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Eleanor Bron

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Eleanor Bron
Bron in 1968
Born (1938-03-14) 14 March 1938 (age 86)
Alma materNewnham College, Cambridge
Occupation(s)Actress, author
Years active1959–present
Partner(s)Cedric Price

Eleanor Bron (born 14 March 1938) is an English stage, film and television actress, and an author. Her film roles include Ahme in the Beatles musical Help! (1965), the Doctor in Alfie (1966), Margaret Spencer in Bedazzled (1967), and Hermione Roddice in Women in Love (1969). She has appeared in television series such as Yes Minister, Doctor Who, and Absolutely Fabulous.

Early life and family[edit]

Bron was born on 14 March 1938 in Stanmore, Middlesex, into a Jewish family.[1] Before her birth, her father Sydney had legally changed his name from Bronstein to Bron, in an effort to enhance his newly founded commercial enterprise, Bron's Orchestral Service.[2] Her elder brother was the record producer Gerry Bron.[3]

She attended the North London Collegiate School and then Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read Modern Languages.[4] She later characterised her time at Newnham as "three years of unparalleled pampering and privilege".[5]


Early work[edit]

Bron began her career in the Cambridge Footlights revue of 1959, titled 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]

Bron's film appearances include the role of Ahme in the Beatles' film Help! (1965); her name inspired Paul McCartney when he composed "Eleanor Rigby".[6] It is rumored that for some time after the filming, Bron carried on an affair with John Lennon. 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. She later appeared in film adaptations of Black Beauty (1994), and A Little Princess (1995).

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,[7] 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), World in Ferment (1969),[8] 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)[9] and Making Faces (1975).[10][11]

From the mid-1970s, Bron made occasional appearances with the Monty Python team, such as The Secret Policeman's Ball series of concerts in support of Amnesty International.[12]

She appeared in "Equal Opportunities", a 1982 episode of the BBC series Yes Minister, playing a senior civil servant in Jim Hacker's Department.[13] Hacker plans to promote her—ostensibly to strike a blow for women's rights—only to be sorely disappointed.[14]

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 and Leo McKern had appeared together in Help!. She appeared as Mary in The Day Christ Died (1980), and played Mrs Barrymore in the 1983 TV movie The Hound of the Baskervilles which starred Ian Richardson as Sherlock Holmes. That year also saw her appearance in an episode of Tales of the Unexpected (Series 6, The Tribute).

Bron appeared twice in the original series of Doctor Who. She had a brief comedic scene in the serial City of Death (1979) alongside John Cleese, which was at the suggestion of its co-writer Douglas Adams.[15] 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!"[16] She also had the main guest billing as the villain Kara in the Colin Baker era serial Revelation of the Daleks (1985).[17] Bron later appeared in the Doctor Who audio drama Loups-Garoux (2001) starring Peter Davison, in which she played the wealthy heiress Ileana de Santos.[18]

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.[19] 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."[7] In 1992, she played Maria Lazlos in an episode of the first series of Heartbeat. 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. She also narrated an episode on Wild Discovery.

Stage appearances[edit]

In 1973 Bron 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, A Poke in the Eye (With a Sharp Stick) 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 dramatised version of Pedro Almodóvar's film All About My Mother, which opened at the Old Vic theatre in the late summer of 2007.[7]

Bron also gave the premiere performance of The Yellow Cake Revue (1980),[20] a series of pieces for voice and piano written by Peter Maxwell Davies in protest against uranium mining in the Orkney Islands.[21] Bron has written and performed new verses for Camille Saint-Saëns' The Carnival of the Animals.[22][23] She has also performed and recorded the female reciter part in William Walton's Façade (entertainment) with the Nash Ensemble.[24][25]

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 "The number you have dialled has not been recognised, please check and try again".[7][failed verification]

In 1998, she appeared as Frau Luther in episode 2 "Stuckart" of the BBC Radio 4 adaptation of Fatherland, a novel by Robert Harris.

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.[26]

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.[27]

In April 2010, Bron, along with Ian McKellen and Brian Cox, appeared in a series of TV advertisements to support Age UK,[28] 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, she 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.[29] In 2019 she appeared as Maxine in "The Miniature Murders."

On 25 December 2013, Bron appeared on BBC One in The Tractate Middoth, 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.[30]

In November–December 2019, Bron read Salley Vickers's Grandmothers[31] in 10 parts on BBC Radio 4.[32]

Personal life[edit]

Bron was the partner of the architect Cedric Price for many years until his death in 2003; they had no children.[7] An interview with Bron in 2015 revealed that she had voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election.[33] Bron is a pescetarian.[34]


Year Title Role Notes
1965 Help! Ahme
1966 Alfie The Doctor
1967 Two for the Road Cathy Manchester
Bedazzled Margaret
1969 A Touch of Love Lydia
Women in Love Hermione Roddice
1970 Cucumber Castle Lady Margerie Pee TV movie
1973 The National Health Sister McFee / Sister Mary MacArthur
1979 Rumpole Of The Bailey Maggie Hartley Series 2, Episode 3
1980 The Day Christ Died Mary TV movie
1983 The Hound of the Baskervilles Mrs Barrymore
1985 Turtle Diary Miss Neap (Flora)
1987 Little Dorrit Mrs. Merdle
1994 Deadly Advice Judge
1995 Black Beauty Lady Wexmire
A Little Princess Miss Minchin
1996 Saint-Ex Marie de Saint-Exupéry
2000 The House of Mirth Mrs. Julia Peniston, Lily's Aunt
2001 Iris Principal
2002 The Heart of Me Mrs. Burkett / Madeleine and Dinah's mother
2004 Love's Brother Signora Carmellina
Wimbledon Augusta Colt
2010 StreetDance 3D Madame Fleurie
2012 Hyde Park on Hudson Daisy's Aunt
2014 Stella Anna Jackson

Selected theatre performances[edit]


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. ^ Rubinstein, W.; Jolles, Michael A. (2011). The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History. Springer. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-230-30466-6. Retrieved 13 April 2020.
  2. ^ Westbrook, Caroline (3 April 2007). "Gerry Bron interview". Something Jewish. Archived from the original on 25 October 2020. Retrieved 24 April 2007.
  3. ^ Epstein, Dmitry (November 2004). "Interview with Gerry Bron". YDMME.net. Archived from the original on 27 November 2020. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  4. ^ "Eleanor Bron performs play at Newnham written to combat dearth of roles for women over 50". Newnham College, Cambridge. 30 January 2017. Retrieved 14 June 2020.
  5. ^ Grumbach, Doris (4 November 1979). "Nonfiction in Brief". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Eleanor Rigby | The Beatles Bible". www.beatlesbible.com. 15 March 2008. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  7. ^ a b c d e Franks, Alan (27 May 2010). "Eleanor Bron, the accidental actress". The Sunday Times. London, UK. Archived from the original on 1 June 2010. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  8. ^ Marjorie Bilbow (3 July 1969). "TELEVISION TODAY; Reviews: In a rare class of comedy show". The Stage and Television Today (4603): 12.
  9. ^ ""Beyond a Joke" (1972)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  10. ^ Moseley, Merritt (2006). Understanding Michael Frayn. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press. p. 18. ISBN 1-57003-627-6. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  11. ^ ""Making Faces" (TV series 1975)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  12. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1982/05/21/movies/secret-policeman-from-monty-python.html
  13. ^ "Yes, Minister: 'Equal Opportunities' episode summary". TV.com. Archived from the original on 22 January 2010. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  14. ^ "Yes, Minister: 'Equal Opportunities' episode recap". TV.com. Archived from the original on 4 February 2018. Retrieved 3 February 2018.
  15. ^ David J. Howe; Mark Stammers; Stephen James Walker (1995). Doctor Who: The Seventies. Virgin Publishing. p. 137. ISBN 978-0863698712.
  16. ^ "Doctor Who: City of Death". BBC.co.uk. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  17. ^ Chris Hansen, ed. (2010). Ruminations, Peregrinations, and Regenerations: A Critical Approach to Doctor Who. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 93–94. ISBN 978-1443820844.
  18. ^ "Loups-Garoux". DoctorWhoReviews.co.uk. Archived from the original on 16 February 2011. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
  19. ^ "Episode Guide > Season 3, Episode 5: Dangerous Liaisons". TV.com. Archived from the original on 18 February 2020. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
  20. ^ Griffiths, Paul (1982). Peter Maxwell Davies. Robson. ISBN 0-86051-138-3. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  21. ^ Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. "Work Detail: The Yellow Cake Revue". MaxOpus.com. Archived from the original on 14 July 2011. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  22. ^ Rye, Matthew (18 January 1997). "A fantastic journey". The Daily Telegraph. London, UK. Archived from the original on 26 February 2016. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  23. ^ "Eleanor Bron And The Vesuvius Ensemble – The Carnival Of The Animals And The Story Babar The Little Elephant". Discogs. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  24. ^ Hughes, Laurence (20 March 2002). "William Walton Centenary Concerts, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London". The Independent. London, UK. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  25. ^ "Façade". Nash Ensemble. Retrieved 22 May 2020.
  26. ^ "Gypsy Girl (TV Series 2001)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 28 June 2011.
  27. ^ "Sir John Soane's Museum: Audio Tours". Sir John Soane's Museum. 2010. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  28. ^ "Eleanor Bron TV advert". Age UK. 2010. Archived from the original on 20 July 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2010.
  29. ^ "ITV Review: Midsomer Murders – The Dark Rider". Bestbritishtv.com. 2012. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2012.
  30. ^ "Eleanor Bron joins The Archers as Carol Tregorran". BBC. 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2014.
  31. ^ Vickers, Salley (2019). Grandmothers. UK: Penguin Random House. ISBN 978-0-241-37141-1.
  32. ^ "Grandmothers. Episode 1". Retrieved 7 December 2019.
  33. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (23 November 2015). "Eleanor Bron: 'I didn't want to be like other little girls'". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2019.
  34. ^ Bateman, Michael. (2008). "A Delicious Way to Earn a Living: A Collection of His Best and Tastiest Food". Grub Street. "Eleanor Bron, actress, eats fish, but no flesh or fowl".

External links[edit]