The much-loved British actress Una Stubbs has passed away following a period of illness. She was 84. This quintessential supporting player featured in many classic TV shows from the 1960s onward.
Her famous roles include Rita in Till Death Us Do Part, Aunt Sally in Worzel Gummidge, and, most recently, Mrs. Hudson in Sherlock.
From stage to screen via a big red bus
Born in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, her parents were Angela and Clarence. She began her show business career as a dancer and chorus girl. In the late fifties, Stubbs became the face of Rowntree’s Dairy Box chocolates.
Sir Cliff Richard’s iconic movie Summer Holiday was released in 1963. Stubbs joined the cast, though originally she auditioned to throw shapes rather than deliver lines. The plot famously featured young people hopping aboard a London bus for fun and adventure.
“I’ve been to the school of observation,” she told The Guardian in 2007, referring to her lack of formal acting training. “I learned everything there”.
Pride and prejudice
Stubbs took the role of Rita in Till Death Us Do Part, by Johnny Speight. The BBC sitcom starred Warren Mitchell as onscreen father Alf Garnett, an aging bigot who failed to adjust to life in the swinging sixties.
The series drew controversy and praise over its “warts and all” portrayal of Garnett. Stubbs appeared in the original run (1966-75) and its sequels. Speight’s creation traveled across the pond as Archie Bunker.
Scarecrows and Sybil
The beginning of the seventies saw Stubbs reuniting with her Summer Holiday chum on the small screen for It’s Cliff Richard! (1970-72).
Flash forward to 1979, where she played the part of Aunt Sally in Worzel Gummidge. Jon Pertwee starred in the title role.
Adapted from the children’s books by Barbara Euphan Todd, it was a popular series. Gummidge’s scarecrow antics helped cement her reputation as a household name. After the 1979-81 run an Australian revival came in 1987, Worzel Gummidge Down Under.
Stubbs appeared in the Fawlty Towers episode “Anniversary,” also 1979. Her character was one of a group of friends attempting to see Sybil Fawlty (Prunella Scales), who unbeknownst to them has walked out on Basil (John Cleese). His frantic efforts to deceive the gang are among the highlights of the second series.
Clues and compositions
Aside from reprising her role as Rita Rawlins, Stubbs spent half the eighties as a team captain on Give Us A Clue between 1979-85.
The mime-based show was hosted by Michael Aspel and then Michael Parkinson. Lionel Blair famously appeared as Stubbs’s opposite number.
It was a testament to her versatility and kept her firmly in the public eye. A woman of many talents, Stubbs trod the boards in acclaimed stage productions.
She also developed a reputation as an artist and went on to co-host The Big Painting Challenge in 2015.
Buckets and black cats
She kept working through the nineties in high profile comedies and dramas like Keeping Up Appearances (starring Patricia Routledge as Hyacinth Bucket, pronounced “Bouquet”), period show Heartbeat, and Midsomer Murders.
The decade ended with her playing another fondly-remembered role, Miss Bat in The Worst Witch (based on the books by Jill Murphy).
Baker Street and Benedict
In 2010 she was cast as Mrs. Hudson in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s modern-day reworking of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s master detective. Shortened to Sherlock, the action-packed drama introduced Stubbs to a new generation.
Hudson looked after the mercurial Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his associate/housemate Dr. Watson (Martin Freeman). She stayed with the show right through to 2017.
Speaking to The Guardian three years earlier, Stubbs commented: “I used to play kooky when I was younger, and now I play barmy”.
Her last role was in the ensemble comedy Murder On The Blackpool Express (2017). Una Stubbs died at home in Edinburgh with family around her.
Una Stubbs: personal life and tributes
Stubbs was married to fellow actor Peter Gilmore (The Onedin Line) between 1958 – 69. Jason is their adopted son.
Actor Nicky Henson was her second husband from 1969-75. Christian and Joe Henson are their sons. The pair work as composers.
“Some of you may have known her as Rita, as Sally as Bat or Hudson” Christian writes, “but to my two brothers and I she was known as Mum.”
Farewell to the beautiful, wondrous, kind, naughty, hysterically funny, talented #UnaStubbs I was so lucky to have known you. My heartfelt condolences go to her family at this horrible time. We shall miss you terribly ❤️ pic.twitter.com/fXSn86GVHf
— Sean Pertwee (@seanpertwee) August 13, 2021
Stubbs agent Rebecca Blond describes her as a “wickedly funny, elegant, stylish, graceful, gracious and kind and constant friend.”
“She was the most exciting person to be with,” says Sir Cliff Richard in a video statement. “She was funny, she could really do just about anything”.
Benedict Cumberbatch says she “lit up the room and will be sorely missed by all who were lucky enough to know her”.
Mark Gatiss tweets it was “one of the great joys of my life” working with Stubbs. He adds that “Mischief was in her blood”.
Una Stubbs, 1937 – 2021. RIP.