What can I say about the brilliant Patsy Rowlands? An under-rated comedy performer or a much loved actress? I would say both. Loved and respected equally by her peers and the loyal British comedy audience.
Rather than put Sid or Kenneth or Joan at the centre of one of my first blogs, I wanted to put Patsy Rowlands in the spotlight. For me she was an incredibly valuable and memorable part of the Carry On films as well as many other aspects of British comedy over a period of more than forty years.
She normally worked with Kenneth Williams in the Carry Ons, always stating in interviews that she was pretty nervous about working with him due to his reputation, cutting wit and natural intelligence. Fair enough, but when it came to acting talent Patsy could hold her own. No innuendo intended. I loved her in all he Carry On appearances, my only problem being that too many of them were far too brief. In certain films she is practically a walk on - Henry, Matron and Dick spring to mind (as it were).
I don't know why Rogers and Thomas didn't give her bigger parts in the series for whenever she did get a chance she always shone. Think of Miss Fosdick, eventually the only wife of Gladstone Screwer in Again Doctor. Or Miss Withering, W. C Boggs' predatory, put-upon secretary in At Your Convenience. Or perhaps best of all, as the downtrodden Mildred Bumble who most certainly has the last laugh in Carry On Girls. Brilliant comedy timing, acting and characterisations in all of these films.
Patsy joined the team in 1969 for Carry On Again Doctor, appearing in nine of the films until her last appearance in Carry On Behind in 1975. In Behind she rather miraculously played Joan Sims' daughter despite there being barely any difference in the actresses' ages. Not that that really mattered when you have the cinematic glory that is Joan Sims, Patsy Rowlands, Bernard Bresslaw and a foul mouthed mynah bird (voiced by Gerald Thomas) sharing a caravan.
Away from the Carry Ons Patsy Rowlands had a long, prolific and varied career in other films, television and on stage. I remember her in the classic black and white Norman Wisdom comedy, A Stitch in Time. She also starred opposite John Alderton in the big screen version of Please Sir and played opposite Sid James, Diana Coupland and Peter Butterworth in the film version of Bless This House. Later film appearances included Joseph Andrews directed by Tony RIchardson and Tess, directed by Roman Polanski.
On television Patsy was probably best known as Sid James' neighbour Betty in Bless This House, running from 1971 until Sid's untimely death in 1976. Patsy was on record remembering how much she admired Sid and how talented he was as an actor. Patsy's television career really does read as a roll call of everything that was at all popular during her time from Z Cars, The Avengers and Jackanory to George and Mildred, DIck Emery and Super Gran. In the 1990s she even appeared in Bottom as the wonderfully named Lil Potato! One of the more bizarre series Patsy appeared in was Kinvig, screened in 1981. It was scripted by Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale and was very strange indeed!
Patsy continued to make appearances until 2001, her last series being the costume drama, The Cazalets. She spent much of her later career on stage, starring in lavish West End productions such as Oliver! (with Jim Dale) and My Fair Lady. She also attended several Carry On gatherings and recorded some delightful audio commentaries for Carry On DVD releases. She clearly loved the Carry On gang, had happy memories of the work and was proud to have been a part of it all, which is always heartening for fans to hear. She was also incredibly modest about her success and her talent.
Sadly ill health took its toll on Patsy Rowlands and she passed away in January 2005. She had been suffering from breast cancer, something she kept to herself after receiving the diagnosis. She battled on like a trouper until the end - another great talent gone too soon. Apparently she had planned to retire and teach drama students. A long held ambition that was very sadly never realised.
Like so many other of the great talents we've grown to love in the Carry On films, Patsy may be gone but her wonderful performances and superb comic talent will fortunately be with us forever.
For a full list of Patsy's screen credits please see http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0746772/
Follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan