Rousing send-off for Dora Bryan

The coffin of actress Dora Bryan leaves St George's Church in Brighton (PA)

Funeral tributes were paid to the late Dora Bryan

First published in National News © by

A church was filled with laughter as more than 200 people gathered to celebrate the life of actress Dora Bryan at her funeral.

St George's Church in Kemp Town, Brighton, was adorned with black and white photographs of the actress and a large screen at the front of the church displayed a slideshow of pictures of Bryan throughout her career.

Bryan, who was known for roles in TV's Last Of The Summer Wine and classic British movies like A Taste Of Honey, died at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, on July 23, aged 91.

Before the service, her son William Lawton, said: "She was a fantastic woman, a fantastic mother and loved by all."

Mourners included actor Christopher Biggins who described her as an "exceptional woman".

Outside the church he told The Press Association: "She was fantastic. A wonderful woman, a wonderful mother.

"She was a one off. She was as mad as a snake, she was loved and she was a very special woman.

"It's not often you get in our business a star who's so nice and is a true star.

"She really loved people and they really loved her."

Bryan's coffin was carried into the church to her voice singing Hello, Dolly! from the hit musical of the same name in which she starred.

People sang along and clapped and cheered before Reverend Andrew Manson-Brailsford began the service with the hymn Jerusalem, which had also been sung at her husband Bill Lawton's funeral in 2008.

Ripples of laughter could be heard throughout the church as both of Bryan's sons gave a eulogy.

Daniel Lawton described their happy childhood growing up in Brighton and said they could not be more proud of all that their mother had achieved, including winning a Bafta for Best Actress in the 1961 film A Taste of Honey.

He said his mother and father had come to Brighton more than 50 years ago to escape London.

Mr Lawton said: "There was something about mum. People could approach her and if you had a dog that was just fantastic."

He regaled everyone with a story about his mother accidentally driving her car into a charity shop and phoning their father to say she was OK and it did not matter because she had seen a lovely blouse.

He said: "That was my mum, she was a star. She loved my dad."

Everyone was given time to reflect while Just My Bill, a song Bryan wrote about her husband, was played.

Mr Manson-Brailsford said Bryan had been heavily involved in the church and the Kemp Town community and that she always wanted to help everybody.

He said: "She had what you would call gravitas, passion, star quality, and she had it in large amounts."

The vicar said Bryan had faced losses, including that of her daughter Georgina, and her own personal demons, but that she had never lost her faith.

He continued: "She wanted to make a difference in people's lives.

"When we once spoke about helping homeless families she asked: 'How can I help? What can I do?'

"Like anything with Dora, you had to curb her enthusiasm because she always wanted to help. That's who she was. She was never put off by adversity."

Following the service, Derek Granger, a long-standing friend of Bryan's who produced the TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, said the service could not have been a more fitting tribute.

He said: "I thought it was wonderful and very moving.

"She was full of fun but she was also a superbly serious actress."

Bryan performed into her 80s and had been living in a nursing home in Hove, East Sussex, in recent years as her health deteriorated.

She was known to many TV viewers for the five years she spent playing Ros Utterthwaite in BBC1 sitcom Last Of The Summer Wine in the twilight of her career, bowing out in 2005.

But during her half century career she took on dozens of other roles appearing on radio in Hancock's Half Hour, in popular TV shows, cinematic hits and on stage, even earning an Olivier award for best supporting actress in 1995 for her performance in The Birthday Party.

She was born in Southport, Lancashire, and honed her skills as a performer during the Second World War with Ensa, the armed forces entertainment group.

Bryan was encouraged to change her original surname of Broadbent by Noel Coward while working in a production of Private Lives, which he wrote.

Film roles included a Carry On film, plus British classics such as The Blue Lamp and The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery.

The actress, renowned for her comic abilities, also appeared in Absolutely Fabulous and had guest roles in Casualty and Heartbeat.

Her husband, the former cricketer Lawton to whom she had been married for 54 years, died six years ago as a result of Alzheimer's.

A gala charity show was staged in her honour at Her Majesty's Theatre in London in 2009 which featured Sir Cliff Richard with guests such as June Whitfield, Rita Tushingham - with whom she had appeared in A Taste Of Honey - and Joanna Lumley.

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