|Born||Peter William Shorrocks Butterworth
4 February 1919
Bramhall, Stockport, Cheshire, England
|Died||16 January 1979
Coventry, West Midlands, England
Cause of death
|Spouse(s)||Janet Brown (1947–1979; his death)|
|Children||Tyler Butterworth (b. 1959)
Emma Butterworth (1962–1996)
Peter William Shorrocks Butterworth (4 February 1919 – 16 January 1979) was an English comedy actor and comedian, best known for his appearances in the Carry On series of films. He was also a regular on children's television and radio and appeared in seven early episodes of Doctor Who in 1965 as the Meddling Monk. He was married to the actress and impressionist Janet Brown.
Early life and war service
Before his acting career started, Butterworth served as a lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. He was captured in the Netherlands in 1940 and later escaped through a tunnel from Dulag luft, near Frankfurt, in June 1941, where he covered 27 miles (43 km) over three days before a member of the Hitler Youth captured him. Afterwards he joked that he could never work with children again. Two other attempts to escape were made during his time there but he never got beyond the campgrounds.
Whilst at Stalag Luft III he met Talbot Rothwell, who later went on to write many of the Carry On films. Rothwell and Butterworth formed a duet and sang in the camp shows, where booing and catcalls covered the sounds of an escape tunnel being dug by other prisoners. Butterworth was one of the vaulters covering for the escapers during the escape portrayed by the book and film The Wooden Horse. Butterworth later auditioned for the film in 1949 but "didn't look convincingly heroic or athletic enough" according to the makers of the film. To compensate for this the director Jack Lee, named the character played by Leo Genn "Peter", after Butterworth.
Having never performed in public before, Butterworth sang a duet with Rothwell, a song which Rothwell called "The Letter Edged In Black". The performance was followed by some comic repartee which, according to his own account, provoked enough boos and hisses to have the desired effect of drowning out the escape party. After the war, Butterworth kept a photo of the concert party line-up, something which offered inspiration to him when starting a career in acting.
Also within the same camp as Butterworth and Rothwell were the future actors Rupert Davies, and Stratford Johns and John Casson, who was the son of Lewis Casson and Sybil Thorndyke. All five remained very close friends after the war ended and they all appeared on This Is Your Life when Butterworth was featured in 1975.
Early acting career
Butterworth came to notice after appearing in pantomime around the UK and made his first film appearance in 1948. His first role was in the Val Guest film William Comes to Town. Guest and Butterworth would become close friends and the two would work on a further seven films together during their careers. His first major success was on Television in the Terry-Thomas sketch show How do you view? in which he played the chauffeur "Lockitt". Butterworth also presented successful programmes aimed at children in the 1950s including Whirligig and Butterworth Time. He continued to take minor parts in films and would go onto appear alongside actors including Sean Connery, David Niven and Douglas Fairbanks Jr during his career.
Carry On films
Butterworth's association with the Carry On series started in 1965 in Carry on Cowboy where he played the part of "Doc". He was put in touch with the creator of the series, Peter Rogers, by his friend Talbot Rothwell, the writer of Carry On Cowboy and who had written the previous four films. Out of the actors who were considered to be the Carry On team, he was the sixth most prolific performer in the series, making sixteen film appearances, two Christmas specials, the television series in 1975 and the west end theatre productions which also toured the country, alongside Sid James, Barbara Windsor and Kenneth Connor.
Butterworth appeared in two of the most famous films in the series Carry on Screaming in 1966 and Carry on up the Khyber in 1968. It was the latter which established Butterworth as an important member of the Carry On cast of actors. Playing the part of Brother Belcher, a missionary working on behalf of a campaign to save fallen women, he first appears in the film giving a sermon in the market place and becomes somewhat distracted by a pretty native woman who lures him into a back room of a nearby building. The encounter is then caught by Captain Keane and Sergeant Major McNutt (Roy Castle and Terry Scott). Brother Belcher is then blackmailed into helping them overthrow the Khasi of Kalabar (played by Kenneth Williams).
His Carry On appearances portrayed his characters as typically quiet and subtly eccentric. He was often cast as a stooge for another character. In Carry on Screaming he played Detective Constable Slowbotham, the assistant for Detective Sergeant Bung played by Harry H Corbett, or as Citizen Bidet in "Carry On Don't Lose Your Head" where he was the assistant to Citizen Camembert played by Kenneth Williams. One of Butterworth's more famous performances was in Carry on Camping, where he played Joshua Fiddler, the laid back and eccentric camp site manager, who persuades Sid James character to part with most of his money when booking into the camp site. Such was his popularity in the films, and his loyalty to Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas, that Butterworth agreed to play three small roles, in Carry on Again Doctor, Carry on Loving and Carry On Henry. It was agreed that, due to other working and stage commitments, he was unable to take bigger parts, and so he was specially written into the films in roles given to him. The first was in 1969 in Carry on Again Doctor, where he appeared for just three minutes playing an outpatient suffering from a bowel complaint. In 1970, when Talbot Rothwell began writing Carry on Loving, he was persuaded to make a cameo in the film as the 'Sinister Client' who inadvertently admits to killing his wife as she refused to eat poisonous mushrooms. A year later in Carry On Henry, he appeared as Charles Earl of Bristol, the father of Bett, played by Barbara Windsor.
Butterworth returned to playing bigger parts within the Carry On films in 1972. In Carry On Abroad, he played 'Pepe' the manager of an unfinished hotel, who greets his unexpected guests in the guise of the builder, the porter, the receptionist and telephone operator. He spends the first half of the film furiously trying to placate and accommodate them and the last half desperately trying to save the building from a flood, and whilst all this is going on, put up with his nagging wife Hattie Jacques.
Butterworth remained with the series until the final film, Carry On Emmannuelle in 1978.
Later acting career
Having appeared in many of Val Guest's films during the beginning of his career, he also made three appearances in the films of Richard Lester. He appeared in Lester's film version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in (1966). He also guest appeared in two First Doctor Doctor Who stories, starring William Hartnell, in 1965/66, (The Time Meddler and The Daleks' Master Plan), playing the Meddling Monk. Ten years later he appeared consecutively in The Ritz and Robin and Marian (1976) alongside Sean Connery, Richard Harris and Audrey Hepburn. He had an uncredited cameo part in the film version of the musical Oliver! as a shopkeeper in court, and made a special appearance in an episode of Dad's Army called The Face on the Poster. In 1975 he was the subject of an episode of This Is Your Life whereby Eamonn Andrews surprised him while he was shopping in Selfridges, London. Friends who took part in the show included Terry Scott, Talbot Rothwell, Jimmy Jewell, John Casson and Rupert Davies. Butterworth's wife and their two children, Tyler and Emma were also at the recording. When the Carry on films finished in 1978, Butterworth began to concentrate on straight roles, taking a small part in the feature film The First Great Train Robbery with Sean Connery, and the Alan Bennett play "Afternoon Off" both from 1978. Both productions were released posthumously in 1979 on 2 and 3 February respectively.
Personal life and death
He married the actress and impressionist Janet Brown in 1947 at St. Mary's Church, Bryanston Square, Marylebone after being introduced by Rothwell. Brown later became famous for her impersonations of Margaret Thatcher on TV during the 1970s and '80s. Their son Tyler Butterworth is an actor and is married to the actress Janet Dibley. They also had a daughter, Emma (1962–1996), who died aged 34.
In 1979, whilst The First Great Train Robbery was on general release, Butterworth was starring as Widow Twankey in the pantomime Aladdin at the Coventry Theatre. When the show had finished, he went back to his hotel following the evening's performance. His failure to return for the following day's matinee show caused alarm, and he was found dead in his room from a heart attack. Out of respect, the remainder of the pantomime's run was cancelled. Butterworth was buried in Danehill Cemetery, in East Sussex. Following his death, the producer of the Carry On Films, Peter Rogers, called Butterworth "A thoroughly nice bloke and a dear friend".
- Brown, p. 64
- Stalag Luft 3 prisoners list, accessed September 2011
- taken from Carryon.org, accessed September 2011
- Prisoners list of Stalagluft 3, accessed September 2011
- This Is Your Life, The British Film Institute, accessed September 2011
- William Comes To Town, The British Film Institute, accessed September 2011
- "Whirligig", Whirligig TV. com, accessed September 2011
- The First Great Train Robbery, The British Film Institute, accessed September 2011
- Prudence and the Pill, The British Film Institute, accessed September 2011
- Ross, p. 33
- The Ritz, The British Film Institute, accessed September 2011
- Robin and Marion, The British Film Institute, accessed September 2011
- Brown, p. 72
- obituaries The Independent, p56
- Bright, p. 127
- Bright, Ross, Morris, Robert (2000). Mr Carry On - The Life & Work of Peter Rogers. London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-563-55183-6.
- Brown, Janet (1986). The Prime Mimicker. London: Robson Books Ltd. ISBN 978-0-86051-247-9.
- Ross, Robert (2002). The Carry On Companion. London: Batsford. ISBN 978-0-7134-8771-8.