EastEnders and Desmond's star Mona Hammond dies aged 91

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The Jamaican-British actress, who was most famous for her portrayal of Blossom Jackson in the BBC soap EastEnders and her trailblazing effort to support Black actors, has died aged 91. Tributes have been paid following the news of her death.

Mona Hammond is a Jamaican-British actress whose decades-long acting career began in 1968 when she took the title role in The Black Girl in Search of God (Mermaid Theatre). As one of the most long-standing veterans on stage, Hammond's most memorable roles include Blossom Jackson in EastEnders and Auntie Susu in the Channel 4 sitcom Desmond’s. Aside from her screen and stage appearances, Mona Hammond was also known for her relentless effort to support the Black actors' community.

As the much-loved TV star passed away on Monday, 4 July, let's take a look at her early life, career, and her legacy.

Hammond performed in various roles across stage, television, radio and film

Mona Hammond, whose real name was Mavis Chin, was born on 1 January 1931 in Jamaica. At a young age, she emigrated to the UK on a scholarship. In the foreign country, Hammond fended for herself by working for Norman & Dawbarn architects. According to 18livenews, she completed her education in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, a famous drama school in London, whose notable alumni include Tom Hiddleston, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, and more.

Following her graduation, Hammond pursued a professional career on stage and on television. It took her a few years to land her first leading role as Lady Macbeth in an all-black cast at the Roundhouse in London in 1970. She went on to star in a string of plays and even silver screen productions, such as Coriolanus, 10,000 BC, Kinky Boots, Manderlay, and The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, reported by The Guardian.

East Enders and Desmond's star Mona Hammond dies aged 91 Bob Aylott

With her career spanning more than five decades, Hammond also made several appearances in TV shows and series, such as Making Out (1989), The Bill (2001), and A Touch of Frost (2003). Her most notable roles include Auntie Susu in the Channel 4 sitcom Desmond’s from 1990 to 1994, and the matriarch of the Jackson clan, Blossom Jackson, in the famous BBC soap EastEnders. Hammond reprised the latter role in 2010 for her on-screen great-grandson Billie Jackson’s funeral, written Metro.

She was a 'trailblazer' and 'pioneer'

In 2005, Mona Hammond was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by the Queen, in recognition of her contribution to drama. One year later, she was presented with the Edric Connor Inspiration Award, Screen Nation Film and Television Awards' highest honor in the country.

Her greatest legacy, according to Dailymail, was her inexhaustible effort to support Black British actors. In 1986, Hammond co-founded the Black British theatre company Talawa, one of the UK's most prominent black theatre companies. The company was founded to provide a platform for aspiring Black British actors and actresses, who were facing a 'lack of creative opportunities at the time. Since its birth, Talawa has produced more than 80 productions, most of which are African classics. In 2018, she was given the Women of the World Lifetime Achievement Award for her contribution to the Black Actors community.

Tributes were pouring in for her death

The chair of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art - where Hammond studied, Marcus Ryder, tweeted:

'It is with sadness that I wake up to the news Mona Hammond has died.'
East Enders and Desmond's star Mona Hammond dies aged 91

East Enders also paid homage to its legendary actress, tweeting:

'We are deeply saddened to hear that Mona Hammond has passed away. Mona created a no-nonsense grandmother in Blossom Jackson who was adored by the audience and everyone who worked with her. Our love and thoughts are with Mona’s family and friends.'
East Enders and Desmond's star Mona Hammond dies aged 91

Her brainchild company, Talawa, released a statement that read:

'We are devastated to hear of the passing of Mona Hammond OBE. As one of the founders of Talawa, a trailblazer and champion of Black British theatre, Mona's passion and vision will remain fundamental to all we do, and her legacy will forever burn bright.'
© Jon Furniss

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