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Obituary: Bella Emberg

Bella Emberg at The Stage Awards 2016. Photo: Alex Brenner Bella Emberg at The Stage Awards 2016. Photo: Alex Brenner

As the ever-reliable stooge to a succession of television comedians, Bella Emberg’s sizeable frame (the butt of endless jokes in less politically correct times) filled a niche to perfection.

She found fame as the bungling superhero-sidekick Blunder Woman to Russ Abbot’s inept Cooperman, first appearing on screen with the comic in 1978. Their association continued until the late 1990s in various television series, touring live shows, summer seasons and latterly on BBC Radio 2.

Born in Brighton, Emberg trained at the Florence Moore Drama School in Hove before making her debut with Barry O’Brien’s weekly rep company at the Esplanade Pavilion in Ryde, Isle of Wight, in 1962.

Her career steadily developed in regional reps and on television, where she appeared with a ‘who’s who’ of TV comedians, including Benny Hill, Morecambe and Wise, Dick Emery, Terry Scott, Eric Sykes and Les Dennis. In later years, she added to that list Freddie Starr and Frankie Howerd, although she remains forever associated with Abbot, with whom she was seen in the 1988 Royal Variety Performance.

Emberg’s appearances in straight drama were limited on stage but included a Witch in Macbeth at the 1980 Ludlow Shakespeare Festival, Minnie in the 1996 tour of Prisoner Cell Block H alongside Lily Savage, and Vanessa Brooks’ Love Me Slender on tour in 1999.

She amassed more than 60 screen credits, including two appearances in Doctor Who, Z-Cars, Yes, Honestly and Dennis Potter’s Pennies from Heaven (1978). More recently, she was seen as Aunt Barbara in CBBC’s Bear Behaving Badly (2008-10) and with Matt Lucas in Pompidou (2015).

Emberg’s final screen performance, alongside Idris Elba and Bill Bailey, in Sky 1’s In the Long Run, will be broadcast later this year.

In 2016, Emberg served as Queen Ratling for the performers’ charity organisation the Grand Order of Lady Ratlings.

Bella Emberg was born Sybil Dyke on September 16, 1937 and died on January 12, aged 80. She is survived by her partner, Rosemary.

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