There aren’t many TV comedies that leave you aching with laughter but BBC’s Mrs Brown’s Boys is one of them. It’s rude, lewd and a little bit crude but also hilariously funny. We Brits have always loved the Pantomine Dame/Stanley Baxter/Danny La Rue/Lily Savage idea of a man disguised as a woman on stage but Mrs Brown’s Boys is far more than a drag act. So what’s the secret of its phenomenal success? Eilish O’Carroll, who plays Agnes Brown’s dozy next-door neighbour and best friend Winnie McGoogan, says it’s a combination of things.
“Brendan’s script is incredibly funny to begin with and it comes to life as soon as he becomes Agnes. The fact that so many of us appearing in the show are related in real life also gives it a unique charm. We know each other so well, there’s a kind of shorthand between us all, a natural rhythm to what we do. Personally, I can always sense when Brendan is about to say or do something – I can virtually smell it! Then there are the flaws in the show, which the viewers absolutely love – we film in front of a live audience and when something goes wrong, Brendan incorporates it into the narrative. You have to be a comedy genius to ad-lib and think that quickly but that’s what Brendan is.”
Not that he’ll have been able to do that kind of spontaneous thing in Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, which sees Dublin market trader Agnes taking on the men in suits who want to close the market.
“The film was great fun to make – I don’t know where Brendan gets all his ideas from,” says Eilish.
Mrs Brown’s Boys started out as a stage show in the Nineties. The team are touring theatres across the UK from March 2015 and there’s the Christmas special to film.
“I’m hoping we’ll get to do another series or two for the BBC as well,” Eilish continues, “although that’s yet to be confirmed.” With viewing figures of 9.4 million for the last Christmas special, we’d say that was a given.
“I’ve been working with Brendan on the stage show of Mrs Brown’s Boys since 1999 but when the BBC came on board to make the first series in 2011, none of us anticipated just how big it would become. It was more like ‘let’s just enjoy this experience while it lasts’. Everyone was taking a risk but it’s a risk that’s paid off hugely. Thinking back, the timing was absolutely right; we’d gone into a global recession and everyone wanted to have a good belly laugh. They still do.”
As the youngest two in a family of 12 children, Eilish, who was born in the early Fifties, and Brendan have always been close.
‘No one had anything much and what we did have, we shared’
“There was me, Brendan and our brother Michael who’s a year older than me,” Eilish reveals. “We were a gang of three. As we were such a big family with a wide range of ages, we all tended to break off into groups. The oldest of our siblings had left home by the time we were six or seven. We had a tough childhood compared with children today. As soon as we were up and dressed, we’d be out on the street regardless of whether it was hailing, raining or snowing. It was the same with all the kids we knew. No one had anything much and what we did have, we shared. The first clothes I ever had that weren’t hand-me-downs were my First Communion and Confirmation dresses. But our upbringing was really the making of us. Although Brendan’s very much the person in charge when we’re working, he’s still my baby brother. That’s the role he holds in my heart.” She laughs. “That’s not to say there aren’t times when I want to slap him! When we’re working together, though, and he’s Agnes Brown, she is all I see. When he’s Agnes, there are times when he’ll say something or have a certain look on his face, and I see our mother in him.”
So what’s Brendan like when he’s not being Agnes Brown?
“Extremely funny,” smiles Eilish. “When you’re in his company it’s impossible not to laugh. He sees the humour in every situation.”
She sounds immensely proud of him. “Oh I am – so proud I could burst. We all are!”
It's a family affair - Mrs Brown's world…
- Agnes Brown is played by Brendan O’Carroll.
- Winnie McGoogan (Agnes’ neighbour) is Eilish, Brendan’s sister.
- Cathy Brown (Agnes’ daughter) is Brendan’s wife, Jennifer Gibney.
- Sharon (Winnie’s daughter) is Jennifer’s sister, Fiona Gibney.
- Betty (Agnes’ daughter-in-law) is Brendan’s real lifedaughter-in-law Amanda Woods.
- Maria (another daughter-in-law) is Brendan’s daughter Fiona.
- Father Trevor (Agnes’ son) is Fiona’s husband Martin Delaney.
- Buster Brady is Brendan’s son, Danny.
- Bono Brown (Agnes’ grandson) is real life grandson Jamie.
Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie is in cinemas now
Photograph © Universal