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Frances Cuka: Friday Night Dinner star dies aged 83

Frances Cuka, who starred in the Channel 4 comedy Friday Night Dinner, has died aged 83.

The actress was known for playing the much-loved grandma Nelly Buller on the show.

She died on Sunday, her agent told BBC News, though her cause of death was not confirmed.

In a career spanning 50 years, Cuka also appeared in Coronation Street and Crossroads as well as on the West End stage.

In Friday Night Dinner, she portrayed Eleanor “Nelly” Buller, the mother of Tamsin Greig’s character Jackie Goodman, who would come over to take a seat at the Goodman family table.

Nelly made viewers laugh with her lust for life, love and dancing, as well as her brutal honesty. She even faked a heart attack at her own wedding in front of the whole fictional British-Jewish family, in order to avoid marrying her male friend Mr Morris.

The show, which also starred Simon Bird of Inbetweeners-fame, has been running since 2011, with a new series due later this year. The show has previously been nominated for several Bafta TV Awards.

Fellow comic actor Sanjeev Bhaskar led the tributes, describing Cuka as “a welcome, warm and hilarious presence” on screen.

Born in London, Cuka trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and her acting break came aged 19, when she played Josephine in the original 1958 production of Shelagh Delaney’s kitchen sink drama, A Taste of Honey, directed by Joan Littlewood.

The play was referenced by The Smiths singer Morrissey as a major influence on his everyday lyrics.

In 1976, she appeared opposite Michael Crawford in Bernard Slade’s Same Time, Next Year, a comedy about two people who enjoy an annual nightly affair.

Moving into television, she portrayed Doll Tearsheet in the BBC TV adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part Two, and she was also cast as Peggy Mitchell in the soap EastEnders, but her scenes never made it to air.

The character, later made famous by Barbara Windsor, was first introduced in 1991.

Cuka filmed several scenes as her, which were scrapped before she was replaced by Jo Warne.

She also played recurring characters in Coronation Street, Crossroads, and also Casualty; as the homeless Mrs Bassey, who died after an explosion in a shopping mall.


Newly-discovered Rembrandt work to go on display in Oxford

A newly-discovered Rembrandt painting will go on display for the first time, nearly 400 years since it was created.

Let The Little Children Come To Me will be shown at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford as part of its Young Rembrandt exhibition.

The painting was discovered in 2014 by Amsterdam art dealer and historian Jan Six.

He identified a young man in the painting’s background as a self-portrait by Rembrandt.

The exhibition will explore the early years of the artist’s work from 1624-34.

Let The Little Children Come To Me is believed to have been painted around 1627-28.

The exhibition will feature 31 paintings by Rembrandt, 13 by his notable contemporaries and a further 90 drawings and prints from international and private collections.

Among those on display will be Rembrandt’s earliest known work, The Spectacles Seller (1624-25), which is described by the museum as a “crude, garishly coloured painting by an artist struggling with his medium”, as well as Jeremiah Lamenting The Destruction Of Jerusalem (1630), hailed as an “acknowledged masterpiece”.

Todrick Hall: 'It was unheard of for a young, black boy to be dancing'

The Greatest Dancer judge Todrick Hall has told BBC Radio 5 Live what it was like for him growing up in Texas and wanting to be a dancer.

Speaking to Nicky Campbell and Eleanor Oldroyd, Hall, who has choreographed Beyonce and Taylor Swift, said when he was younger it was “unheard of” for a “young, black boy to be dancing”.

He also spoke about how pleased he was to see more young boys taking up dance, especially in areas such as ballet.

BBC to make Watchdog part of The One Show

The BBC’s long-running consumer rights series Watchdog is to end as a standalone programme, instead becoming part of The One Show.

Watchdog began in 1980 as a strand of Nationwide, but proved so popular it became a separate programme in 1985.

Co-host Steph McGovern has moved to Channel 4, but Matt Allwright and Nikki Fox will stay to front the new strand.

The BBC said they would investigate viewer complaints all year round rather than for two series a year.

Alison Kirkham, controller of BBC Factual, said Allwright and Fox would “continue to be the viewers’ trusted guide”, and would “achieve even greater prominence and success” in raising awareness of consumer rights.

The One Show editor Rob Unsworth said the change would mean that “more than ever the team can react on behalf of consumers whenever stories come up”.

Previous Watchdog hosts include Anne Robinson, Nick Ross, Lynne Faulds Wood and Nicky Campbell.

More recently, it has been on air for 12 episodes per year. The 42nd and most recent series attracted an average of 3.1 million viewers per episode. Watchdog will be incorporated into The One Show this spring.

The news comes weeks after the corporation announced that Victoria Derbyshire’s investigative BBC Two programme will end as a result of cuts to BBC News.

Nollywood actor, Frank Dallas, dies in hotel room in Abia

Ss AGN declares three days of mourning and prayers in his honour

Frank Dallas

Benjamin Njoku

Nollywood actor and production manager, Frank Dallas, is dead.

He reportedly died in his hotel room in Umuahia, the Abia State on Wednesday, where he was attending a summit.

Following his sudden demise, the National President of AGN, Mr Emeja Rollas, has declared three days of morning and prayed in honour of the late actor.

In a statement signed by the Guild”s PRO, Monalisa Chinda-Coker, the president has cancelled all official activities of the guild at all levels for three days.

The statement reads in part: ‘With a heart full of sorrow, we announce the sudden death of the immediate past National PRO of GNU, Frank Dallas Ebulukwu. ‘

“The National President of AGN, Ejezie Emeka Rollas has declared 3 days of national mourning and prayers across all State Chapters including FCT Abuja.’

” In view of this, all official activities of the Guild at all levels are hereby cancelled for three days.”

State Chapter Chairmen are instructed to open condolence register in his honour from Monday, 24/02/2020.
Monthly meeting for February is dedicated to mourning and prayers. We shall be guided accordingly while we await further directives and burial arrangements from the family.

May his gentle soul rest in peace.

Popularly known as “Adedibu” or “Killer” in movie circles, Dallas who hails from Ohafia in Abia State was the former public relations officer of the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN), Lagos chapter.

Monalisa Chinda-Coker defeated him to emerge AGN national PRO in an election held late last year.

Notable actor and producer, Charles Inojie has described Dallas as “an effervescent spirit”.

According to him, “Nollywood has lost a crowd in one man…”

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EastEnders 35th anniversary: My life as a superfan

The Queen Vic, and barmaid Kat Slater spraying a customer with a fire extinguisher – that is my first memory of watching EastEnders, aged just five.

I’ve been hooked ever since.

That was 19 years ago, and this week the BBC’s long-running soap opera celebrates its 35th birthday.

Since kicking off in 1985, EastEnders has provided enough drama, emotional moments and OTT Christmas specials to keep fans like me and my family tuning in.

I got into EastEnders thanks to my mum, Meera – who’s watched it from the very first episode – and my elder brother, Nilesh, 29. So it’s fair to call us a family of superfans – most weeknights you’ll find us glued to the screen – taking in the latest twists and turns from Albert Square.

Nilesh’s first memory is “mum getting pretty emotional” when a character called Nigel Bates, a school friend of Phil and Grant Mitchell, found out his wife had been killed.

“Back then, we had one TV in the house with five channels – EastEnders became a staple because mum watched it,” recalls Nilesh.

We used to hate missing an episode and would even ask friends to record it for us (on video tape) when we were away on family holidays.

‘A good ice-breaker’

Growing up, it was just something everyone chatted about. In high school and sixth form, I’d always hear “did you watch EastEnders last night?”

Whether it was just discussing epic cliffhangers like – Who Killed Lucy? – or doing the perfect Phil Mitchell “I’ll kill him” impression, it was always a good ice breaker – like being part of a fandom.

It was the same for mum, when she was working in the 1980s and 1990s.

“It was a routine that every lunch time we’d talk about what happened the previous night,” mum says. “It brought everyone together.”

EastEnders is still the thing that I look forward to after a long, stressful day. Getting lost in other people’s fictional life dramas is strangely relaxing.

Part of its appeal, is that there’s always another episode around the corner. You could say, it’s the ultimate binge-watch.

Sure, there are streaming services like Netflix packed with addictive shows, but most of the content on there has an end. With EastEnders, from the minute the famous theme music kicks in, you know there’s never long to wait until the next episode.

My personal highlights have included everything from explosive storylines like Max Branning’s affair with his son’s wife, Stacey Slater, Phil Mitchell’s problems with addiction (or anything to do with the Mitchell clan) and more recently, the death of Shakil Kazemi, who was stabbed in a powerful storyline about knife crime.

I’m not ashamed to admit that Shakil’s funeral episode made me emotional – especially when they showed the families of real-life knife crime victims gathered around the grave. Mixing reality and fiction was bold – and I thought it really paid off.

Diverse and relatable

Ultimately, it is the storylines and characters, which have made the show so relatable to so many viewers over the years.

“The way people were living their lives, jobs, going to the market and the struggles they were facing, it was things we could relate to at that time,” my mum says.

And, for me, the show’s diversity has helped me feel connected to it. Coming from a South Asian background, I’ve not always felt represented on TV – and EastEnders hasn’t been perfect.

But from the early years to now, there has been significant representation. Mum says that seeing families on-screen like the Karims and Kapoors, “at a time when society wasn’t as inclusive as it is now” made her feel included. They were Asian families looking to settle into Western culture.

So, it feels fitting to watch EastEnders while eating rice and dhal for dinner.

‘It’s not Christmas without EastEnders’

In our house, Christmas is incomplete until EastEnders has aired. Dinner is even scheduled around the hour-long special. It brings us all together – as cheesy as that might sound.

We all share in moments of high on-screen emotion, like Queen Vic owner Mick Carter finding out his wife Linda had been raped by Deano Wicks – his secret brother.

“Let’s be honest, is it even Christmas Day without EastEnders?” Nilesh says.

And the one thing you’re guaranteed with these big episodes, is that the group chat will be on fire.

‘There’s something to learn’

On a serious note, I really think there are things you can learn from some of the show’s big characters.

Whether that’s Peggy Mitchell’s leadership – nobody’s bossed around punters in a pub quite like her – Phil’s ability to bounce back from being left for dead (several times), Dot Cotton’s community spirit or Calum “Halfway” Highway’s honesty.

These are qualities I’ve seen on-screen growing up, which I’ve tried to build into myself as a person.

So while I’m not likely to be saying “Get outta ma pub” anytime soon, I’m looking forward to spending many more nights curled up with my family and my favourite soap.

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