Frances Cuka

Frances Cuka (21 August 1936 – 16 February 2020)[1] was an English actress, principally on television, whose career spanned over sixty years. In her later years, she was best known for playing Grandma Nellie Buller in the sitcom Friday Night Dinner from 2011–2018.

Frances Cuka
Born(1936-08-21)21 August 1936
London, England
Died16 February 2020(2020-02-16) (aged 83)
Hampstead, London, England
Years active1957–2018
Notable credit(s)
Casualty (2006–2009)
Friday Night Dinner (2011–2018)

Early life and careerEdit

Cuka (pronounced Chewka) was born in London, England, the only child of Letitia Alice Annie (née Francis), a tailor, and Joseph Cuka, a process engraver. The family subsequently moved to Hove. As a child, she appeared in BBC radio broadcasts as part of Children's Hour. She trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.[2]

Theatre rolesEdit

After the Guildhall, she joined Theatre Workshop; there she performed in Macbeth and then in 1958 created the role of Jo in Shelagh Delaney's play A Taste of Honey, continuing in the role when the play moved to the West End and Broadway. Between runs of A Taste of Honey she appeared in several plays at the Royal Court Theatre, including Endgame and Live Like Pigs.[3] In 1963 she played Becky Sharp in the musical Vanity Fair, alongside George Baker and Dame Sybil Thorndike.


Cuka then moved into television. Her subsequent television roles included the 1971 BBC miniseries adaption of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, Adam Adamant Lives, Hammer House of Horror (the episode "Charlie Boy"), The Champions and Minder. She also appeared as Doll Tearsheet in a BBC TV version of Henry IV, Part II. She had recurring roles in the soap operas Crossroads and Coronation Street. Her film roles have included Scrooge (1970) as Bob Cratchit's wife, and Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972) as Catherine of Aragon.

Cuka was cast as Peggy Mitchell in the BBC1 soap opera EastEnders when the character was first introduced in 1991. She had filmed several scenes of the character but they were scrapped; Jo Warne was then cast in the role.[4]

From 2006 to 2009, she played the recurring role of a homeless woman called Mrs Bassey in the popular medical drama Casualty. Her final appearance was in September 2009, when her character died from severe burns after being involved in an explosion at a shopping centre.

In 2010, she played Lady Bracknell for Logos Theatre Company at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, in the unusual four-act version of The Importance of Being Earnest.

From March 2011, she appeared in the Channel 4 sitcom Friday Night Dinner, as Grandma Nelly Buller. She had to leave the show in 2018 due to illness, making one last cameo appearance in the series 5 episode 'The Violin.'[5]


Cuka died after suffering a stroke at her home in Hampstead, London on 16 February 2020, aged 83.[6]


Year Title Role Notes
1961 Over the Odds Hilda Summers
1970 Scrooge Ethel Cratchit
1972 Henry VIII and his Six Wives Catherine of Aragon
Hide and Seek Mrs. Dickie
1980 The Watcher in the Woods Mary Fleming
1987 Crossroads Mary Lancaster Guest role
1988 The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank Mrs. Van Daan Television film
CivvyStreet Lil Sewell EastEnders spin-off episode
1990 Mountains of the Moon Lady Houghton
1991 EastEnders Peggy Mitchell Unaired scenes
Afraid of the Dark Mrs. Dalton
1997 Snow White: A Tale of Terror Nannau
2001, 2003 The Bill Mrs. Jones; Sandra Fletcher 2 episodes
2001, 2005, 2007 Doctors Lillie Goodwin; Maeve Richards; Martha Tanner 3 episodes
2003 Swimming Pool Lady on the underground
2005 Oliver Twist Mrs. Bedwin
2006–2009 Casualty Mrs. Bassey Recurring role, 7 episodes
2011–2018 Friday Night Dinner Grandma Eleanor "Nelly" Buller Supporting role, 12 episodes
2012, 2014 Holby City Esther Levy 3 episodes
2014 Closer to the Moon Sarah


  1. ^ "Frances Cuka obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 February 2020.
  2. ^ "Frances Cuka obituary". the Guardian. 2020-02-20. Retrieved 2021-08-03.
  3. ^ "Interview with Frances Cuka". The Theatre Archive. British Library. Retrieved 14 October 2012.
  4. ^ "Friday Night Dinner star Frances Cuka dies aged 83". BBC News. 2020-02-21. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
  5. ^ S, Ian; well (2020-05-01). "Friday Night Dinner pays tribute to late star Frances Cuka". Digital Spy. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
  6. ^ "Frances Cuka: Friday Night Dinner star dies aged 83". BBC News. 21 February 2020. Archived from the original on 9 June 2020.

External linksEdit