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She was born in 1931 in Jamaica as Mavis Chin to a a Chinese father and Jamaican mother. She came to Britain in 1959 to work in architecture but soon moved to theatre and gained a place at RADA. Work in theatre followed and on television from the late 1960s with appearances in series such as Softly, Softly, Callan, Crown Court, Black Silk, Desmond's (and its sequel, Pork Pie), White Teeth, The Crouches, Doctors, Holby City, Doctor Who and the regular role of Blossom Jackson in EastEnders.
She was co-founder in 1985 of the Talawa Theatre company and appeared in their productions of The Black Jacobins, The Importance of Being Earnest and King Lear.