British Actress Dora Bryan Dies at 91

2:43 PM PST 07/23/2014 by Alex Ritman
Courtesy Everett Collection

She won a BAFTA for her role in "A Taste of Honey" and more recently starred on the TV shows "Last of the Summer Wine" and "Absolutely Fabulous."

Dora Bryan, the veteran British actress who starred as the domineering alcoholic mother in Tony Richardson’s gritty 1961 film A Taste of Honey, died Wednesday. She was 91.

Bryan, awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1996, died in a hospital in Hove, England, her family told the Brighton newspaper The Argus.

Bryan also appeared in such films as Carol Reed’s The Fallen Idol (1948), The Cure for Love (1949), The Blue Lamp (1950) with Dirk Bogarde, Carry on Sergeant (1958), The Great St. Trinian’s Train Robbery (1966), Apartment Zero (1988) and MirrorMask (2005).

On stage, Bryan took the lead twice in London productions of Hello, Dolly! (1966-68) and appeared in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1962) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (1984). She made her Broadway debut alongside Peter O’Toole and Amanda Plummer in Pygmalion (1987), and she received a Laurence Olivier Award in 1996 for best supporting actress for her role in Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party.

Bryan was more recently known for starring on such noted British TV shows as Last of the Summer Wine, playing Roz Utterthwaite, and Absolutely Fabulous, as a regular guest alongside June Whitfield. She received a BAFTA nomination for the latter.

A Taste of Honey, adapted from Shelagh Delaney’s Broadway play, saw Bryan play Helen, the mother of Jo (Rita Tushingham), a 17-year-old schoolgirl who is impregnated by a black sailor (Paul Danquah) and rooms with a gay student (Murray Melvin). The film won five BAFTAs, including one for Bryan as best actress.

Born Dora May Broadbent in the north England town of Southport in 1923, the actress made her stage debut at age 12 and later worked with the entertainment body of the British armed forces during World War II.

She changed her name to Bryant upon moving to London following encouragement by Noel Coward when she performed in his play Private Lives. She soon became Dora Bryan when a theater program reportedly missed off the last letter.

Survivors include her sons Daniel and William. Her husband of 54 years, cricketer Bill Lawton, died from Alzheimer’s in 2008 at age 88. 

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