Patsy Rowlands

Actress and comedienne

Born: 19 January, 1934, in London.

Died: 22 January, 2005, in Brighton, aged 71.

PATSY Rowlands was an actress who graced stage, film and television with a charismatic charm. Never a leading lady but a character actress of much style and blessed with superb timing. She was a refined comedienne who could switch from the bawdy to the subtle but was probably seen most widely in her ten Carry On movies in which she played the hard-done-by friend of Barbara Windsor or the harassed nurse to Hattie Jacques.

Rowlands did put-upon characters wonderfully, but never overdid the comedy: it was always kept within the bounds of the role. She was expert at delivering a tag line and was seen to good effect in the long-running series Bless This House. Rowlands also appeared in hit musicals in the West End and plays at the National Theatre.

Her agent, Simon Beresford, announcing Rowlands’ death, said: "She never complained, particularly when she was ill. Patsy was of the old school - she had skills from musical theatre and high drama: that is why she worked with the great and the good of directors."

Patsy Rowlands won a scholarship to the Guildhall School and began her career in Sandy Wilson’s musical Valmouth. Other important London appearances included Semi-Detached (as Laurence Olivier’s daughter) directed by Tony Richardson, and the archetypical housewife in Shut Your Eyes and Think of England with Donald Sinden. In 1976 she joined the Lyric Theatre Company to play in Lindsay Anderson’s production of The Seagull and in Ben Travers’ The Bed Before Yesterday (with Joan Plowright). In 1986 Rowlands joined a starry cast (Timothy West, Prunella Scales, Bill Fraser and Patricia Routledge) in Ronald Eyre’s acclaimed production of JB Priestley’s When We Are Married.

Rowlands had a fine singing voice heard in Sondheim’s Into the Woods, Mike Ockrent’s hit production of Me and My Girl and a decade ago in Sam Mendes’ long running revival of Oliver!.

On television Rowlands was in numerous dramas and sitcoms and was an ideal sparring partner, never hogging the limelight and generous to colleagues. Such stars as Les Dawson, Dick Emery and, in particular, Billy Connolly in Supergran all asked for Rowlands to play with them in important sketches. Rowlands long spell in Bless This House showed her at her best: the series ran for six years from 1971 and in 65 episodes Rowlands played the long-suffering neighbour with immense gusto. She and her co-stars (Sid James and Diana Coupland) brought a rude energy to the series and despite the critics thinking it trite the show won awards and the public loved it.

In fact Rowlands appeared in many straight films including Roman Polanski’s Tess and Little Lord Fauntleroy (starring Alec Guinness). Inevitably, however, Rowlands will be remembered for her forays in to the world of Carry On.

With her rather dumpy figure Rowlands became a regular: invariably playing the woebegone employee who sheds the ungainly dress and glasses and is transformed into the glamorous heroine. In Carry On Loving Rowlands was a forlorn housekeeper who has to cool her ardour for her employer (Kenneth Williams). In Carry On Henry she was the queen but was beheaded in the first reel. In Carry On Girls she is a lazy and housebound wife who burns her bra and joins a women’s lib group.

In 2001 Rowlands was seen in the period melodrama The Cazalets, which narrated the problems of a wealthy family just before the Second World War. Rowlands played Miss Millamint with relish. Sir Cameron Mackintosh in the same year cast her as Mrs Pearce in his revival of My Fair Lady at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. She took Eliza Doolittle off to the bath and danced through I Think She’s Got It for a year and then was asked to return to the role when the show was recast for its third year.

The director Eleanor Fazan remembers Rowlands with affection. "Patsy was always very unselfish and a delight to work with: full of energy and keen to try anything new. She was a joy."

Rowlands had been having treatment for cancer and is survived by her son.