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Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 20 July 1924Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, England, UK
Date of Death 29 July 2016Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, England, UK  (natural causes)
Birth NameJean Vivra Gray

Mini Bio (1)

She was born Jean Vivra Gray in Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, England, the eldest of four children of Allan, a fish merchant, and his wife, Doris, and attended Thrunscoe girls' school. The family moved to Kingston upon Thames, in south-west London, in the 30s but was evacuated back to Cleethorpes in 1941 and finally resettled in New Malden, Surrey, after the second world war in 1945. As a young woman, Gray worked as a sales assistant, reporter, photographer and nurse, and during the war had served in the Women's Land Army, but always dreamed of becoming an actor.

In 1952, finding opportunities in Britain limited, she decided to emigrate to Australia to pursue her acting ambitions. She adopted the professional name Vivean Gray and appeared in Australian theatre and radio, as well as establishing herself on TV with small roles in cop shows such as Homicide (1964-77), Division Four (1969-75), Matlock Police (1971-76), Solo One (1976) and Bluey (1976), as well as the legal drama Carson's Law (1982-84) and the miniseries Anzacs (1985) and All the Rivers Run (1983).

She also appeared in two films directed by Peter Weir. In Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), she played the maths teacher Miss McCraw, who, along with several of her students from a girls' boarding school, disappears during a Valentine's Day picnic, never to be seen again. In Weir's 1977 film The Last Wave she played Dr Whitburn, an expert on aboriginal history, which starred Richard Chamberlain.

In 1976, she starred as Ida Jessup in The Sullivans, a long-running drama about a Melbourne family and the effect that the war had on their lives. Playing Mrs Jessup, the Sullivans' gossipy English-born neighbour, during the show's 16-season run from 1976 to 1983 proved not only good preparation for her later role as Nell Mangel on Neighbours, but also led to her receiving two Logie awards honouring achievements on Australian TV.

In 1984, she was cast to play a genteel poisoner, Edna Pearson, in the long-running drama Prisoner Cell Block H (known simply as Prisoner in Australia). But after a woman who had been accused of poisoning her husband threatened to sue the show's producers Grundy Television, on the grounds that the character was based on her, material involving Gray's character was cut from subsequent episodes, and from DVD releases of already broadcast shows. In 2010, a DVD telling the dramatic story of Edna Pearson was released, but only in Britain.

Towards the end of her two-year stint on the Australian soap Neighbours as the local busybody Mrs Mangel, the British actor Vivean Gray, who has died aged 92, was presented with the script for an incredible new storyline. In it, she was to be knocked from a ladder by a Labrador called Bouncer and as a result would lose her memory of the past two years.

Her granddaughter Jane, trying to be kind, decides not to tell Mrs Mangel the truth that in the interim her husband Len (John Lee) has run off with another woman, but instead that he has died and his ashes have been scattered under the rosebushes in the front garden. In one later episode, Mrs Mangel is seen saying goodbye to the rosebushes, prompting her Ramsay Street neighbours to think she has lost her mind.

In any other TV soap, such a storyline might have produced a wave of sympathy for the character, but it did not for Nell Mangel. Between 1986 and 1988, millions around the world, particularly in Australia and Britain, would tune in every weekday afternoon to watch the cantankerous, interfering busybody at No 32 drive her neighbours to distraction. In one typical storyline, Mrs Mangel tries to destroy the relationship between her lodger Harold Bishop (Ian Smith) and her neighbour and nemesis Madge Ramsay (Anne Charleston). When she fails in that, she attempts to ruin their wedding by playing the church organ badly. In another storyline, many of her neighbours suspect her of murdering Len - until he turns up unexpectedly in a later episode announcing he plans to file for divorce.

In some respects, Mrs Mangel was a prototype for EastEnders' Dot Cotton: piously Christian, difficult and burdened with a disappointing son (Joe, played by Mark Little), who leaves the Mangel home after being accused of robbing a service station. But unlike Dot Cotton, Mrs Mangel proved unlikeable though captivating, becoming, as Neighbours' executive producer Jason Herbison "the ultimate busybody ... a true soap legend".

These were the glory days of Neighbours in terms of ratings. A 1988 episode featuring the wedding between Scott Robinson (Jason Donovan) and Charlene Mitchell (Kylie Minogue) was watched by 20 million in the UK alone. As a result, Gray's character became globally known, if not beloved.

Indeed, if Mrs Mangel made Gray famous, she was scarcely able to enjoy the celebrity. In 1988, she quit the show after nearly 300 episodes. The following year she explained why: "I loved Neighbours and the rest of the cast were marvellous. But because it was so successful, I could barely set foot outside my own door without someone screaming abuse at horrid old Mrs Mangel. People didn't seem to appreciate it was acting. So I decided to take a break."

For years afterwards, Vivean Gray topped opinion polls as the nastiest television "baddie" of all time, with some of the more dedicated viewers of Neighbours failing to distinguish between the actress and the fictional character.

The break from acting lasted for the rest of Gray's life - she never took another role. She left Australia in the mid-1990s and settled in Shoreham-by-Sea in West Sussex, England, refusing requests for interviews or autographs from fans.

In 2005 Neighbours' producers tried to persuade her to return for its 20th anniversary episode, but she declined.

After Gray quit Neighbours in 1988, she may have effectively retired, but her fame lived on. In 1995 she was honoured with her image on an Australian postage stamp. As for Mrs Mangel, after finding out the truth about Len and divorcing him, the producers had her fall for a retired dentist John Worthington (Brian James) and move back to the old country, to St Albans, Hertfordshire. She continued to be mentioned in the show as recently as 2015.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Anonymous

Trivia (3)

Dogged by bad luck in her acting career. When she starred in Prisoner: Cell Block H (1979) virtually all her scenes were cut when someone threatened to sue due to her character being too similar to a real-life person. Then whilst starring in Neighbours (1985) she was bullied by members of the public who confused her nasty character with real life, causing her to have enough and give up acting.
Best known for her role as Ida Jessup in The Sullivans (1976).
Was the eldest of 4 children. Sister of Eunice, Hazel and Derek. Daughter of Allan Gray (born Allan Arthur Gray 1898) and Doris Gray (born Doris M Simpson) who were married in 1923.

Personal Quotes (1)

I could barely set foot outside my own door without someone screaming abuse at horrid old Mrs Mangel

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