It is no surprise BBC One turns to repeats of Mrs. Brown’s Boys when a primetime TV slot needs filling – even if that gap in the schedule comes up on the same night a new episode of Britain’s Got Talent is on the other side.
The unapologetically crowd-pleasing sitcom is one of the most popular programmes on TV, an absolute and qualified ratings hit that has pulled in millions and millions to dominate the much-prized Christmas schedules over the past five years.
But as beloved as Mrs. Brown’s Boys’ is by fans, it is reviled by many critics who have slammed it for being “predictable”, “vulgar” and “lazy, end-of-pier trash rooted in the 1970s”.
Not that creator and star Brendan O’Carroll cares for such sniffy reviews.
“As far as critics are concerned, there will always be someone who will say it should’ve been done better, a different way,” he told The Mirror in 2014.
“My answer to them is, ‘Look, if you think it can be done better, do it.’ There’s lots and lots of people talking about it – just [bleep]ing do it.”
The 62-year-old man behind the false bust has certainly lived a colourful life and has never been afraid to get stuck in.
Sent to Borstal on his ninth birthday for stealing a roll of sticky tape and a bicycle bell from a store, he was also once arrested after a former business partner who had betrayed him – leaving Brendan £96,000 in debt – was found dead.
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And although Brendan was quickly released after it became clear his ex associate had taken his own life, his work and personal life have been galloping away at a breakneck speed ever since playing Mrs. Brown catapulted the former waiter to fame in his late 50s in 2011.
Just last year the star suffered a heart scare and was rushed to hospital in Glasgow after filming for the 2017 Christmas special.
He told The Mirror: “I thought I was having a heart attack. I had this bug and at about 2am I had to wake [my wife] Jenny up.
Brendan continued: “It was all going on. I had the fright of my life and I thought I was a goner.
“When I got in the ambulance they said ‘Well it is not your heart’ and I vomited it out for 12 hours. I had a very violent bug.”
Brendan has also bounced back from bankruptcy to amass a huge £8million fortune and home in Florida, thanks to sell-out live tours and sales of DVDs and books.
So here’s a little bit more background info on Brendan O’Carroll and Mrs. Brown’s Boys to whet your viewing appetite ahead of this weekend’s repeat… and if you fancy a dose of Agnes and her family before then, click here for the episodes available on iPlayer.
How did Mrs. Brown’s Boys come about?
In 1992, Brendan performed a short radio play by the name of Mrs. Brown’s Boys and shortly afterwards penned four books titled The Mammy, The Granny, The Chisellers and The Scrapper.
Seven years later, a film based on The Mammy and co-written by Brendan called Agnes Browne was released. The comedy-drama starred Hollywood actress Anjelica Huston as a Dublin widow forced to borrow money from a loan shark played by Ray Winstone.
Turning his attention to the stage, Brendan then developed the character of Mrs. Brown to be the focus of his own theatre company, employing several members of his own family to be part of the troupe.
According to showbiz legend, Brendan only got dressed up in drag and assumed the part himself after the actress originally hired for the role didn’t turn up for rehearsals.
He wrote and performed in five plays about the character and her family for ten years between 1999 and 2009, becoming a particularly hot ticket in Glasgow. There were also a series of seven straight-to-DVD adaptations.
But Mrs. Brown got her big break in early 2009 after Brendan was approached by a BBC Scotland producer to create a TV series based on his stage show.
A pilot show was made, but not broadcast. And just three weeks after the pilot was sent to the BBC, a full series was commissioned.
Irish broadcaster RTE also came on board and by February 2011 the first episode had aired on both sides of the Irish Sea.
The first series averaged over 750,000 viewers per episode in Ireland and by the time the third episode aired in the UK – after a mauling by critics – 2.9 million were tuning in.
For three of the last five years, Mrs. Brown’s Boys has been the single most watched programme on Christmas Day – with viewership only dropping below 9 million once.
Previous to that it was the most watched show on Christmas Eve (11.68 million) and Boxing Day (10.72 million) in 2012 and won the 10pm Christmas Day time slot in 2011 with 6.6 million viewers.
No wonder Brendan doesn’t listen to the naysayers.
Who is Mrs. Brown based on?
Brendan has previously suggested Mrs. Brown – Agnes to her friends – is his based on his “mother [but] without the education”.
Maureen O’Carroll was certainly a little wiser than the Mrs. Brown millions have come to known and loved through their TV screens.
A nun who first became a teacher before entering politics and becoming Ireland’s first female shadow foreign minister, she managed 11 kids along the way.
However, during an interview promoting Mrs. Brown’s Boys D’Movie – an adaptation for the big screen – Brendan also indicated some of his foul-mouthed creation’s character traits were influenced by other strong women he grew up around.
“In D’Movie, Mrs Brown decides to save the soul of Dublin by saving a single street. She takes on the bankers, politicians and developers – and even the Russian mafia – to stop them closing down the market stalls,” he explained to The Mirror.
“And it is that street, Moore Street, which is completely populated by female traders – really tough women – that inspired Mrs Brown.
“As a kid I used to hang out there. My mother, when she was in politics, built a home for the homeless there. Me, my sisters and my brothers all volunteered there.
“When I was a younger kid I used to stash my school bag and go and run errands for all the old dears. She is a montage of all those women.”
How many members of Brendan’s family are in Mrs. Brown’s Boys?
Lots of them!
Wife Jennifer Gibney plays Agnes’ daughter Cathy and her real-life sister Fiona – Brendan’s sister-in-law – plays Sharon, the daughter of Mrs.Brown’s hair-netted drinking pal Winnie.
Winnie is played by Brendan’s sister in real life, Eilish O’Carroll, while his son Danny and daughter Fiona (another Fiona) play Buster and Maria respectively.
Brendan’s grandson Jamie’s plays Agnes’ grandson Bono while his onscreen daughter-in-law Betty – Amanda Woods – is married in real life to Danny and is actually his daughter-in-law.
Agne’s TV son Trevor is Brendan’s son-in-law in reality, being married to Fiona (his daughter, not his sister-in-law).
Rory Cowan, the original Rory, is not related to any of the cast. Although he did work with Brendan for 25 years before leaving the show last year. His replacement in the role, Damien McKiernan, is – of course – a family friend.
Got that? Art certainly imitates life… or is it the other way round?
What else has Brendan appeared in?
Brendan became a familiar face to Irish audiences thanks to his comic appearances on The Late Late Show, leading to the release of four stand up videos: How’s your Raspberry Ripple, How’s your Jolly Roger, How’s your Snowballs and How’s your Wibbly Wobbly Wonder.
He was also the host for quiz show Hot Milk and Pepper on RTE One for two series between 1996 and 1998.
In February it was reported Brendan has signed up to host a new BBC quiz show called For Facts Sake.
So there you have it… the man behind the legendary mammy that is Mrs Brown. have you discovered anything surprising about Brendon’s life and past career? Don’t forget to share your thoughts on all ED!’s stories on our Facebook page @EntertainmentDailyFix!