Obituary: Mona Hammond, the avant-garde actress who has played a variety of roles from soap operas to Shakespeare

Mona Hammond, the Jamaican-born actress who has died aged 91, is best remembered for her role as grandmother Blossom Jackson in EastEnders – but beyond that, she did more than that, with her television scene-stealing performances. television, radio, film and theater.

As co-founder of the Talawa Theater Company in 1986, she began to fight what the company’s website calls the “lack of creative opportunities for black actors and the marginalization of black people.” margins in cultural processes”.

Talawa (name derived from a patois club in Jamaica that says “I lick but I talawa”, meaning “I am small but strong”) was set up to promote black talent and provide actors of color whose jobs they were rejected by mainstream theater companies – including Shakespearean Roles.

It is now one of the most acclaimed black companies in the UK.

Mona Hammond first appeared in Albert Square in 1986, playing Michelle Fowler’s midwife, before being cast as Blossom Jackson when she went to live with her nephew Alan and his usual wife Carol in aged 25, after her Wapping apartment was burgled. .

She was born Mavis Chin on January 1, 1931, in Jamaica to a Chinese father and Jamaican mother. She moved to London in 1959 on a scholarship and worked for Norman and Dawbarn Architects. While there, she won a RADA scholarship. After graduating in 1964, she embarked on a stage career and changed her name to Mona Hammond as a way to avoid being stereotyped.

In 1972, among other roles, she played Lady Macbeth opposite Oscar James in Peter Coe’s breakout film. Black Macbeth at the Roundhouse. She also spent two years at the National Theater in productions including Fuenteovejuna and Gynt peerdirected by Declan Donnellan, and Challenge.

She went on to star in numerous plays by black writers and in works by Tawala, including the role of Lear’s Fool, the part where she played a schizophrenic – with black and white makeup. separate.

She pays extraordinary attention to detail.

When playing Lady Bracknell in an all-black production of The importance of being serious in 1989, she spent hours and hours trying to get the right wristband for her fans, though, as she confesses, she couldn’t understand how her character had come to be. may be interested in a handbag when there is a child in it.

“That’s what I think I can bring to the play. I talked about the baby, and played with the handbag. I still don’t know if I did the right thing or not.”

At the same time, she developed a thriving television career, with early appearances on shows like Gently, gently (1968) and Troubleshooter (1969), then The Sweeney, Casualty and many other series, including a cameo in Opening the street. She also had many roles in sitcoms, including Desmond’s (1989-94).

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Other roles include Mrs. Sylvie Headly on the sitcom The Crouches (2003–05). In the Channel 4 script about Zadie Smith’s White teeth (2002), she stole the show in the first episode as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses waiting in vain for the end of the world – as depicted in the Book of Revelation.

She also appeared in Which doctor? episode Rise of the Cybermen in 2006.

Her movie credits included Manderlay (2005) and Kinky Boots (2006), and in 2008 she starred in Roland Emmerich’s epic 10000 years BC.

She was appointed an OBE in 2005, won the annual Birmingham Black International Film Festival’s Ebony Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011, and in 2018 was awarded the Women of the World Lifetime Achievement Award. gender.

Her marriage to Michael Saunders fell apart, and she was survived by one son.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Obituary: Mona Hammond, the avant-garde actress who has played a variety of roles from soap operas to Shakespeare

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