uttering a word which makes Dandy's scenes joyous monologues. Beautiful but sadly all too brief, sadly Dandy didn't make another Carry On. The height of the films' success saw her also at her peak, working on Till Death Us Do Part from 1966 until 1975 alongside Warren Mitchell, Una Stubbs and Tony Booth. Dandy is so recognisable and defined by the character of Else however in the original BBC pilot Else was played by Gretchen Franklin (famous as Ethel in EastEnders). When the series was commissioned, Franklin was in a play and her contract could not be broken so Nichols was cast. 



The idea was revived for one series in 1981, over on ITV with the title Till Death... this series added Patricia Hayes to the cast while Una Stubbs reprised her role as Rita for a few episodes. However the BBC later revived the series again in 1985 with the new title In Sickness and in Health. Again starring Mitchell and Nichols, the cast also included the likes of Pat Coombs, Arthur English and Harry Fowler. Sadly, Dandy only appeared in the first series and was now mainly seen in a wheelchair due to ill health. The series continued until 1992, six years after Dandy had sadly passed away.

Dandy was born Daisy Sander in Fulham in May 1907. She bagan her working life in a factory before taking acting and diction lessons. She was spotted in a charity show and started working in rep. The war years saw Dandy (adopted as her stage name - it was a childhood nickname) doing office work before joining ENSA (Entertainments National Service Assocation). After the war she began acting professionally on stage and in films. Her big screen debut was in Hue and Cry in 1947. Some of her most notable early films included roles in The Winslow Boy, Nicholas Nickleby, The Fallen Idol and Mother Riley Meets the Vampire. Later films included Ladies Who Do, Georgy Girl, Doctor in Clover, The Birthday Party, Help!, O! Lucky Man, Confessions of a Window Cleaner (as Robin Askwith's mother Mrs Lea) and another Askwith film, Lindsay Anderson's Britannia Hospital in 1982. Dandy only appeared in the first Confessions film with her role recast with On The Buses actress Doris Hare for the remaining three films.

 

On television, Dandy starred opposite the wonderful Alastair Sim in The Generals Day. She also made appearances in The Tea Ladies, Bergerac, The Trouble with Lillian and The Bagthorpe Saga. One of Dandy's most successful stage roles was that of Marjorie in David Storey's 1970 play, Home. Set in a mental asylum, Home starred John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Mona Washbourne. Directed by Lindsay Anderson, Home premiered at The Royal Court theatre in London before transferring to Broadway with the same cast. Later in the run, Dandy's part was played by Jessica Tandy. The original British cast also filmed the play for broadcast in the Play For Today slot on television in 1972. 

Dandy Nichols was married to a newspaper editor, Stephen Bagueley Waters from 1942 until their divorce in 1955. By the late 1970s and early 1980s, Nichols was dogged by ill health but continued working right up until her death at the age of 78 in February 1986. A gifted actress, many of Dandy's performances are still remembered and cherished over thirty years after her death.

 

 

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