Carmen Silvera, actress
Born: 2 June, 1922, in Montreal
Died: 3 August, 2002, in London, aged 80
FOR millions, she will always be Edith, the exotic and long-suffering lady of the cafe in ’Allo, ’Allo!
Carmen Silvera, with her bright eyes, youthful face and effervescent personality, was a match for whatever the Resistance, the Nazis and her dotty husband, Ren, played by Gorden Kaye, could throw at her. She just smiled a beaming smile and served yet another Calvados. But Ms Silvera made the character credible and true, never falling into parody or becoming a stereotype - which in that gloriously zany programme could so easily have happened.
Prior to ’Allo, ’Allo!, Carmen Silvera appeared in many stage and television dramas and was in the West End with some of the most renowned names in theatre.
Her family had emigrated to Canada at the beginning of the Second World War. She attended ballet classes from the age of three, and showed considerable talent as a dancer (appearing in the corps de ballet with the itinerant Ballet Russe in Ottawa) before studying drama with the McGill University Drama Group. From there she graduated with a gold medal and then, when the family moved back to Coventry, she finished her studies in London in 1948.
For many years Ms Silvera was a member of repertory theatres throughout the country and she slowly picked up TV work. For three years she was in Compact - the BBC’s first soap, set in a glitzy magazine which went out live three nights a week. It proved a hard training ground, but Ms Silvera - always an adaptable actress - proved adept at keeping the story moving and other actors on track.
During the Sixties she started picking up good parts in hit shows such as Dad’s Army. In a particularly lively episode - poignantly titled Mum’s Army - she played Mrs Gray, a tweedy lady wanting to "do her bit for the war effort" and flashing her eyes at Arthur Lowe's decidedly infatuated Captain Mainwaring. She was also seen in such productions as Lillie, Within These Walls and Tales of the Unexpected, and was the subject of This is Your Life in 1992.
In 1984 she was offered the role of Edith, the glamorous but always anxious wife of the hard-pressed Ren Artois in the BBC’s new sitcom, ’Allo, ‘Allo! It was an unlikely project. Whereas Dad’s Army poked fun at our own Home Guard, ’Allo, ’Allo! planned to make fun of the French Occupation: a subject hardly touched in France.
Ms Silvera accepted the part and she and Gorden Kaye quickly became big favourites of Britain’s television audience. Rather than sending up the characters, they gently encouraged us to join the hysterical goings-on. The Nazis were jolly chaps - thoroughly incompetent but likeable - one of whom had designs on her husband. Somehow amid all this madcap humour, Edith and Ren managed to run a cafe.
The cafe attracted an odd bunch of regulars: a gendarme who spoke idiotic French, a dying granny in the attic and young girls with "big boobies". In fact, everyone had "big boobies", and there was much talk of love and romance. The patron and his wife were always about to perform the most heroic act for the Resistance: but, alas, "things" always seemed to divert their attention.
It all made for excellent television and with the superb scripts of David Croft and Clive Perry the series enjoyed huge success. New series were commissioned annually until 1992 and the shows have been much repeated.
In the theatre, Carmen Silvera was in the West End with Ingrid Bergman in Waters of the Moon and with Anthony Quayle and Penelope Keith in Hobson’s Choice. She was in several regional tours, of which Priestley’s Time and the Conways (1992) was particularly memorable. Only last year she went out on a national tour with the comedy actor Brian Murphy in the farce You Only Live Twice.
One of her last performances was back with her friend Gorden Kaye in a movie called La Passione (1996). It was fitting the two should once again appear together. They had become fast friends during the ’Allo, ’Allo! days, and when Kaye received some unwelcome attention about his private life from the tabloids, Ms Silvera was there to stand by him. She gave interviews and supported her friend in a sincere and genuine manner. Similarly, when Kaye experienced severe head injuries after some scaffolding fell on him in 1993, Carmen Silvera was at his bedside in the Charing Cross Hospital.
Gorden Kaye remembered her yesterday as "a lovely lady". He said: "She was ditsy - she always left her spectacles all over the place, she was clumsy, you had to be careful not to sit next to her during a black-tie dinner. She was fun and she had a wicked sense of humour."
In June, Ms Silvera had been diagnosed suffering from lung cancer. She decided to fight the disease without medication.
Her only marriage was dissolved many years ago, and she devoted much of her spare time to raising funds for the Rattlings Organisation - the actors’ charity. She had been a past president of the Cup of Kindness Rattling Charity.