Brendan O’Carroll is a man of many talents who has experienced success, failure, joy and pain in equal measure during his long and varied career. Through his talent and hard work, this author, actor, director, script-writer and stand-up comic has risen to the very top of the entertainment world.
The youngest of eleven children, Brendan O’Carroll was born in 1955. He was raised in Finglas. His mother, Maureen, was a Labour TD and his father, Gerard, was a carpenter.
Brendan left school at 12 and began working as a waiter. He tried his hand at several other careers along the way: disco manager, milkman, pirate radio disc-jockey and painter-decorator. The most extraordinary of Brendan’s non-comedy jobs was when he spent four days working as a butler to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984. ‘The Iron Lady’ had visited Dublin for an EU leaders’ summit held at Dublin Castle, where Brendan was working with the hospitality team looking after the foreign leaders.
But it was the call of the stage that eventually captured Brendan’s attention. Always a man who enjoyed the craic and telling a joke, he took the plunge into comedy, honing his craft in small gigs. The turning point came when Brendan made his first appearance on The Late Late Show. The studio audience and the viewers loved him. His first video, Live at the Tivoli, went straight to number one.
In 1994 he was voted Ireland’s Top Variety Entertainer at the National Entertainment Awards. In that year he also wrote his first novel, The Mammy, and has since gone on to write six more books, including The Chisellers (1995), The Granny (1996), The Scrapper (originally published as Sparrows Trap, 1997) and The Young Wan (2003). He went on to make four successful videos and a bestselling record, as well as touring in Ireland, the UK and the USA.
By the early nineties Brendan O’Carroll was riding the crest of a wave in his career. It was around this time when his most successful character made her first appearance in the radio show Mrs Brown’s Boys. Brendan wrote and starred in the show, which had a phenomenal daily audience on 2fm and led to the creation of Agnes Brown as the central character in Brendan’s first novel.
The book topped the bestseller charts in Ireland for months and was eventually made into the film Agnes Browne in 1999, starring Angelica Huston. However, Mrs Brown’s biggest influence in Brendan’s life was to come later.
In 1996 Brendan began a new chapter in his career when he presented on television for the first time with his Saturday night RTÉ quiz show Hot Milk and Pepper. The show’s title was a reference to his earlier job as butler to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“I can remember being woken up one night by Mrs Thatcher’s MI5 security team, who told me that the prime minister wanted ‘hot milk and pepper’ in her apartment. I brought it down to her, and years later when RTÉ offered me a quiz show and asked what I should call it, I said ‘Hot Milk And Pepper’ after Mrs T.”
Brendan’s career was not without challenges, however. In 1998 a failure of a film project left him with an enormous debt that would have crushed many others. The debt in question totaled £2.2 million and the Dubliner was left completely broke and depressed. “It was the first time I’d felt depression like that. I sat in my house with the curtains drawn for days, thinking, ‘God, just take me now.’” The comedian was saddled with the debt when a film company expected to provide funds pulled out just two days before production began on Sparrow’s Trap and Brendan decided to finance the film himself. “I should have stopped right then and there but I didn’t.”
However, from this absolute disaster came the early stages of Brendan’s greatest success. Mrs Brown came to his rescue. “Mrs Brown saved me because coming up with a play about her helped me to start paying the money back.” Because of the generosity of a promotor friend, Brendan was able to make a start on the long road to recovery. Brendan’s friend asked him to “scribble up something” for a three-week run at the Gaiety Theatre. “I told him I didn’t feel funny right now and didn’t have the money for my share. But he lent me the share and I wrote the first play, Mourning Mrs Brown, in 2000.” It ran for 16 weeks, sold out and Brendan began to pay off his debts.
In 2008, on the advice of Rab C. Nesbitt creator Ian Pattison – who had seen Brendan’s play – Stephen McCrum, producer of Two Pints Of Lager And A Packet of Crisps, began pestering Brendan to turn Agnes into a television star.
Once Brendan agreed and the first series was broadcast on BBC and RTÉ, Mrs Brown became a phenomenon. The show is now three series in and has won both BAFTA and IFTA awards. It has been broadcast in a number of different languages and countries worldwide. And the success of Agnes is not stopping there! She will be hitting the big screen very soon as Mrs Brown’s Boys: D'movie is currently in the middle of filming. Will the silver screen ever be the same again?
This is not just good news for Brendan – Mrs Brown’s Boys is very much a family affair. Cathy (Mrs Brown’s daughter) is played by Brendan’s wife, Jennifer Gibney. Maria Brown (Mrs Brown’s daughter-in-law) is played by Brendan’s daughter, Fiona. Buster (the best friend of Mrs Brown’s son) is played by Brendan’s son, Danny.
One thing is for sure: we’ve not seen the last of Agnes Brown or of Brendan O’Carroll.
For his services to the Irish entertainment industry and his ability to bring a smile to the faces of so many people, Brendan O’Carroll is awarded a People of the Year Award.