Scotsman Obituaries: Patricia Brake, actress who lit up Seventies sitcoms

Patricia Brake, actress. Born: 25 June 1942 in Bath. Died: 28 May 2022, aged 79

Patricia Brake will probably be most readily associated with the role of Ingrid Fletcher, the sexy, blonde-haired daughter of “habitual criminal” Norman Stanley Fletcher and a regular visitor and unwitting object of desire for the inmates of Slade Prison in the classic 1970s British sitcom Porridge starring Ronnie Barker.

But Brake had a wide-ranging career spanning five decades, which included a spell with the Royal Shakespeare Company, working with such luminaries as director Peter Hall, Judi Dench and Ian Richardson.

And she was one of the principals in the ill-fated British soap opera Eldorado in the early 1990s. The ambitious BBC production was set in the fictional Spanish town of Los Barcos on the Costa Eldorado and the producers hoped to meld elements of EastEnders, Dallas and Australian soaps in its mixture of British characters, money and sunny settings.

Patricia Brake was a familiar face on British TV for decades (Picture: ITV/Shutterstock)

It was an expensive and ambitious project and Brake signed up with the promise that it would run for at least two years, but it was cancelled after just one. Brake found herself not only jobless, but also homeless, having rented out her house in London.

Subsequently she appeared in both EastEnders and Coronation Street, playing part of the Baldwin clan in the latter.

A butcher’s daughter, Patricia Ann Brake was born in Bath in 1942. She always wanted to be an actress, went to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School at 16, was acting professionally in provincial theatre in England at 18 and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at the very young age of 19, playing Hermia in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that also featured Judi Dench, Ian Richardson, Diana Rigg and Ian Holm.

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She was also acting on television from her late teens onward and early credits include the shortlived ITV soap Home Tonight, Emergency Ward 10, No Hiding Place and This Man Craig, the popular BBC Scotland drama starring John Cairney as the idealistic young teacher of the title.

On the West End she played Cecily Pigeon in a 1966 production of Neil Simon’s comedy The Odd Couple and she co-starred with Dudley Moore in the original 1969 West End production of Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam.

Brake also had a starring role in The Ugliest Girl in Town, an American sitcom set in England, in which the title character is actually a man, mistaken for a woman after posing as a hippy.

It might be said that the programme was very much of its time, the late 1960s. But it was panned even then, while also acquiring some sort of lasting renown for its sheer awfulness. In 2002 it featured at No 18 in TV Guide’s Top 50 of the Worst TV Shows of All Time.

Brake made only a handful of appearances in Porridge, visiting her father in jail, delighting the inmates, while discomfiting her dad, despite reassuring him that she was wearing a bra this time. While The Ugliest Girl in Town is long since forgotten, Porridge has reached fresh audiences with repeated viewings over the years.

The character of Ingrid represented everything that her father and his fellow inmates had lost – family, women and indeed sex. Critic Clive James commented on Brake’s “fluffy but compelling sexiness”, adding that her characterisation had “all the lowlife zing that Cockney sparrers of stage and screen are traditionally supposed to display but never do”.

Porridge was written by the gifted duo of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, it ran for three series between 1974 and 1977 and was followed by Going Straight in 1978, in which Fletcher and his former cellmate, the naive young Lennie Godber, played by Richard Beckinsale, attempt to steer clear of the temptations of crime.

Brake had a much more central role in the sequel and a romance between her and Lennie led to them marrying in the final episode. Plans for a second series, however, were dropped after Beckinsale died of a heart attack at the age of just 31.

Brake would play Ingrid one final time in the 2003 mockumentary Life Beyond the Box: Norman Stanley Fletcher. It was narrated by Bill Nighy and supposedly updated the story of Fletcher’s life. He had become a pub landlord, while Ingrid remained married to Lennie, whose absence from screen was explained by the fact that he was a long-distance lorry driver.

In 1979 Brake starred alongside Jimmy Edwards and Ian Lavender as Lavender’s long-suffering fiancée Eth in the ITV sitcom The Glums, which had actually begun life as a feature on the radio show Take It From Here in the 1950s.

On EastEnders Brake was Deirdre Foster, whose screen son is accused of rape in a 2004 storyline. And she played Mike Baldwin’s sister-in-law Viv Baldwin in 11 episodes of Coronation Street in 2005 and 2006. And of course, in Soapland it turns out that Mike (Johnny Briggs) is not only her brother-in-law, but the father of her son.

Brake also appeared in some memorable dramatic roles, including that of a rape victim in Manhunt just last year.

Her first marriage, to actor Robert McBain, ended in divorce. Her second husband, Michael Kennedy, died in 2011. She is survived by two children from her first marriage and three stepchildren.

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