When it comes to comedy impressions, few could match the ability of the late Janet Brown. A wonderful force in the British entertainment industry, Brown’s unparalleled knack for impersonations left audiences spellbound, earning her the moniker of a prime mimicker. And who could forget her as the wife of the legendary Carry On actor Peter Butterworth, together forming an unforgettable duo on and off the screen?
Born in Rutherglen, Lanarkshire, the starlet’s journey to comedy began in the midst of World War II when she served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Not only was Brown the first female performer to grace the Stars in Battledress, she also went on to rule British television, delighting audiences with her sterling performances in iconic TV series such as The Eric Barker Half-Hour and How Do You View?
It was her stunningly realistic impersonation of Margaret Thatcher, following the latter’s election as the Conservative Party leader in 1975, that catapulted Brown to stardom. Her portrayal of the Iron Lady on the BBC TV’s Mike Yarwood Show and in the 1981 James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, demonstrated a level of finesse and satire that only Brown could muster.
Brown, who proudly embraced the title of ‘Prime Mimicker’ in her 1986 autobiography, was well-respected in her field and even Thatcher herself rated her abilities. Recalling a moment from 1986, Brown shared, “Afterwards, she [Thatcher] came up to me and said, ‘I know you could have delivered my speech better than I did, but was it all right?'”
Married to Carry On actor Peter Butterworth, Brown’s personal and professional life was a testament to her love for comedy. The pair appeared together in TV series like How Do You View? and in the 1972 film, Bless This House, effortlessly blending their real-life chemistry into their on-screen performances.
Their marriage, a true partnership in life and laughter, blessed them with two children, Tyler and Emma. Tragically, Emma passed away in 1996, while their son Tyler, following in their thespian footsteps, is a successful actor.
Brown never remarried following Butterworth’s death in 1979. She remained an integral part of the British entertainment industry till her last breath, her final role being Old Lady Squeamish in Wycherley’s The Country Wife, at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, which opened in September 2007.
Despite television variety shows evolving and being radically different in modern times, Janet Brown’s impressions will never be forgotton. Her final bow may have been in May 2011, but her legacy, bolstered by her exceptional talent for comedy and impersonation, lives on. We commemorate her contributions, her passion, and her place in the pantheon of British comedy, a true comedy queen who left audiences in stitches and inspired many more to do the same.
Watch Janet in action as Magaret Thatcher below: