One of Britain’s most popular and prolific comic actresses, Liz Fraser was born Elizabeth Joan Winch on 14 August 1930 in Southwark, London.
Her father was a travelling salesman for a brewery, and her mother owned a corner shop just off the New Kent Road. She was evacuated from London during World War II, initially to Westerham in Kent and then to the village of Chudleigh in Devon. Her father died in May 1942 when she was 11.
She attended St Saviour’s and St Olave’s Grammar School for Girls and then attended evening courses at Goldsmiths College (where she joined a drama group) and the City of London College for Commerce, Book-Keeping, Shorthand and Typing. She subsequently won an evening scholarship to the London School of Dramatic Art.
Her first film appearance was in Touch and Go (1955). She also appeared in commercial television’s first live play The Geranium for Associated-Rediffusion.
Fraser married Peter Yonwin, a travelling salesman, in November 1958, but the marriage soon broke down and they were divorced.
Her breakthrough role was as the daughter of Peter Sellers’ character in I’m All Right Jack (1959), for which she received a BAFTA nomination as Most Promising Newcomer.
Liz appeared in several of the early Carry On films: Carry On Regardless (1961), Carry On Cruising (1962), and Carry On Cabby (1963), but was sacked by producer Peter Rogers after casually saying the series could be better marketed. She re-appeared in the series in Carry On Behind (1975), her salary half of what it had been before.
Her other notable film appearances include Desert Mice (1959), Two Way Stretch (1960), The Bulldog Breed (1960), Double Bunk (1961), Raising the Wind (1961), On the Fiddle (1961), The Painted Smile (1962), The Americanization of Emily (1964), The Family Way (1966), Up the Junction (1968), Dad’s Army (1971), and a string of 1970s “sex comedies” including Adventures of a Taxi Driver (1976), Confessions of a Driving Instructor (1976), Adventures of a Private Eye (1977), Confessions from a Holiday Camp (1977) and Rosie Dixon – Night Nurse (1978).
Liz always maintained that her early glamour girl roles had a virginal quality about them. Indeed, even as a happy-go-lucky stripper in Doctor in Love (1961), the coquettish policewoman in The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s (1960) or the nautical fun-seeker Sandra in Double Bunk, there was an endearing innocence at play.
One of her final film roles came with a different type of British filth, The Sex Pistols’ tie-in The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980). Her final film was 1990’s Chicago Joe and the Showgirl, starring Kiefer Sutherland.
As Elizabeth Fraser, she appeared in numerous editions of the Associated-Rediffusion soap opera Sixpenny Corner (1955 – 56).
Her other television work included Hancock’s Half Hour, The Avengers, Randall and Hopkirk: Deceased, Crown Court, Citizen James, Robin’s Nest, Rumpole of the Bailey, The Goodies, Fairly Secret Army, Jason King, Last of the Summer Wine, The Bill, Foyle’s War, Birds of a Feather, Minder and Holby City.
Liz Fraser married her second husband, TV director Bill Hitchcock, in January 1965. They worked together in the Rodney Bewes sitcom Albert!, which Hitchcock co-directed, and again when she acted in Turnbull’s Finest Half-Hour, a comedy series starring Michael Bates and produced by Hitchcock.
Hitchcock died from a pulmonary embolism in February 1974 at the age of 45.
Liz Fraser was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1978, undergoing a lumpectomy initially and then reconstructive surgery in 1979.
In 1988 she drew on personal experience to bring poignancy to the character of Mrs Dewey, an elderly woman dying of cancer, in Eskimos Do It (1988), part of the BBC2 Screenplay series.
The previous year she had had a small but intense role as the gin-soaked mother, Mrs Brent in Miss Marple: Nemesis.
Inspired by her mother, widowed and left to run the family corner shop on her own, Fraser – an enthusiastic poker and bridge player – put her money into the stock market and property and made a good sum for her later years.
“My bust did become the focal point of my career, but really I ran my life from my head rather than my chest,” she said in 2012. “I realised very early on that I was not a leading lady, I was a character actress, and I loved the work.”
Liz Fraser died on 6 September 2018 at Royal Brompton Hospital due to complications following an operation. She was 88.