EastEnders and Desmond's star Mona Hammond dies aged 91

ITV News Correspondent Geriant Vincent reports on the death of the trailblazing actress Mona Hammond, the former EastEnders star who was a champion of black theatre acting talent

EastEnders and Desmond's "trailblazing" star Mona Hammond has died aged 91.

The Jamaican-British actress was well-known for her role playing Blossom Jackson in the hit BBC soap and was described as a pioneer of Black British theatre.

Marcus Ryder, chair of London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (Rada) confirmed the news of her death on social media.

"It is with sadness that I wake up to the news Mona Hammond has died," he wrote.

"Among her numerous achievements she co-founded Talawa Theatre Company in 1985. She was also a @RADA_London graduate and received an honorary RADA Fellowship in 2019."

Hammond, whose real name was Mavis Chin, was born in Jamaica to a Jamaican mother and Chinese father and moved to the UK at the age of 28 in 1959. Two years later, she was awarded a scholarship to Rada and graduated in 1964.

Her first stage role was playing Lady Macbeth in an all-Black version of the Shakespeare play at London's Roundhouse and went on to become a celebrated and distinguished stage actor, before turning her hand to TV work.

One of her best-known roles was as Auntie Susu in the Channel 4 sitcom Desmond's from 1990 to 1994, and later that year took on the role of Blossom Jackson in EastEnders until 1997.

She went on to co-found the Talawa Theatre Company - one of the UK's foremost Black theatre groups in response to the lack of creative opportunities for Black actors in 1985.

In 2005, Hammond was made an OBE in the 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 championing Black British actors.

Tributes have poured in for the actor, with former EastEnders actress Cheryl Fergison describing her as an “inspiration”.

She wrote on Instagram: “What a wonderful actress and pioneering woman, RIP Mona Hammond 91 fantastic years of inspiration.”

In a statement, EastEnders said it was "deeply saddened".

“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," the statement continued.

ITV News and Loose Women presenter Charlene White thanked Hammond and described her as "a trailblazer in every way".

Death in Paradise director Jermain Julien said she was "deeply saddened" by the news.

"A joy to work with and a true talent. Mum to many cast and crew on the set of Babyfather. Rest in Power, Queen," he wrote.

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.”

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