Patricia Brake obituary
Patricia Brake, who has died of cancer aged 79, was an actor who had one of her biggest successes on television as Ronnie Barker’s screen daughter, Ingrid – first in the 1970s sitcom Porridge, visiting the wily old lag Norman Stanley Fletcher in Slade prison, then as a pivotal character in the sequel, Going Straight.
Alongside the Somerset-born actor’s cockney accent – a distinctive quality she brought to many comedy roles – Brake caught the eye of the television critic Clive James for her “fluffy but compelling sexiness”. He added that she played Ingrid “with all the lowlife zing that cockney sparrers of stage and screen are traditionally supposed to display but never do”.
Brake appeared in just one episode in each of Porridge’s three series, between 1974 and 1977, but said she preferred them to Going Straight (1978), which, although giving her a regular role supporting Barker’s character after his release from prison, was less successful and ran for just one series. “Going Straight didn’t work so well as Porridge, probably because the character [Norman Fletcher] had so much to fight against inside,” she told Richard Webber, author of Porridge: The Inside Story.
She also had other television appearances alongside Barker, who cast her as barmaids and suchlike in The Two Ronnies (between 1982 and 1986) and as a maid in the one-off wordless comedy The Picnic (1976, with Ronnie Corbett).
Brake was born in Bath to Doreen (nee Wilkey) and Victor Brake, a butcher, and attended City of Bath (now Hayesfield) girls’ school. Acting was her childhood ambition and, from the age of 16, she trained at the Bristol Old Vic theatre school before starting her career at Salisbury Playhouse (1960-61) in Wiltshire, then moving on to the White Rose Players in Harrogate (1961) in Yorkshire.
In 1962, still only 19, she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon to play Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Peter Hall – in a cast that also featured Judi Dench, Diana Rigg, Ian Richardson and Ian Holm. In the same season her other roles included Juliet in Measure for Measure.
Although Brake landed half a dozen West End parts, including as Cecily Pigeon in Neil Simon’s comedy The Odd Couple (Queen’s theatre, 1966), as Dudley Moore’s wife, Nancy, in Woody Allen’s Play It Again, Sam (Globe theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, 1969) and as Sally Driscoll in Dangerous Obsession (Fortune, 1988), she eventually proclaimed a preference for television.
Her TV career embraced all strands, from drama and comedy to light entertainment and children’s programmes. She made her debut in a long-forgotten soap, Home Tonight, set beside the sea, which ended after just 40 episodes on ITV in 1961 because of a technicians’ strike. She and David Hemmings, ahead of his success in films, played Dot and Paul, two of the teenage Sutton children mourning the death of their mother in the first episode.
In other soaps, she had short runs in Emergency Ward 10 as a patient (in 1965); Emmerdale Farm as Matt Skilbeck’s friend Sarah Foster (1975), finding herself alone after ending an affair with a married man; EastEnders (2004) as Graham Foster’s mother, Deirdre, appearing in a court case when he is accused of raping Little Mo; and Coronation Street as Mike Baldwin’s sister-in-law and former lover Viv (2005-06), who drops on him the bombshell that he, not his older brother, is the father of her son, Danny.
Brake might have felt she had struck gold on landing the leading role of Gwen Lockhead, wife and mother of two children and a teacher who runs the local English-language paper, in Eldorado (1992-93), a much-trumpeted, glossy soap set among a British expat community in the rugged, sun-soaked mountains above the Costa del Sol. But the serial flopped and was cut after a year.
That disappointment came after a long run of success in sitcoms for Brake, who said she thrived on working in front of studio audiences. The sequence began with The Ugliest Girl in Town (1968-69), in which she played Julie Renfield, a British actor who falls in love with a Hollywood talent agent. Then came the roles of Vicki, the much younger object of a divorced man’s affections, in Second Time Around (1974-75); Eth in The Glums, a 1978 one-off, then 1979 series, revisiting the family featured in the radio hit Take It from Here, written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden; Dolly Delights, a lodger, in Mann’s Best Friends (1985), and Cherry, one of the wives swooning over a new vicar, in Troubles and Strife (1985-86).
Without an audience, Brake made an impression in dramatic roles such as a young woman falling for Anthony Hopkins’ priest in Decision to Burn (1971) and as a placid, overweight fiancee in Fat (1979). She continued with character parts in TV dramas until last year, when she movingly played the victim of a rape in Manhunt.
Brake’s 1966 marriage to the actor Robert McBain ended in divorce. In 1997 she married Michael Kennedy, who died in 2011.
She is survived by the children from her first marriage, Jon and Hannah, and three stepchildren – Angus from her first marriage and Sarah and Gavin from her second.
• Patricia Ann Brake, actor, born 25 June 1942; died 28 May 2022