Eleanor Bron

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Eleanor Bron
Eleanor Bron (1968).jpg
Bron in 1968
Born (1938-03-14) 14 March 1938 (age 78)
Stanmore, Middlesex, England, UK
Occupation Actress, author
Years active 1949-present
Partner(s) Cedric Price (1934–2003); widowed

Eleanor Bron (born 14 March 1938) is an English stage, film and television actress, and an author. She is best known for her roles as Ahme in Help!_(film) and Miss Minchin in A Little Princess (1995).

Early life and family[edit]

Bron was born in 1938 in Stanmore, Middlesex, into a Jewish family. Before her birth, her father Sidney had legally changed his name from Bronstein to Bron, in an effort to enhance his newly founded commercial enterprise, Bron's Orchestral Service.[1]

She attended the North London Collegiate School and then Newnham College, Cambridge. She later characterised her time at Newnham as "three years of unparalleled pampering and privilege".[2]

Bron was the partner of the architect Cedric Price for many years until his death in 2003; they had no children.[3] Her elder brother was the record producer Gerry Bron.[4]


Early work[edit]

Bron began her career in the Cambridge Footlights revue of 1959, entitled The Last Laugh, in which Peter Cook also appeared. The addition of a female performer to the Footlights was a departure; until that time it had been all-male, with female characters portrayed in drag.

Film appearances[edit]

Her film appearances include the role of Ahme in the Beatles' film Help! (1965); her name inspired Paul McCartney when he composed "Eleanor Rigby".[citation needed] Other roles included the doctor who grounds Michael Caine's character in Alfie (1966), the unattainable Margaret Spencer in Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's film Bedazzled (1967), Hermione Roddice in Ken Russell's Women in Love (1969) and Sisters McFee and MacArthur in The National Health (1973).

She also appeared in the films Two for the Road (1967) alongside Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn, and A Touch of Love (1969) with Sandy Dennis and Ian McKellen. More recently she has appeared in the film adaptations of Black Beauty (1994) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). In the Beatles film "A Hard Days Night" she had a small cameo part where she interacts with John Lennon on the stairs backstage. She also appeared as the Queen in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Television work[edit]

Bron's earliest work for television included appearances on David Frost's Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life,[3] My Father Knew Lloyd George and BBC-3, where she performed in sketches with John Fortune; they had already worked together at Peter Cook's Establishment Club. Later, her work included such programmes as Where Was Spring? (1969, also alongside Fortune) and After That, This (1975) – the one with the "egg" timer in the opening credits.

She collaborated with novelist and playwright Michael Frayn on the BBC programmes Beyond a Joke (1972)[5] and Making Faces (1975).[6][7]

She appeared in "Equal Opportunities", a 1982 episode of the BBC series Yes Minister, playing a senior civil servant in Jim Hacker's Department.[8] Hacker plans to promote her—ostensibly to strike a blow for women's rights—only to be sorely disappointed.[9]

In 1979 Bron appeared as Maggie Hartley, a stage actress accused of murder, in an episode of the popular British legal series Rumpole of the Bailey, entitled "Rumpole and the Show Folk", which starred Leo McKern in the title role. She also appeared as Mary in The Day Christ Died (1980), and played Mrs Barrymore in the 1983 TV movie of The Hound of the Baskervilles which starred Ian Richardson as Sherlock Holmes.

Bron appeared in a brief scene in the BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who serial City of Death (1979), alongside John Cleese. The pair are art critics in Denise Rene's art gallery in Paris who are admiring the TARDIS (which they think to be a piece of art), when the Doctor (Tom Baker), Romana (Lalla Ward) and Duggan (Tom Chadbon) rush into it and it dematerialises. Bron's character, believing this to be part of the work, states that it is "Exquisite, absolutely exquisite!"[10] Later she had a more substantial guest role in another Doctor Who television serial, Revelation of the Daleks (1984).[11] Bron also appeared in the Doctor Who radio drama Loups-Garoux (2001), in which she played the wealthy heiress Ileana de Santos.[12]

Bron played an art critic again in 1990, appearing in the BBC sketch comedy show French and Saunders in a parody of an Andy Warhol documentary.[13] Later she made frequent appearances in Jennifer Saunders' television series Absolutely Fabulous. Bron played, via flashback, the recurring character of Patsy's mother, a woman who "scattered bastard babies across Europe like a garden sprinkler". After giving birth, she would always say "Now take it away! And bring me another lover."[3] She had a supporting role in the 1994 BBC ghost story The Blue Boy, and also appeared in the BBC's biographical TV movie Saint-Ex in 1996.

Stage appearances[edit]

In 1975 she appeared in the West End musical The Card. Throughout the 1980s she appeared in Amnesty International's The Secret Policeman's Ball live benefit shows, working alongside Peter Cook and Rowan Atkinson, starting with the stage show that preceded those, Pleasure At Her Majesty's in 1976. In 2005 she appeared at the Liverpool Empire Theatre in the musical play Twopence to Cross the Mersey. She appeared in the role of an abbess in Howard Brenton's play In Extremis, staged at Shakespeare's Globe in 2007. She also appeared in the dramatized version of Pedro Almodóvar's film All About My Mother, which opened at the Old Vic theatre in the late summer of 2007.[3]

Bron also gave the premiere performance of The Yellow Cake Revue (1980),[14] a series of pieces for voice and piano written by Peter Maxwell Davies in protest against uranium mining in the Orkney Islands.[15]

Since 1985[edit]

In 1985 Bron was selected, for her authoritative tone, to become "the voice of BT" and can still be heard on various British telephone error messages such as "Please hang up and try again" and "The number you have dialled has not been recognised".[3]

In 2001 and 2002 she appeared in the BBC radio comedy sketch show The Right Time, along with Graeme Garden, Paula Wilcox, Clive Swift and Neil Innes. Another notable radio appearance was in The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the 2002 episode "The Madness of Colonel Warburton". In 2001 she played the great-grandmother in the seven-part ITV series Gypsy Girl, based on books by Elizabeth Arnold.[16]

In 2006 she narrated the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of the Craig Brown book 1966 and All That. Her other voice work includes a recorded tour of Sir John Soane's Museum in London, England.[17]

In April 2010 Bron, along with Ian McKellen and Brian Cox, appeared in a series of TV advertisements to support Age UK,[18] the charity recently formed from the merger of Age Concern and Help the Aged. All three actors gave their time free of charge.

In June 2010 Bron guest-starred in Foyle's War in the episode "The Russian House".

She appeared in the long-running British TV series Midsomer Murders as Lady Isobel DeQuetteville in the episode "The Dark Rider", first aired on ITV1 on 1 February 2012.[19]

On 25 December 2013 Bron appeared on BBC One in an adaptation of the M.R. James ghost story The Tractate Middoth.

On 25 July 2014 she joined the cast of radio soap The Archers, playing the part of Carol Tregorran.[20]



She is the author of several books, including Life and Other Punctures, a 1978 account of bicycling in France and Holland on a Moulton bicycle; and Cedric Price Retriever, an inventory of the contents of the bookshelves of her late partner, architect Cedric Price.


  • Bron, Eleanor; Fortune, John (1972). Is Your Marriage Really Necessary?. Methuen. ISBN 0-413-29450-1. 
  • Bron, Eleanor (1978). Life and Other Punctures. A. Deutsch. ISBN 978-0-233-97008-0. 
  • Bron, Eleanor (1985). The Pillow Book of Eleanor Bron, or, An Actress Despairs. Jonathan Cape Ltd. ISBN 0-224-02142-7. 
  • Bron, Eleanor (1988). Eleonora Duse. Blackwell. ISBN 0-86068-569-1. 
  • Bron, Eleanor (1997). Double Take. Orion. ISBN 1-85799-883-9. 
  • Bron, Eleanor; Hardingham, Samantha (2006). Cedric Price Retriever. Institute of International Visual Art. ISBN 1-899846-42-5. 

Cultural influences[edit]

She is mentioned in the Yo La Tengo song "Tom Courtenay": "...dreaming 'bout Eleanor Bron, in my room with the curtains drawn...".


  1. ^ Westbrook, Caroline (3 April 2007). "Gerry Bron interview". Something Jewish. Retrieved 24 April 2007. 
  2. ^ http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F10F1FF6355410728DDDAD0894D9415B898BF1D3
  3. ^ a b c d e Franks, Alan (27 May 2010). "Eleanor Bron, the accidental actress". The Sunday Times. London, UK. Retrieved 28 November 2010. 
  4. ^ Epstein, Dmitry (November 2004). "Interview with Gerry Bron". YDMME.net. Retrieved 28 November 2010. 
  5. ^ ""Beyond a Joke" (1972)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  6. ^ Moseley, Merritt (2006). Understanding Michael Frayn. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. p. 18. ISBN 1-57003-627-6. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  7. ^ ""Making Faces" (TV series 1975)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  8. ^ "Yes, Minister: 'Equal Opportunities' episode summary". TV.com. Retrieved 30 November 2010. 
  9. ^ "Yes, Minister: 'Equal Opportunities' episode recap". TV.com. Retrieved 30 November 2010. 
  10. ^ "Doctor Who: City of Death". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  11. ^ "Revelation of the Daleks". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  12. ^ "Loups-Garoux". DoctorWhoReviews.co.uk. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  13. ^ "Episode Guide > Season 3, Episode 5: Dangerous Liaisons". TV.com. Retrieved 30 June 2011. 
  14. ^ Griffiths, Paul (1982). Peter Maxwell Davies. Robson. ISBN 0-86051-138-3. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  15. ^ Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. "Work Detail: The Yellow Cake Revue". MaxOpus.com. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  16. ^ "Gypsy Girl (TV Series 2001)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  17. ^ "Sir John Soane's Museum: Audio Tours". Sir John Soane’s Museum. 2010. Retrieved 28 November 2010. 
  18. ^ "Eleanor Bron TV advert". Age UK. 2010. Retrieved 4 December 2010. 
  19. ^ "ITV Review: Midsomer Murders – The Dark Rider". Bestbritishtv.com. 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2012. 
  20. ^ "Eleanor Bron joins The Archers as Carol Tregorran". BBC. 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2014. 

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