Mona Hammond, best known for playing the matriarch of the Jackson clan, Blossom Jackson, in the BBC soap EastEnders, has died aged 91.
A distinguished Jamaican-British stage actor of Chinese descent, Hammond has been hailed as a “pioneer” and “trailblazer” for her work on stage, screen, television and radio, and for her support for Black British actors.
Tributes were paid following the news of her death. The chair of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada), Marcus Ryder, tweeted: “It is with sadness that I wake up to the news Mona Hammond has died.”
The Loose Women presenter Charlene White tweeted: “Mona Hammond, a trailblazer in every way. Thank you.”
The radio presenter and journalist Lorraine King wrote: “RIP Mona Hammond. An extremely talented Jamaican actress who did theatre and TV but will always be Auntie SuSu from Desmond’s to many of us.
“She will be sorely missed. May she sleep peacefully.”
Hammond was made an OBE in the 2005 Queen’s birthday honours list for her services to drama. In 2018, she was awarded the Women of the World lifetime achievement award for her theatre career and for championing Black British actors.
The latter award for her work at the Talawa theatre company, one of the UK’s most prominent black theatre companies, which she co-founded as a response to the lack of creative opportunities for black actors. The company has produced more than 80 productions, from African classics to Oscar Wilde.
Born in Jamaica, Hammond, whose real name was Mavis Chin, emigrated to the UK in 1959 on a Jamaican scholarship and worked for Norman & Dawbarn architects.
She attended evening classes at the City Literary Institute in London for two years and was awarded a scholarship to Rada.
Graduating in 1964, Hammond began her career on stage and television. Her first leading role was as Lady Macbeth at the Roundhouse in London in 1970 in Peter Coe’s African version of the play.
She starred in many plays by up-and-coming black writers over the years and spent two years at the National Theatre. She also appeared in numerous films including Coriolanus, 10,000 BC, Kinky Boots, Manderlay, and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers.
Hammond moved into television with roles in shows including The Sweeney, Juliet Bravo, Holby City, Coronation Street and Casualty.
One of her best-known roles was as Auntie Susu in the Channel 4 sitcom Desmond’s from 1990 to 1994. She repeated the role in the shorter-lived spin-off Porkpie from 1995 to 1996.
Between 1994 and 1997 she was Blossom Jackson in EastEnders, reappearing briefly in 2010 at the funeral of her on-screen great-grandson, Billie Jackson. Blossom was in fact Hammond’s second incarnation in the soap opera: she previously played Michelle Fowler’s midwife in 1986.
Hammond also appeared on radio in The Archers, where she played Mabel Thompson, the mother of Alan Franks’s deceased wife.
She is survived by her son and a granddaughter.