Janet Brown, who died on May 27 aged 87, was an actress best known for her impersonations of Margaret Thatcher on radio and television in the 1970s and 1980s.
She managed to perfect not only the Prime Minister’s manner of speaking — itself very distinctive — but also her mannerisms and style of dress.
Perhaps her finest performance was when she was in New York to appear on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. In the VIP lounge at Kennedy Airport she convinced the acid-tongued American comedienne Joan Rivers that she was indeed Mrs Thatcher. Rivers became obsequiousness itself, and apologised to "the Prime Minister" for berating the British Royal family. When told of the deception, she asked Janet Brown: "If you’re not Margaret Thatcher, for God’s sake who are you?"
Janet Brown admired the Prime Minister as a politician and as a woman, and the admiration was mutual. The two women struck up a friendship and occasionally met at No 10 Downing Street. When she was Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher also invited her "alter ego" to stay for the weekend at Chequers. Janet Brown was preparing to go to sleep in her bedroom when there was a knock on the door. It was Mrs Thatcher — concerned that her friend’s quarters were on the chilly side — bearing a hot-water bottle. On one of the occasions when Mrs Thatcher was reelected to government, she wrote to Janet Brown: "I half expected to find you at No 10 before me!"
Janet Brown was first asked to try her famous impersonation by Eamonn Andrews for Thames Television’s Today Show shortly after Margaret Thatcher had been elected leader of the Conservative Party in 1975. After Mrs Thatcher was elected to government four years later, demands for Janet Brown’s impersonation snowballed.
Janet McLuckie Brown was born on December 14 1923 at Rutherglen, near Glasgow, the daughter of a shipyard worker, and was educated at Rutherglen Academy. She left school early and worked briefly in a local branch of the Co-Op before leaving Glasgow, with the blessing of her father, to tour in a show with Hughie Green.
During the war she served with the ATS, joining a Stars in Battledress entertainment ensemble which gave shows for troops serving in Europe. Among those she worked with were Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd and Harry Secombe.
She then sought to make a career in London working in radio, and in 1946 received an offer to join a summer revue show at Scarborough. It was there that she met her future husband, the actor Peter Butterworth, best known for his roles in the Carry On films. They married in 1947, and worked together on a number of occasions, including on children’s television.
She continued to be in demand on radio — she later appeared on The Goon Show — and she also appeared on stage in Mr Gillie, with Alastair Sim. She later recalled: "He taught me to always 'feel’ myself into a character from the inside."
On television, Janet Brown appeared in Rainbow Room, Where Shall We Go? and Friends and Neighbours before the Seventies’ taste for impressions led her to concentrate on the showbusiness niche that would make her famous.
On shows such as Who Do You Do (in which she appeared with Freddie Starr) and Mike Yarwood in Persons she gave impressions of the Coronation Street character Hilda Ogden, the entertainer "Two-Ton" Tessie O’Shea, Noele Gordon and Pam Ayres among others.
In 1981 she was given her own show, Janet and Co, making an impact with her impersonations of Mrs Thatcher and the celebrated dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse. She also played Margaret Thatcher in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only (1981) and on Roy Hudd’s The News Huddlines on Radio 2.
She continued to work until late in life, and had recently appeared in shows such as Midsomer Murders (2004), Casualty (2005) and Hotel Babylon (2009) — her final stage role was as Old Lady Squeamish in The Country Wife at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 2007.
Nothing gave Janet Brown more pleasure at the end of her life than watching sport on television, particularly snooker and tennis — she was always keen to follow the progress of her fellow Scot Andy Murray.
In 1987 she published an autobiography, Prime Mimicker.
Janet Brown died at a nursing home in Hove, East Sussex. Her husband Peter Butterworth died in 1979, aged 59, and she is survived by their son; a daughter predeceased her.
BROWN, Janet McLuckie
Born: 12/14/1923, Rutherglen, Glasgow, Scotland, U.K.
Died: 5/27/2011, Hove, East Sussex, England, U.K
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