Thursday, 16 July 2015

Butterworth Time

Peter Butterworth is one of my comedy heroes. He has always been one of my favourite actors in the Carry On team and while diehard fans of the series love and appreciate his many performances, he tends to go unnoticed by a lot of people. Peter spent thirteen years as part of the gang, notching up sixteen film appearances, two theatre runs and countless television performances both in Carry On Laughing and some of the Carry On Christmas specials.

Despite this substantial contribution, Peter Butterworth often receives scant mention in tribute shows or books focusing on the success of the Carry Ons. He was also found very far down the cast list in many of the films, never really achieving star billing despite many of his creations being deeply memorable. Who can forget his Slowbottom in Carry On Screaming? His Brother Belcher in Carry On Up the Khyber? Or his Pepe (or is it Mario?) in the glorious Carry On Abroad?

Peter Butterworth was a true professional. He clearly loved playing the outlandish comic foil and he never, ever missed the opportunity for a bit of business. His facial reactions and mugging, often in the background of scenes are often inspired. His performances were also highly energetic - just think of the scene in Abroad when the hotel starts to crumble around him. Wonderful stuff.

Unlike the other main team members, Peter had the slightly unusual position of appearing in uncredited cameos in some of the films. After some barnstorming major supporting roles in Screaming, Don't Lose Your Head and Follow That Camel, Carry On Again Doctor began an inexplicable run of very minor roles for Peter Butterworth in the Carry Ons. In 1970 he appeared in one scene cameos in both Loving and Henry and while both were amusing, I can't fathom why he was restricted in this way. Was he just too busy with other work? I honestly don't know the answer to this, so if anybody does, please get in touch!

After missing both Carry On At Your Convenience and Carry On Matron, it apparently took a letter from Peter to producer Peter Rogers to get him cast as Pepe/Mario in Carry On Abroad. It proved a truly brilliant return to a major role in the series for Butterworth and he went on to appear in every film until the original series ran out of steam in 1978. 

Away from the Carry Ons, Peter Butterworth appeared in many other films and countless television roles during his career. He made his name as a children's entertainer on television in the 1950s and excelled as a pantomime dame. Peter was married to comedienne and impressionist Janet Brown for over thirty years and together they had two children, Emma, who sadly died in the 1990s and Tyler who followed in his father's footsteps and became an actor. It was terrific to see Tyler appear in Carry On Forever alongside Kenneth Connor's son Jeremy. It was lovely to hear that both Peter and Kenneth had been great friends over the years. 

Peter Butterworth was also a war hero, shot down over Germany during the Second World War, he was an inmate in a prisoner of war camp and took part in many daring escape attempts involving the famous Wooden Horse. Ironically, when Peter went up for a part in the film version, he was turned down! 

Working right up until the end of his life, Peter very sadly died at the absurdly early age of 59 in January 1979. He was appearing in pantomime at the time and was found dead in his hotel room after a performance. A terribly sad loss of a truly gifted comic actor, beloved by both his peers and his fans. 

Fortunately we still have many wonderful film and television performances to enjoy, however he remains much missed to this very day. 

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