Obituary: Mollie Sugden
Obituary by Jack Foley
POPULAR TV star Mollie Sugden has died at the age of 86, her agent has said.
The veteran star, best known for playing Mrs Slocombe in long-running BBC sitcom Are You Being Served?, died at the Royal Surrey Hospital after a long illness. Her twin sons, Robin and Simon Moore, were at her bedside.
Born in Keighley, West Yorkshire, in 1922, Sugden attended her local grammar school but developed a passion for the arts at an early age and decided to train at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama shortly after leaving school.
She subsequently served a long apprenticeship in repertory theatre, during which she met her husband, fellow actor William Moore [best known for his role as Ronnie Corbett’s father in sitcom Sorry!, in 1956. They married two years later, when she was 35, and had their twin sons six years after that.
Sugden’s talent soon ensured that she became a popular TV star, as well as stage. She found early success with comedy series Hugh and I in 1962 and then featured in long-running ITV soap Coronation Street as local gossip Nellie Harvey.
But it was her performances in popular TV series The Liver Birds during the late ’60s and early ’70s that really helped her become a household name, playing Nerys Hughes’ snobbish mother Mrs Hutchinson.
Are You Being Served? followed in 1972, which went on to become the role she became best known for – as the blue-rinsed Betty Slocombe.
Sugden went on to enjoy her own slot on consumer programme That’s Life and even found fame in the US where re-runs of Are You Being Served? transformed both her and co-star John Inman into cult figures in the early ’90s.
Her final role came in an episode of The Bill in 2003.
Announcing her death, Sugden’s agent Joan Reddin, who has been representing her since the ’60s, described the actress as “very close friend”.
“She had had a long illness and various problems but it was very quick in the end. Her twin boys were with her and she faded away,” she confirmed. “She was a lovely, lovely person and I never had any trouble with her. She was a great professional.”
She also said that Sugden never fully recovered from the death of her husband nine years ago.
“They were very much in love. She started to go down when he died.”
David Croft, one of the writers of Are You Being Served?, also remembered her as a “marvellous character” who would never turn down chances to make people laugh.
He told the BBC: “She would never refuse any sort of comedy situation. No matter how undignified it was, she would always go along with it. She was marvellously funny.”