They may have been next-door neighbours for a while, but the stage and screen careers of Oldham actresses Lally Bowers and Dora Bryan were often poles apart.

Bowers chose the route of drama, film and TV sitcoms, while Bryan made her debut in pantomime and excelled in comedies and musicals.

In fact, Bowers came to fame starring with Beryl Reid in the stage version of the pioneering play The Killing of Sister George in London’s West End in 1965.

B/W Negative 35mm DH 1965 1587 A 04.JPG

At the same time, Bryan took leading roles in musicals like Gentleman Prefer Blondes in 1962 and Hello Dolly! from 1966 to 1968.

But Bryan was an accomplished film actress too. She won a BAFTA for her portrayal of single mother Helen in the 1961 movie version of A Taste of Honey, written by Salford playwright Shelagh Delaney.

Peter Finch and Dora Bryan at the British Film Academy Awards 1962
British film stars Dora Bryan and Peter Finch at the British Film Academy Awards in 1962 where they had won the ‘Best Actress’ and ‘Best Actor’ awards respectively. Bryan for “A Taste of Honey” and Finch for “No Love For Johnnie”.

Both actresses took their first steps on the stage in repertory theatre. After appearing in pantomime as a child in Manchester, Bryan joined Oldham Rep as a teenager.

Bowers worked as a secretary before becoming an understudy at the Royal Shakespeare Company. She then performed in repertory theatre across the country, including Manchester, Southport, Liverpool, and Birmingham

Born in Oldham in January 1917 and educated at Hulme Grammar School, Bowers made her West End debut in 1944 at the age of 27.

She won the Clarence Derwent acting award in 1957 for her role in Dinner With the Family, and also starred in the comedy Dear Octopus by Bury writer Dodie Smith.

Dora Bryan, with dog Bella, alongside Ivan Beavis, Carol Drinkwater and Christopher Timothy at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle in the romantic comedy Cure For Love 6 October 1980

Her greatest stage success, both on Broadway and in the West End, was playing radio station executive Mercy Croft in The Killing of Sister George.

In the play, she had the difficult job of controlling Beryl Reid’s character June Buckridge, who played wholesome district nurse Sister George in the radio programme Applehurst.

Beryl Reid. May 1966 P009802

Off air, Buckridge was hard-drinking and sadistic – and her mood swings got even worse when she found out that producers were planning to kill off her radio character.

The Killing of Sister George was made into a film by director Robert Aldrich in 1968, but the part of Mercy Croft went to American actress Coral Browne.

Bowers did, however, play Procuria in the movie Up Pompeii with Frankie Howerd in 1971 as well as appearing in Dracula A.D. 1972 and The slipper and the Rose in 1976.

1966 2977-006

Her TV work included the sitcoms Hi-de-Hi in which she played Mrs Baxter, the old lady who rented a cottage on Joe Maplin’s land next to the holiday camp, and A Fine Romance with Judy Dench and Michael Williams.

Bowers died in London in July 1984 at the age of 67.

Bryan, a one-time neighbour of Bowers, was born in 1923 in Parbold, Lancashire. Her father was a salesman and she attended Hathershaw County Primary School in Oldham.

Her real name was Dora May Broadbent, but she changed it to Bryan on the suggestion of Noel Coward when she was cast in his West End play Private Lives.

B/W Negative 35mm DH 67 1573 A 024.JPG

She got the idea of Bryant from a box of Bryant and May matches lying on the table. The final ‘t’ was left out by mistake on the theatre posters – and Bryan decided to stick with it.

Instantly recognisable through her distinctive voice, Bryan played trademark cameos in films and TV shows including Hancock’s Half hour in 1955 and Carry on Sergeant in 1958.

Along with Ashton-under-Lyne actress Amanda Barrie, Pamela Hart and Sheila O’Neill, she impersonated the Beatles in the West End play Six of One in August 1963.

In the same year, Bryan released the popular song All I Want for Christmas is a Beatle with an accompaniment directed by Johnny Gregory. It was voted the best bad record of 1963!

In 1966, Bryan played the headmistress in the Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery in 1966 and starred in her own BBC series According to Dora from 1968 to 1969.

Her Broadway debut came in 1987 when she appeared alongside Peter O’Toole and Amanda Plummer in Pygmalion.

Q9570iii

Bryan’s later TV appearances included playing Aunt Roz Utterthwaite in Last of the Summer Wine. She was also June Whitfield’s friend Dolly in Absolutely Fabulous.

Bryan married Lancashire and Cumberland cricketer Bill Lawton at Werneth St Thomas church in Oldham in February 1954. They were married for 54 years until Bill died in 2008 from Alzheimer’s disease.

The much-loved actress died on July 23rd 2014 at the age of 91.

*You can read more about Manchester stage and screen stars in Clive Hardy’s three Around Manchester books covering the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Each book is packed with around 300 past images of Manchester along with fascinating insights and commentary from the author. The price is £14.99 per book, with all postage and packing paid.

Just go to inostalgia.co.uk to place your order or telephone the order hotline on 01928 503777.