Hylda BAKER (1905-1986)

Hylda Baker
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The Good Life

The kings and queens of the situation comedy

Obituary: Roy Bottomley

The Times obituary for This Is Your Life's screenwriter

THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Hylda Baker, comedian and actress, was surprised by Eamonn Andrews outside Thames Television’s Euston Road Studios.

Hylda began her career at the age of ten touring the music halls. Her most famous stage act was as a gossip from the North of England, with a silent, sullen companion named "Big Cynthia", almost always played by a man in drag. Her act was full of malapropisms and catchphrases that had become part of her public persona, the most famous of which was "She knows, y'know!"

She came to national attention in BBC television's The Good Old Days in 1955, which led to her television series, Be Soon (named after another of her catchphrases) in 1957, followed by her own sitcom, The Best of Friends, in 1963. She also appeared in films, including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in 1960 and the film version of the musical Oliver! in 1968.

Hylda’s most famous role was as Nellie Pledge in the Granada Television comedy series Nearest and Dearest, which began in 1968.

Photographs of Hylda Baker This Is Your Life

Hylda Baker's biography

In her biography of Hylda Baker, She Knows You Know!, the actress Jean Ferguson recalls Hylda's experience of This Is Your Life - reproduced here with kind permission of the author...

One memorable thing that happened to Hylda in March 1972, and which would stay with her for ever and was to give her great pride, was that she was the subject of This Is Your Life. It was Roy Bottomley’s idea that she would be a splendid subject and he was now working on the programme. In fact he had brought the show to ITV in 1968, when Thames TV was created. Hylda was rehearsing in Brixton for the new TV series of Nearest and Dearest and her agent, Bill Roberton, had been liaising with Thames, giving them as much detail as possible.

The day came and it was arranged that Bill would go over in the Thames TV limousine to Brixton and bring her back to town as though they were going to a press call. They got in the car and off they went, Hylda totally unaware and chatting merrily away. All the time Bill could see the driver in his interior mirror. They exchanged glances as it was evident that they were making such good time they were going to be far too early, so instead of turning left towards Euston, he decided to go the long way round via Camden Town. This turned out to be a very big mistake because they got completely stuck in traffic. Quick as a flash the driver whizzed the car around and put his foot down in no uncertain terms. They had gone from a leisurely crawl to a sort of Keystone Cops chase, or in Hylda’s terminology, he’d gone ‘beresque’. She grabbed hold of Bill, terror-struck, and screamed, “We’re being kidnapped! We’re being kidnapped!” She really believed this to be the case. He tried to calm her with, “No it’s alright dear, don’t worry etc,” but to no avail, until the car pulled up at the studios, whereupon she saw Eamonn Andrews ‘lurking’. She realised what had been happening, and indeed what was about to happen, her composure returned immediately, she turned to Bill and said, “Oh, you sod!” and with that stepped out of the car, a lady once more. But for those few minutes she had been truly hysterical.

They gave her time to get herself tidied up, and when they brought her into the studio, the first thing she said was, “Oh dear, I have no idea what I’m doing here, I stepped out of the car, and there I was lying prostitute on the pavement.” The audience roared. Her family were all there, and had been taken to the studios earlier in the day, but sadly her mother and her brother Harold had died by this time. Auntie Agnes was there, though, a real favourite of Hylda’s, and one of the high spots of the show was that Hylda and her brother and sisters did the ‘six Lancashire steps’ with the clog dance.

Charles Hawtrey came on, as did the cast of Nearest and Dearest – not surprisingly minus Jimmy Jewel – and many of Hylda’s relatives from abroad. (Hylda got her own back on Jimmy when they did his life, though, for she didn’t appear on his tribute. However, to be fair to Jimmy, he spoke very highly of her, saying, “She was one of the funniest comediennes I’ve ever known.”) The final guest was her great friend Dorothy Squires, with whom she had a rather intense ‘love hate’ relationship over the years. Tom Hardy was very aware of the fact that Hylda appeared to be quite terrified throughout the recording. Perhaps she imagined every skeleton coming out of the dark recesses of the cupboard. The knowledge we now have about her father, and how he ended his days, was no doubt very much on her mind, coupled with the fact that she was determined to keep it a secret from the public. Luckily the researchers had been kind and she ended up enjoying every minute.

Everyone who visited Hylda’s flat after that would comment that the This Is Your Life book was proudly displayed either on the piano or on the table, and when Tom Hardy visited it was always open at the page where they had been photographed together, as he too appeared on the programme (dressed as Cynthia!). She would say to him every time, “You had to get your name mentioned though didn’t you?” And then she would smile and offer him a glass of wine. She still didn’t want the identity of her stooge to be known, and in fact gave him, rather unfairly, a dressing down after This Is Your Life when his photograph appeared in TVTimes.

Apparently when the researchers approached Tom, he said that he would appear as Cynthia, but his name must not be mentioned, and he refused to be photographed for TVTimes because he knew it would upset Hylda. But he did agree to a telephone interview for a few comments to be quoted. One morning, Tom blearily left his flat to buy some milk, a photographer popped up from behind a hedge, snapped away and promptly jumped in his car and drove off, leaving his subject rather bemused. When the photograph appeared in TVTimes, Hylda was apparently furious with him. Also, when Eamonn mentioned Tom’s name on the programme, he was very aware of the repercussions when Hylda shot him a look that would have felled two giant oak trees.

programme details...

  • Edition No: 324
  • Subject No: 325
  • Broadcast live: Wed 1 Mar 1972
  • Broadcast time: 7-7.30pm
  • Venue: Euston Road Studios
  • Series: 12
  • Edition: 16

on the guest list...

  • Joe Gladwin
  • Madge Hindle
  • Edward Malin
  • Sydney – brother
  • Ethel - sister
  • Mildred – sister
  • Brenda – sister
  • Barney Colehan
  • Tom Hardy
  • Ken Platt
  • Norman Rossington
  • Charles Hawtrey
  • Agnes – aunt
  • Florence – cousin
  • Emile – cousin’s husband
  • Dorothy Squires
  • Filmed tribute:
  • Ken Dodd

external links...

production team...

  • Researcher:
  • Writer:
  • Director: Margery Baker
  • Producer: Malcolm Morris
names listed in bold indicate subjects of This Is Your Life
with thanks to Ann Turner for her contribution to this page.
Series 12 subjects: George Best > Alfred Marks > Rolf Harris > Don Whillans > Sacha Distel > Les Dawson > Doris Hare > Keith Michell > David Frost > Barry John > Michael Flanders > Charlie Williams > Ginette Spanier > Hughie Green > Tom Courtenay > Hylda Baker > Gordon Banks > Alan Rudkin > Michael Wood > Graham Kerr > Pauline Collins > Ray Illingworth > Patricia Hayes > Fred "Nosher" Powell > Richard Briers > Lulu