Duggie Brown, comedian whose Seventies stand-up act led to parts in Coronation Street and playing the Fool in King Lear – obituary

·5 min read
Duggie Brown in 1973 - ITV/Rex Shutterstock
Duggie Brown in 1973 - ITV/Rex Shutterstock

Duggie Brown, who has died aged 82, was an actor and comedian best known as a regular fixture on the 1970s Granada TV series The Comedians; he went on to appear in TV soaps and comedy series, most recently in January this year when he featured on Coronation Street (his third guest appearance) as Ted Spear, a pedestrian knocked down by Faye Windass (Ellie Leach) while she was driving home after a New Year’s Eve party.

Although his character seemed to be unharmed, he was later found dead in his armchair.

Duggie Brown was his professional name. He was born Barry Dudley on August 7 1940 in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, one of four children of a bricklayer, and brought up in a Coronation Street-style terrace. His older sister, Lynne Perrie, would also find fame as an actress, playing “Poison” Ivy Tilsley, the diminutive acid-tongued harridan on Coronation Street, for more than 20 years.

After leaving school Brown worked briefly at a steelworks in Sheffield and on Friday nights he played guitar in a Lonnie Donegan-era skiffle group. The band found success on the club circuit, allowing him to give up the day job, and featured on television shows such as Six-Five Special and Oh Boy.

“I was like a singing guitarist – a guitarist who sang and told the odd gag,” Brown recalled. “And then comedy became a bit more prevalent and I won a competition in 1969 at Manchester Palace, and one of the judges was Barney Coleman from TV’s The Good Old Days, plus Johnny Hamp who, in 1971, devised The Comedians.”

In 1969 he had a small part as a milkman in Ken Loach’s Kes, the film based on Barry Hines’s novel about a Barnsley schoolboy from a broken home whose destiny to work down a pit is temporarily relieved by his joy in taming and training a kestrel. Brown’s sister Lynne played the boy’s neglectful mother.

Brown as a football coach, with Anne Kirkbride, left, and Clare Sutcliffe, in the Bafta-winning ITV play Another Sunday and Sweet FA, written by Jack Rosenthal: it led directly to Anne Kirkbride being offered the role of Deirdre Barlow in Coronation Street - Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy
Brown as a football coach, with Anne Kirkbride, left, and Clare Sutcliffe, in the Bafta-winning ITV play Another Sunday and Sweet FA, written by Jack Rosenthal: it led directly to Anne Kirkbride being offered the role of Deirdre Barlow in Coronation Street - Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy

But it was on The Comedians, the Saturday-evening TV show which gave a stage to nightclub and working men’s club comedians of the 1970s that Brown made his name. At its height the show attracted an audience of 17 million.

Brown was particularly celebrated for a long-winded gag about a plumber talking, unbeknownst to him, to a parrot lurking behind the door of a house where he is supposed to be doing a job, the comedy being in Brown messing up the joke by forgetting the punchline.

“People still say to me now, tell me the gag about the parrot,” he told an interviewer in 2015. “It’s like asking Tom Jones to sing Green Grass of Home.”

Unlike comedians such as Bernard Manning, who also got his big break on the series, Brown never drifted into risqué territory: “I’ve always worked as if my mother is in the audience,” he said, and he claimed that before doing a show he tested his jokes on his wife, Jackie: “If she laughs, it’s got to go. I only use the ones she doesn’t laugh at.”

In 1972 with the actress Liz Fraser and his fellow comedian Frank Carson - ANL/Shutterstock
In 1972 with the actress Liz Fraser and his fellow comedian Frank Carson - ANL/Shutterstock

Brown performed in the 1970s on other television variety shows including The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club and The Good Old Days, but it was The Comedians that gave him the financial security to pick the work he wanted.

This included small parts on numerous television shows, including Last Of The Summer Wine, All Creatures Great and Small, Heartbeat, Hotel Babylon, EastEnders, Holby City and My Brother’s Keeper. In addition Brown was one of the original co-hosts of the ITV game show 3-2-1, with Ted Rogers and Chris Emmett. From 1994 to 1996, he was a regular team captain on Cryer’s Crackers, Barry Cryer’s panel show for Yorkshire Television.

Before his appearance on Coronation Street this year, he had appeared in the soap on two other occasions. In 1997, he played a character named George Freeman, and he returned in 2004 as Bernie, the husband of a character played by Honor Blackman.

In 1994 he briefly joined the cast of the Channel 4 soap Brookside as the compère Ray Piper.

Brown as Wishee-Washee, in Aladdin with Bronwen Davies in 1987 - Mirrorpix/Getty Images
Brown as Wishee-Washee, in Aladdin with Bronwen Davies in 1987 - Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Away from television he appeared in regional panto for some 40 years, and he was active on the cruise-ship circuit. In 1999 he demonstrated gifts as a Shakespearean actor as Lear’s Fool, playing a George Formby-style banjo in a Northern Broadsides Theatre Company tour.

In 2011 he was Patrick Brontë, father of the Brontë sisters, in We Are Three Sisters, a play by Blake Morrison (with a nod to Chekhov), in another Northern Broadsides touring production. In 2012-13, he was Mr Boo in a touring production of Jim Cartwright’s The Rise and Fall of Little Voice.

Duggie Brown was inducted into the Grand Order of Water Rats, the entertainment industry charitable organisation, and in 2020 succeeded to the position of “King Rat”.

Brown’s first marriage, to Margaret Cooper, was dissolved and in 1982 he married Jackie Grimwood. She survives him with a daughter from his first marriage.

Duggie Brown, born August 7 1940, died August 16 2022