The Times obituary in 2018.
There was a period in the early Sixties when no British film comedy seemed complete without Liz Fraser. According to a profile in 1964, Fraser was a “dumb, dead-pan blonde” with “rather more curves than the racing circuit at Brands Hatch”, but who was, on closer acquaintance, “actually as sharp as a steak knife”.
This native wit damaged her career just as she was becoming a stalwart of the Carry On films. After Carry on Regardless, Carry on Cruising and Carry on Cabbie between 1961 and 1963, Fraser’s involvement in the popular series was terminated because of a remark she made on set about how poorly the films were being marketed. When her comments were reported to the producer, Peter Rogers, she was banned from the films for the next 12 years.
A vivacious, big-hearted blonde with a cockney accent that survived the best efforts of drama school, Fraser made her breakthrough in the 1959 comedy film I’m Alright Jack in which she played the daughter of Peter Sellers’s shop steward in a rollicking satire on industrial relations. Her performance earned her a nomination for a Bafta for most promising newcomer.
She resisted Sellers’s advances after he locked her in his dressing room — “I didn’t quite go there” — but she did become firm friends with him and just about every other top British comedian or comic actor she worked with. Sid James was a “lovely man. We’d always have a cuddle, but there was never any funny business.” Tommy Cooper was “the most naturally funny person I’ve ever worked with. Others sort of worked at it, but no one was as infectious as Tommy.” Tony Hancock “became a good mate. He was a sad, lonely man, but we made each other laugh.” Indeed, Fraser was known in showbusiness as the ultimate “trouper”, who seemed to be able to make friends with everyone.
After a decade of playing ditzy, pneumatic blondes, usually required to strip to their underwear, Fraser began to fight against typecasting. She polished up her accent and started turning up to castings in a brunette wig. It made little difference. With a few notable exceptions she spent much of the rest of her career in comedy and for this she was treasured.
She was born Elizabeth Joan Winch in 1930 in Elephant and Castle, south London. Her father, a commercial traveller, died of tuberculosis when she was 11, leaving her mother to run a corner shop to support them. One small consolation for the bereaved child was a regular supply of free sweets.
Fraser later reflected that she would have “ended up in a factory or as a shop girl” had her mother not “put her foot down” and enrolled her at St Saviour’s and St Olave’s Grammar School in south London and “paid for me to have a good education”.
She left school at 16 and worked as a shorthand typist, which paid for two years of evening classes at the London School of Dramatic Art. Acting was something she had wanted to do after watching her uncle perform card tricks. On finishing drama school, she put an advertisement in The Stage and felt buoyed when an unnamed impresario invited her to a meeting at the Dorchester Hotel. She left in tears after he offered her a part in a “big film” in return for personal favours. Not long afterwards she made her debut as a professional actress after accepting a three-month engagement with a repertory company in Accrington.
Billed as Elizabeth Fraser, she made more than 100 television appearances during the Fifties, usually as a decorative stooge to comedians including Benny Hill, Harry Secombe, Arthur Askey and Frankie Howerd. She also appeared in several episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour. When Sid James was sacked by the troubled Hancock, he devised his own series, Citizen James, and took Fraser with him.