Gretchen Franklin, 94, a British actress known to millions as the dotty, dog-loving Ethel Skinner in the long-running BBC soap opera "EastEnders," died Monday at her home in London of unspecified causes.
Although she acted for more than 50 years, Franklin earned her greatest fame during her tenure on "EastEnders" from 1985 to 2000. Clutching her pug dog, Willy, Ethel Skinner was a beloved fixture in the show's fictional Albert Square and its Queen Vic pub. The character was written out in a controversial story line in which Ethel, dying of cancer, begged a friend to help her die. The BBC said 15 million people watched Ethel's funeral in 2000.
Born into a London theatrical family, Franklin began working as a chorus girl in her teens and later formed a tap-dance quartet called Four Brilliant Blondes. She toured with the Gracie Fields Show and performed with the dance group The Three Girlies before settling into acting. Among her shows were "Sweet and Low" and "Spring and Port Wine."
Franklin made her movie debut in 1954 in "Before I Wake" and appeared regularly on British television, including two other soap operas: "Crossroads" and "Castle Haven." Her credits also included guest roles on such series as "Dixon of Dock Green," "Z Cars" and "Follyfoot."