Appreciation for Ethel Skinner, an East End Girl
By Jason Grant
It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of our beloved Gretchen Franklin.
For rank-and-file EastEnders fans, the character of Ethel Skinner will forever remain in their hearts. It is true to say from the
moment we met her for the first time back in 1985, she quickly established herself as the lovable, flirtatious, quick-witted dame that I'm
certain many of us with connections to the East End have encountered.
The abiding memory of Albert Square's triumvirate of Ethel,
Lou Beale and Dot Cotton is part of television legend and we can only lament over the scenes in the Vic with Willy in tow, sipping ale
out of a bowl as Ethel thrilled the punters with her repartee, her version of the cancan or plain sense of fun. She was certainly the most
light-hearted of the three and not frightened to stand up to the over-bearing Lou and interfering Dot. She had her run ins with both over
the years, and yet their friendship endured right to the last. The episodes leading up to Ethel's death in 2000 when Dot aided her passing
are amongst the best drama ever seen on British TV and commanded 16 million viewers.
Her career in entertainment spanned nearly 60 years. Her first film role was in Before I Wake in 1954. In the 1960s she appeared in such
classics as Dixon of Dock Green and Z Cars. She was originally cast as the wife of Alf Garnett in the pilot episode of Till Death Us Do
Part in 1965, but the role eventually went to Dandy Nicholls in the long-running series. She was a talented comic actress and starred in
Rising Damp, Sykes, George and Mildred, and Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em with Michael Crawford. However, it is the role of Ethel by which
millions of fans will remeber her. We got a brief glimpse of the young Ethel (played by a different actress) in the one-off drama set in
wartime, Civvy Street, but beneath all the suggestion of sauciness she was only having a good laugh at life, something that sustained her
through the loneliness after the passing of her husband Willy and later her pug of the same name. She never really did find love and
companionship in her latter years, although Benny Bloom came nearer than most in getting her down the aisle.
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