Gretchen Franklin was born in London on 7th July 1911 into a theatrical family as her father and grandfather were both song and dance men in the music halls. She herself entered the business as a dancer, working in various reviews before turning gradually to drama. Her main roles in this next incarnation of her career were on the stage and, among other parts, she was in the cast of Agatha Christie's Verdict in its first West End run in 1958. Her roles in television were mainly in comedy although she did appear in drama series such as Z Cars and Dixon of Dock Green although she missed a big chance of household-name stardom when she had to turn down the role of Else in the new BBC comedy Til Death Us Do Part after having appeared in the pilot (she suggested that her good friend Dandy Nichols replace her). In the same year that she made the pilot of Til Death… she appeared in a first season episode of the Coronation Street spin-off Pardon the Expression as a cantankerous Grandma.
After parts in various series such as Castle Haven and Crossroads, Gretchen was granted a late chance of stardom in 1985 when she was one of the original cast in the BBC's new soap EastEnders. Playing Ethel Skinner (a Minnie Caldwell-type character) she became a household name but was very bitter when she was told that she character was being moved into an old people's home and resigned on the spot. She did return on occasions to the series before finally being "killed off" in 2000.