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pride of manchester - hylda baker
Hylda Baker
"Hello, I dont think you've had the pleasure of me yet!" - Hylda Baker

Born on 4th February 1908 in Farnworth, near Bolton, Hylda Baker was educated at Plodder Lane Council School. She didn’t stay in school for very long however because by the time she was 13 she was already earning a mammoth £25 per week, as a headline variety act.

Hylda Baker was very tiny at 4ft11inches but had tremendous energy and she worked her way up the entertainment ladder via the Music Halls, where she played a fast-talking gossip, aided by her gormless on-stage ‘stooge’ Cynthia (always played by a man). She developed a string of catch-phrases such as ‘She knows, you know’, “You big girl’s blouse’ and ‘Be soon’, and she became a master of the malapropism and double entendre – such as “I can say that without fear of contraception” and “You haven’t had the pleasure of me yet”.

   

In 1955 she made a very successful appearance on TV’s ‘The Good Old Days’ and this took her on to greater heights, including a couple of serious film parts in 1960. In both ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’ and ‘Up The Junction’, Hylda Baker played a back-street abortionist.

She had previously starred in an early BBC sitcom called ‘Be Soon’ but this had not been particularly successful. She put the record straight in 1968 when the TV series ‘Nearest and Dearest’ became a huge hit, running for seven series until 1973. Hylda’s character Nellie Pledge, owner of a Pickled Onion factory, was ideally suited to her talents and she was cast opposite the skilled comedian Jimmy Jewel.

Hylda Baker as Nellie Pledge in Nearest & Dearest
   

A follow-up series ‘Not On Your Nelly’ was less successful but by this stage Hylda Baker was already suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and on a downward spiral. She was struggling to remember her lines (and unfortunately her stress and anxiety caused her to alienate many of her friends).

But before she departed the scene she had a remarkable swansong: At the age of 73 she made her final TV appearance - on BBC TV’s ‘Top of the Pops’ – duetting (in black leather gear and blonde wig) with another oldie, Cockney comedian Arthur Mullard. Their 1978 send-up of Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta’s hit from Grease, ‘You’re The One That I Want’, was a great success (reaching number 22 in the UK singles charts). The act earned her numerous bookings on the gay circuit, however these soon dried up as her ill health became more and more obvious.

   

Hylda Baker and Arthur Mullard

Hylda Baker sadly spent the last few years of her life in a nursing home in Epsom, Surrey. She died lonely and forgotten at the age of 81 on May 1st 1986. There was hardly any media coverage of her death and less than 10 people attended her funeral.

In 1997, Jean Fergusson (Marina in 'Last of The Summer Wine') wrote and starred as Hylda in 'She Knows, You Know!', a stage play about the tragic life of the Farnworth favourite. Hylda would have been comforted to know that many years after her passing, her unique talents are still appreciated and her comedy is still seen regularly on UK television.

 
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She Knows - You Know - The Hylda Baker Story
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chat about Hylda Baker in Manc Rant
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