Una Stubbs has died at the age of 84, her agent said. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian
TV and film actor, who also starred in Worzel Gummidge, ‘passed away quietly with her family around her’
The Guardian-Mark Brown Arts correspondent
Una Stubbs, the actor whose long career took in Summer Holiday, Worzel Gummidge, Till Death Us Do Part and most recently Steven Moffat’s Sherlock, has died aged 84.
In a statement her family said: “Mum passed away quietly today with her family around her, in Edinburgh. We ask for privacy and understanding at this most difficult and sad of times.”
Her agent, Rebecca Blond, said Stubbs’ career “was so extraordinarily varied” and she was desperately sad “to have lost not only a wonderful actress … but also a wickedly funny, elegant, stylish, graceful, gracious, kind and constant friend.
“She was also a highly respected and exhibited artist. We will miss her enormously and remember her always.”
Stubbs grew up in the home counties and was a chorus girl and dancer before landing a role in the wholesome 1963 Cliff Richard film Summer Holiday, which saw four lads caper through Europe on a London Routemaster bus. She played Sandy, one of three stranded singers.
It was her first major screen role, but her big breakthrough came in 1965 when she was cast as Rita, the married and even-tempered daughter of bigot Alf Garnett in the Johnny Speight sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. She played the part for a decade.
From 1979 to 1981 she starred as Aunt Sally, opposite Jon Pertwee, in the teatime ITV show Worzel Gummidge. Stubbs once reflected: “Aunt Sally was like Hitler, really. Horrible woman.”
She became a perky team captain in the ITV charades show Give Us A Clue, battling a team led by the equally perky Lionel Blair on a weekly basis.
Stubbs appeared never to be out of work and was a regular face on television, always popping up in dramas including Heartbeat, Midsomer Murders, Agatha Christie’s Marple and Casualty. In 2006 she was cast in EastEnders as Honey Mitchell’s aunt Caroline.
Stubbs was self-aware enough to know that her TV profile meant some saw her as a lightweight actor. Once her three sons had left home she set about getting meatier classical roles.
She played Maria in Michael Grandage’s 1998 production of Twelfth Night at the Crucible in Sheffield. It was both Stubbs’ and Grandage’s first Shakespeare production.
Subsequent stage performances included roles in Noël Coward’s Star Quality, Friedrich Schiller’s Don Carlos and La Cage Aux Folles at the Menier Chocolate Factory. She played Mrs Pearce in Peter Hall’s production of Pygmalion and the meddlesome neighbour Mrs Alexander in the original National Theatre cast of the smash hit The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Stubbs was an immensely likable figure and had a long and strikingly varied career over more than 50 years. Her portrayal of Mrs Hudson in Sherlock, to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes and Martin Freeman’s Watson, was regarded as a triumph.
Sherlock’s co-creator Mark Gatiss was among those to pay tribute: “It was one of the great joys of my life to work so closely with and to adore Una Stubbs. She was a wonderful, wonderful woman and a great and serenely graceful actor. Mischief was in her blood. We were so blessed that she became our imperishable Mrs Hudson. Goodbye, darling.”
Gyles Brandreth recalled first meeting her when she was in the Noël Coward musical revue Cowardy Custard in 1972. “Oh, this is so sad,” he tweeted. “Such a funny, lovely, gifted lady – a marvellous actress with a special style & a great (and impish) sense of humour.”
She once told the Guardian: “With work, I’ve always stepped over. I was a chorus girl, then I was an individual dancer, then I stepped over from being a dancer into sitcom. I hadn’t had any acting training, so I was very aware of that, and now I just think, ‘Oh, I hope I can be good enough.’”
On not going to drama school, she said: “I’ve been to the school of observation. I learned everything there.”