Obituary: Judy Carne, actress

British comic performer who found fame alongside Goldie Hawn on US television. Picture: AP
British comic performer who found fame alongside Goldie Hawn on US television. Picture: AP
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Born: 27 April, 1939, in Northampton. Died: 3 September, 2015, in Northampton, aged 76.

COMEDIENNES sprang to international fame when the US television show The Rowan and Martin Laugh-In hit the airwaves in the late 1960s. The cult show made a star of Goldie Hawn, whose blonde hair, toothy smile and zany personality made her an instant hit. Judy Carne, though, was the butt of everyone’s jokes – she was always the one who got smeared in gunge and had buckets of water emptied over her.

She soon became known as the “Sock-it-to-Me-Girl” and the catchphrase stayed with her for the rest of her life. Carne had a captivating, infectious smile and a devastatingly giggly laugh: it all suited the Laugh-In formula perfectly and she became a regular and one of the real stars of the show.

In fact, Carne remained with the show for two years but left in the middle of the third series, mumbling that it had become “a big, bloody bore”. Some noticed, however, that Hawn had ousted her from the prime female lead and Carne was clearly less than happy.

Joyce Audrey Botterill’s parents ran a greengrocer’s shop in a village outside Northampton. As a child she showed a talent for acting and dancing, regularly giving one-woman shows for her school.

She attended the Bush Davies Theatrical School for Girls at East Grinstead and was seen in the West End in 1956 in the revue For Amusement Only. The cast also included such revue stalwarts as Ron Moody, Barry Took and Dilys Laye.

Carne was seen on television in 1961 firstly in Danger Man and then the hit sitcom The Rag Trade. Carne was very much part of the Swinging Sixties and was often escorted by pop stars and celebrities. She decided that her future lay in Hollywood but found work there not easy to come by.

Carne was in several American dramas until in 1968 she was cast in The Rowan and Martin Laugh-In – a sketch comedy television show (roughly based on the BBCs That Was The Week That Was) which had rapidly taken on cult status.

Lily Tomlin and the British actor Jeremy Lloyd were to join Hawn and Carne as the stars but the two hosts remained the centre of attention: their insouciant humour proved a winner.

Martin had the charming habit of introducing Carne’s next sketch by simply saying: “Take it away, Judy,” with a fine golf swing. It was a glorious send-up of American life and a product of the hippy culture of the day. Stars (even Richard Nixon, Rita Hayworth and John Wayne) queued up to be on the show.

Carne was a focal point of many of the sketches and her throw-away line, “Sock-it-to-me”, was delivered with a joyous gusto invariably after yet another humiliating collapse or a dramatic fall through a trap door. She was always dressed in wild, clashing colours and micro-mini skirts. Carne had two characters who were seen on every show – Mrs Robot and the Talking Judy Doll. It was a hugely successful show and is now part of US television history.

Her fame was considerable and Carne appeared on such hit chat shows as the Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Carne herself once observed: “I’m a 1960s flower child who has refused to grow up. ‘Mature’ and ‘responsible’ are words I don’t understand.”

After she left the Laugh-InCarne appeared as Polly in The Boyfriend on Broadway and in 1963 she married Burt Reynolds. The marriage lasted two years and she later admitted: “When we first met, we were immediately in love, so we immediately made love.”

It was, not, however, a happy union and the two were divorced in 1966, with Carne claiming Reynolds was abusive. Another unsuccessful marriage followed but Carne had also become a victim of the drug culture and in 1977 she was on three charges from the LA Police for possession of Class A drugs. On one occasion she was rushed to hospital after an alleged overdose.

Her life was near rock bottom when she was convicted of heroin possession and not turning up for the trial.

Carne decided to write her memoirs and return to Northampton. The book, Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside, chronicled her difficulties with drugs, her failed marriage to Reynolds, and her bisexuality. Carne gave an honest account of the ups and downs, the insecurity and the pitfalls of show-business. But she also captured her determination and resolute desire to succeed.

Back in Britain she was occasionally seen on television – notably the BBC sketch show Marks in his Diary, which starred Alfred Marks and David Jason.

Carne for some years had led a quiet life in the village of Pitsford, where she walked her two dogs and was popular in the neighbourhood.