The actor Lynda Baron – one of the few actors to have appeared in both classic and modern Doctor Who – has died at the age of 82.
Lynda Baron was an actor who transcended the generations. For many people, she will be best remembered as the face of the children’s TV show Come Outside, which followed the adventures of a female pilot and her faithful dog Pippin. Together, they travelled the length and breadth of the country in a polka-dotted plane to learn about how everyday items worked. It was an unconventional premise, but one that had an enduring popularity amongst younger viewers. Despite finishing in 1997, it enjoyed countless repeat runs on CBeebies, and stayed on the air until 2012.
To others, Lynda Baron was most famous in her role as Nurse Gladys in the comedy series Open All Hours, which ran from 1973 to 1985 and starred Ronnie Barker as the owner of a small grocer’s shop in South Yorkshire. Baron played the love interest for Barker’s character Arkwright, and in later series it was revealed that she and Arkright had been engaged for many years but unable to go through with the wedding due to the care needs of Gladys’ elderly mother.
Baron reprised her role in a one-off special titled Still Open all Hours in 2013, and it proved so popular that the BBC commissioned a brand new series, which led to five more. At the time of writing, Still Open all Hours hasn’t officially ended its run, despite the fact that its most recent series aired in 2019.
Of course, to Doctor Who fans Lynda Baron will be best remembered as playing the wicked space captain Wrack in the 1983 story ‘Enlightenment.’ This unusual story aired during Doctor Who‘s 20th anniversary season and was the concluding part of the Black Guardian Trilogy. In the adventure, the Doctor became embroiled in a bitterly-fought space race to claim the coveted prize of the story’s title, which (being Doctor Who) took place on literal pirate ships – only in space.
Lynda Baron’s character was the undisputed baddie in ‘Enlightenment,’ having formed an alliance with the villainous Black Guardian who wanted the prize for himself. To achieve this, Wrack destroyed any ship that threatened to pip her to the post, and even tried to cajole the Doctor’s companion Turlough into assisting her. It was an unashamedly over-the-top performance that fit Wrack’s larger-than-life character perfectly, making her one of Doctor Who‘s most memorable guest villains.
However, this was not Baron’s first involvement with the programme. Lynda Baron had been an integral part of the First Doctor story ‘The Gunfighters’ which aired in 1966, and provided the linking narration that book-ended various scenes.
But this was not conventional narration. Lynda Baron’s contribution came in the form of the now infamous Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon, which cropped up in the story with noticeable frequency. For some people, these musical interludes made the story a unique and memorable and addition to the Doctor Who canon; for others, they were a frustrating distraction. But whatever your opinion of the Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon, there’s no questioning the fact that it has cemented itself in the minds of many a Doctor Who fan.
That being said, there was a point where Baron’s ‘appearance’ in ‘The Gunfighters’ might not have happened. According to her obituary in The Guardian, Baron had originally planned to train as a ballerina, and had been studying since the age of four. She continued this training at the Royal Academy of Dance, but wound up switching gears at the age of 15. “I realised there was so little room at the top in ballet, and being determined to get to the top I took up singing,” she said.
This led to her landing her first professional job at the Liverpool Empire at the age of 16, which she said (in an interview to The Sunday Post) was “certainly a start” and added that she had been “quite busy ever since.” She also noted: “You get your lulls in work and that makes you all the more grateful when the next job comes along and all the more determined to give it your best.”
So if Lynda Baron had stuck with ballet, history could have been very different!
Her final appearance in Doctor Who came during Matt Smith’s run, where she appeared as the shop assistant Val in 2011’s ‘Closing Time.’ This was a less bombastic (and less controversial) guest appearance, with Baron proving to be a witty and loveable addition to the cast, her character seemingly oblivious to the Cyber invasion taking place around her and being more interested in the shop’s latest round of gossip.
Lynda Baron’s final screen appearance was at the age of 80 in the film Dream Horse, which told the story of an unlikely breed of race horse overseen by a Welsh bartender. And Doctor Who fans may have spotted a couple of familiar names in the credits, as it was directed by former Doctor Who director veteran Euros Lyn and also saw the Fifth Doctor Peter Davison appearing as Lord Avery.
Lynda Baron’s appearance in Dream Horse rounded off a career that had begun in 1958 (according to Wikipedia) meaning that her work spanned some eight decades. Certainly, a glance at her filmography shows that she was something of a constant in many beloved British series including Last of the Summer Wine, Crossroads, Coronation Street, Dinnerladies, The Bill, Eastenders and Casualty, making her recognisable and memorable to many.
Her death was announced by her agent, who said: “”It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved client Lynda Baron. She was a wonderful actress and a great friend. Her iconic roles of Nurse Gladys in Open All Hours and Aunt Mabel in Come Outside were loved by all generations. Renowned for her leading roles in West End musicals and dramatic productions alike, we have lost a leading light of our world. We extend our deepest condolences to her daughter Sarah, her son Morgan and all her family.”
What is your favourite memory of Lynda Baron? Let me know in the comments below.
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