Isobel Mary 'Mollie' Sugden (July 21, 1922 – July 1, 2009) was an English comedy actress best known for portraying the saleswoman Mrs. Slocombe in the British sitcom Are You Being Served? from 1972 to 1985. She later reprised this role in Grace & Favour, which ran from 1992 to 1993. Sugden appeared in many other television series, including The Liver Birds and Coronation Street. She died in 2009 after a long illness.
Early life and career
Isobel Mary Sugden was born in Keighley in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1922. When she was four years old, she heard a woman reading a poem at a village concert making people laugh. The following Christmas, after being asked if she could "do anything", Sugden read this poem and everyone fell about laughing. She later remarked that their response made her "realise how wonderful it was to make people laugh". Shortly after she left school, the Second World War broke out, and Sugden worked in a munitions factory in Keighley making shells for the Royal Navy. However, she was later made redundant so she attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
When Sugden graduated from the Guildhall School of Drama, she worked in rep for eight years with a company that included Eric Sykes and Roy Dotrice. She also had work in radio and made her television debut in a live half-hour comedy show. Sugden's other appearances before Are You Being Served? included parts in Benny Hill, Just Jimmy, Z-Cars, Up Pompeii!, The Goodies, Steptoe and Son and five episodes of Jackanory in 1968.
Mollie Sugden's first regular sitcom role was from 1962 to 1966 when she played Mrs. Crispin in the sitcom Hugh and I. Hugh and I was written by John Chapman and when he got involved with The Liver Birds, he suggested Sugden for the role of Sandra's mother, Mrs Hutchinson. She portrayed Mrs Hutchinson from 1971 to 1979, and years later in 1996, when The Liver Birds was revived Sugden reprised the role, despite being on steroids at the time due to suffering from polymyalgia. In 1973, she appeared in Son of the Bride.
Sugden was already a well-known face on British television when she was given the role that brought her international fame, that of Mrs. Slocombe—a department-store saleswoman with a socially superior attitude, a repertoire of double entendres, and a penchant for bouffant, pastel-coloured coiffures—in the popular and long-running Are You Being Served?, which ran from 1972 to 1985 (see image at top, with purple hairstyle). In 1978, when it was thought that Are You Being Served? was over, she was the lead star in Come Back Mrs Noah, a sitcom that is regarded by some as one of the worst ever made. From 1965 to 1976, she intermittently played Nellie Harvey, the landlady of The Laughing Donkey pub, in Coronation Street. In this she often appeared opposite Annie Walker, landlady of the Rovers Return. Later in 1986, she had a 23-week stint on That's Life!.
Mollie Sugden also played main roles in other sitcoms, including That's My Boy, which ran from 1981 to 1986 and My Husband and I. My Husband and I ran from 1987 to 1988, and she played opposite her husband, the actor, William Moore (1916-2000), whom she married on 29 March 1958 having met him at Swansea rep. They had twin sons, Robin and Simon, who were born in 1963.
Seven years after the end of Are You Being Served?, five of the original cast - including Sugden - came together to appear in Grace & Favour, where the staff are left a manor house in the country, in which they have to live. This was titled Are You Being Served? Again! when it aired in the United States. It lasted for two series until 1993. Other appearances around this time included Just William, Oliver's Travels and The Bill. Sugden was mentioned in Little Britain, by a regular character who claims to have been Sugden's bridesmaid, and never talks about anything else. Sugden appears herself in the final episode of the first series where the character throws a knife at her back to silence her after she does not recognise the woman and says that her only bridesmaid was in fact somebody else.
In 2002 a tribute programme called Celebrating Mollie Sugden: An Are You Being Served? Special aired on American PBS stations featuring several members of the cast of Are You Being Served?
Sugden died at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford on 1 July 2009 of unspecified natural causes. Her final public appearance was at her Are You Being Served? co-star Wendy Richard's funeral four months previously.
- General Register Office birth index
- "Keighley-born Mollie Sugden dies". Keighley News. 2009-07-02. http://www.keighleynews.co.uk/news/4471873.Keighley_born_Mollie_Sugden_dies/. Retrieved 2009-07-02.
- "I'm Free! - The Complete Are You Being Served?". Orion Books. 1999.
- "BBC Comedy Guide". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/guide/articles/c/comebackmrsnoah_1299000654.shtml.
- "Nellie Harvey". corrie.net. http://www.corrie.net/profiles/characters/harvey_nellie.html.
- General Register Office - Index of Births registered in October, November, December 1963
- "Celebrating Mollie Sugden". http://home.hiwaay.net/~emilyj/mollie.html.
- "Obituary: Mollie Sugden". The Telegraph. 1 July 2009. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/tv-radio-obituaries/5713979/Mollie-Sugden.html. Retrieved 1 July 2009.
- "Actress Mollie Sugden dies at 86". BBC News. 1 July 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/8129617.stm. Retrieved 1 July 2009.
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