Mona Hammond has been hailed as a pioneer and trailblazer following her death at 91.
The Jamaican-British actress, best known for playing Blossom Jackson in BBC soap EastEnders and Auntie Susu in sitcom Desmond’s, was a star of stage and screen for decades.
Hammond was made an OBE in the 2005 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.
The award came after she founded the Talawa theatre company, one of the UK’s most prominent black theatre companies, in response to the “lack of creative opportunities for black actors and the marginalisation of black peoples from cultural processes”, its website said.
The company said on Twitter: “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.”
During her career, Hammond appeared as the matriarch of the Jackson family from 1994 to 1997 on EastEnders for 233 episodes, returning in October 2010 for two episodes to attend her on-screen great-grandson Billie Jackson’s funeral.
It was her second appearance on the soap, having played a smaller role of Michelle Fowler’s midwife in 1986.
Former EastEnders actress Cheryl Fergison, who played Heather Trott in the soap, paid tribute to Hammond on Tuesday, describing her as an “inspiration”.
She wrote on Instagram: “What a wonderful actress and pioneering woman, RIP Mona Hammond 91 fantastic years of inspiration.”
Similarly, EastEnders said it was “deeply saddened” to hear of her passing in a statement.
It added: “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.”
James Bond star Colin Salmon also thanked Hammond for “laying foundations” that the next generation could stand on in his tribute.
He wrote on Twitter: “Wonderful Mona Hammond. Fearless, dignified and very funny. Thank you for laying foundations we all stand on. RIP Queen.”
Peep Show and Noughts + Crosses actor Paterson Joseph agreed, as he hailed her as a “pioneer”.
He added on Twitter: “Skilled. Funny. And kind to me as a young actor. What a generation! We stand on their shoulders. Never Forgotten.”
Red Dwarf actor Danny John-Jules added that society had “lost a Windrush legend” in his tribute.
While Loose Women presenter Charlene White said: “Mona Hammond, a trailblazer in every way. Thank you.”
Hammond also played Mabel Thompson, the grandmother of Amy Franks, in BBC radio drama The Archers and its follow-on show Ambridge Extra, first appearing in 2003.
The Archers said that it was “such sad news” that the actress had died.
Marcus Ryder, chairman of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada), tweeted: “It is with sadness that I wake up to the news Mona Hammond has died.
“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.”
Bafta added that it was “saddened” to hear the news, describing her as a “trailblazing actor who played a range of memorable roles across British television”
The academy added that its “thoughts are with her family and friends”.
Hammond was born Mavis Chin in Jamaica to a Jamaican mother and Chinese father, and in 1961 was awarded a scholarship to Rada. She graduated in 1964 having moved to the UK at the age of 28.