Friday 2 November 2012

Helen Fraser

Helen Fraser in 'Billy Liar'

Helen Fraser:

A much loved actress and a very famous face (though, inexplicably, not a household name) for British audiences, on the strength of her peerlessly frumpy fusspot, Barbara, in 'Billy Liar' (1962), numerous sitcoms, and a semi-regular role in 'The Dick Emery Show' (as the daughter of his gurgling old codger, Lampwick). Other TV roles include 'Rising Damp' (playing the bride in the episode 'The Newlyweds'), and 'The Likely Lads', carrying on into the '80s and '90s in the likes of 'Duty Free' and 'One Foot in the Grave'.      

Her biggest role in later years has been as the tough-as-old-boots prison warder Sylvia Hollamby in nearly a hundred episodes of the semi-gritty behind-bars drama, 'Bad Girls', which ran from 1999-2006. 

A character-actor star, and a suitable subject for Familiar Unknown's 100th blog post.


Catherine Deneuve and Helen Fraser in 'Repulsion'

(In Roman Polanski's 1965 classic 'Repulsion', with Catherine Deneuve; and dolled up in the 1968 Harold Pinter misery-fest 'The Birthday Party')

By way of an aside – Ms Fraser met her late husband, Peter Handford, on the set of 'Billy Liar'. He was a film and television sound recordist but had a hobby/sideline in recording the sounds of steam engines. Some of his archive was released on the Argo label in the '50s and '60s in the form of 7''EPs, which I now collect.


Helen Fraser -imdb


  1. As you well know, being a Billy Liar obsessive, Helen could have picked few worse tea rooms to pop into than the Peter Jones' restaurant at a time when I held its reins in the late 1990s. Flouting the rule that forbids staff from pretending to recognise whoever it is they are serving, I had to let Helen know that she was my favourite actress. She visited on several occasions and was never less than polite, friendly and charming.
    I also fondly recall her in Jumbo Spencer (though I'd forgotten the name - had to look it up).
    The paths I crossed at that establishment read like a who's who of familiar (un)knowns - Stephen Lewis, Lance Perceval and Anita Harris were the creme de la creme, with affectionate nods to Isla St Clair, Dame Maggie Smith, Mike 'Supersonic' Mansfield and Jack Dee.
    Those were the days, my friend.

  2. Maybe she should be the poster girl for Familiar Unknown. How can I feel so fond of these faces and the characters they've played, but mostly without being able to remember their names? Never more so than with Helen Fraser.

    Congratulations on the 100th post, it's a particularly fine one.

  3. p.s. Are you interested in 'steam' albums? I've seen a few in these parts. Probably in the region of £4 each. Can procure if ye wish.

  4. Another Billy Liar obsessive here, I loved the book and then the film as a teenager, and its now out on BluRay for 50th anniversary ... it was marvellous seeing Helen and Tom Courtenay together again on a Royle Family christmas special as the parents of Denise's husband, Tom was hilarious with his Ford Mondeo ! Helen also cropped up on Coronation Street as the vicious wife of Timothy West who popped his clogs in The Rovers, leaving Gloria (Sue Johnston) high and dry ... !