Lynda Baron actress

Lynda Baron

With a career spanning over five decades, Lynda Baron left an indelible mark on the industry through her talent and versatility. While she is best known for her iconic role as Nurse Gladys Emmanuel in the hit sitcom Open All Hours, Lynda's contributions extended far beyond that memorable character. A multi-talented grafter who excelled in every discipline, Lynda’s magnetic stage presence graced frequent theatrical productions, earning her critical acclaim and numerous accolades.

Born Lilian Ridgway on 24 March 1939 in Urmston, Lancashire, to Cyril, an interior decorator, and his wife, she started studying ballet aged four and attended Flixton girls’ high school before going on to train as a dancer at the Royal Academy of Dance. At 15, she said, “I realised there was so little room at the top in ballet, and being determined to get to the top I took up singing.” She told the Sunday Post, "I went into rep and learned so much about acting. It was hard work because you were constantly doing one drama, rehearsing the next one and learning the lines of the one after that. It was a great education, and I am so glad to have gone through that.” Her first professional job, when she was 16, was in pantomime at the Liverpool Empire. “I used to stand in the wings watching Sonnie Hale and Ronnie Reece every night. That's how I learnt about comedy timing.”

"It was certainly a start and I have been quite busy ever since," she said. "You get your lulls in work and that makes you all the more grateful when the next job comes along and all the more determined to give it your best."

Lynda was soon singing and dancing at end of the pier shows, and by the time she was 17 she was in London performing at the Astor Club in Mayfair. She made her London stage debut in 1958 in Dora Bryan’s Garrick theatre revue, Living for Pleasure, which also starred Daniel Massey and Tony Selby, and got her first television exposure as a result. This was on the BBC's Theatre Night, a series of forty-five-minute excerpts from stage plays running in London's West End.

Lynda Baron actress

In 1961, she was in good company, appearing in another West End revue, One Over the Eight written by Peter Cook, Harold Pinter and John Mortimer and starring Kenneth Williams, Lance Percival and Sheila Hancock. The Evening News said it was "Scandalously funny" while the Evening Standard said it was "Snappy and gay." Performed at the Duke of York's Theatre, London, the material included the "One Leg Too Few" sketch and an "Interesting Facts" sketch with Williams playing an E. L. Wisty character.

In 1962, she had her 'made for television' debut in an episode of The Rag Trade.  In 1965, she alternated with Annie Ross as the resident singer on Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life, and it’s follow-on, BBC-3. Ned Sherrin wrote the opening and closing numbers of the latter satirical sketch and revue show with her in mind, but despite the presence of Leonard Rossiter and Bill Oddie the show was not as successful as Sherrin’s earlier triumphs. In 1966, Lynda sang the ballad that narrated the action in the Doctor Who adventure The Gunfighters. She would return to Doctor Who in front of the camera as Captain Wrack in the 1983 serial Enlightenment, and again in 2011 in Closing Time.

Lynda Baron actress

Lynda’s other early television roles included small parts in Scott On…, Crossroads, Up Pompeii, Z-Cars, and the horror film Hands of the Ripper.  1967, she appeared in the Grampian region on The George Kydd Show where she sang two songs - That's Life and Always True to You. During this period she continued to perform on stage. She played Prince Charming at the old Derby Playhouse and was invited back the following year. In 1968, she toured with Leslie Crowther in the BBC pantomime Humpty Dumpty which began in Coventry before finishing on stage at the Odeon cinema Golders Green where it was tele-recorded for broadcast over Christmas. Crowther played the title role and Lynda was the principal boy, Tommy Tucker. In 1972, she was in Jack and the Beanstalk a panto she would return to several times in the future, the last being in 1989 alongside Charlie Drake, Jack Smethurst and Sally Thomsett. Lynda received joint top billing alongside Drake. “Provided you are prepared to play whatever is offered, you don't get pigeon-holed”, she said. She was also cast in the original West End production of Sondheim's Follies and a character role in the London revival of David Storey's In Celebration. “I loved doing Follies in the West End, stopping the show every night with Who's That Woman?” she would later remember.

Lynda Baron actress

Her first series of note and the one that endures in most people’s memory was in the sitcom Open All Hours in 1976. As Nurse Gladys Emmanuel, the buxom district nurse, she was the object of lusty desire from Ronnie Barker’s pragmatic and miserly shopkeeper, Arkwright. His world revolved around his shop, but Nurse Gladys was the exception. As for whether Arkwright ever succeeded in his amorous pursuits, the show left it delightfully ambiguous. His efforts were often comical, but the true depths of Nurse Gladys’s feelings remained a mystery. It was a role that instantly made Lynda Baron a household name. “Some Jobs are a complete pleasure to work on and that was one”, she once said. "Working with Ronnie Barker and David Jason was unbelievable - two great actors in a brilliantly scripted sitcom. There was never a day when we did not have a great laugh ourselves and that carried on when Still Open All Hours became a series."

Lynda Baron actress

There followed more sitcoms in quick succession in 1977; A Roof Over My Head which starred Brian Rix, Francis Matthews, Alfie Bass, Peter Bowles, Deborah Watling and Nigel Planer, in which Lynda appeared in all 8 episodes, and a starring role in Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggitt, starring Bill Maynard. Other television appearances include Lilly Bless'er in Last of the Summer Wine and Auntie Pat in The Upper Hand. She said, "I've played a huge range of ages and characters. When I was 36 and weighed 9½ stone I played 55-year-old Nurse Gladys. Now I'm no longer 36 or 9½ - I've grown into the character. I am two stone heavier than I used to be as a youngster but the shape's still alright. The big bust and the long legs.” At 5ft 7inches those legs graced many pantomime principal boy roles.

Lynda was still touring and treading the boards in 1989, appearing in 42nd Street at the Manchester Opera House from September to January 1990. "I get to sing and dance in this one, though when I saw the dance routines the feet started to twitch. I did a nine-minute tap in Follies and swore I'd never do it again. I probably will. I ought to know better." In 1991, she took a break from song, dance and comedy when she starred in An Inspector Calls alongside Alfred Marks at the Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, Scotland.

Lynda Baron actress

She continued to prove a welcome name on any theatre billboard such as Ray Cooney’s Funny Money (Playhouse theatre, 1995) and starring alongside Orlando Bloom in David Storey’s In Celebration at the Duke of York’s (2007), Rookery Nook (2009) and enjoyed starring opposite Zoë Wanamaker in Stevie (at the Chichester Theatre, 2014, later transferring to the Hampstead).

Lynda Baron actress

As Auntie Mabel from 1993 to 1997 in the CBBC series Come Outside, a series aimed at younger children where they were encouraged to learn about the world around them, Lynda won over a whole new generation of fans. In 2001, she returned to children’s television again, providing the voice of Grandma in 48 episodes of Fimbles. In 1997, she played Renee Turnbull in Coronation Street and made guest appearances in dinnerladies, The Mrs Bradley Mysteries, and Goodnight Sweetheart. She appeared in series 2 – 4 of Fat Friends, a drama that explored the lives of several slimming club members, and how the various ways their weight impacted upon them. The series also starred James Cordon, Ruth Jones, Alison Steadman and Sheridan Smith who went on to appear in Gavin & Stacey. She was also in Woody Allen's 2006 romantic crime comedy film Scoop. Lynda continued to work regularly on television and the stage in the 2000s, with other credits including The Bill, Doctors, Peak Practice, Holby City, Rome, and Casualty, and was in 32 episodes of EastEnders between 2006 to 2016.

Lynda was deservedly nominated for a Bafta in 2011 for her role in The Road to Coronation Street, a one-off drama about the early days of the soap, in which she played actress Violet Carson, who portrayed Ena Sharples in the long-running series. In 2020, she was in the film Dream Horse, about a racehorse breeder, which starred Damian Lewis and Joanna Page.

In 1962, Lynda married hairdresser and music impresario Cyril Smith, who performed under the name Carol London; they later divorced. In 1966, she married John M. Lee. The couple had two children and were married until his death in 2001.

Lynda Baron actress

Lynda Baron passed away on 5 March 2022, aged 82 years of age. Lisa Riley, the Emmerdale actress, paid tribute to Lynda, saying: "God bless you Lynda, rest in peace. You played my mum for four wonderful, memorable years in Fat Friends. Each & everyday I learnt so much from you, but mostly we always laughed together, your energy will live on forever."

Lynda Baron's ability to seamlessly transition between comedy and drama, combined with her captivating stage presence, set her apart as a true icon. It is through her immense talent and lasting impact that she continues to be celebrated as one of Britain's most distinguished actresses.

Published on March 4th, 2024. Written by Marc Saul for Television Heaven.

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