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Obituaries: Patsy Byrne


Actress Patsy Byrne who died on June 17

Actress Patsy Byrne who died on June 17

Actress Patsy Byrne who died on June 17

Patsy Byrne, who died, aged 80, on June 17, was a fine classical actress, but became particularly well-known for her role as the kindly but dim-witted Nursie, a member of the motley royal retinue attending the spoiled, capricious Queen Elizabeth I (Miranda Richardson) in the BBC television sitcom Blackadder II, screened in 1986.

Her finely-observed portrayal of the monarch's addle-brained confidante provided a guileless counterpoint to the scheming aristocrat Edmund Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) and the bumbling courtier Lord Melchett (Stephen Fry).

It also went a considerable way towards rescuing the Blackadder series from the brink of extinction. The original six episodes had fared badly in the ratings, and the BBC was considering cancelling a second series. But the show was granted a last-minute reprieve when Ben Elton replaced Atkinson as one half of the writing team, and the programme subsequently attracted huge audiences.

In character, Patsy Byrne revealed that the Queen's nurse's real name was Bernard, apparently an in-joke inspired by the Conservative politician Bernard Jenkin.

As one of the more unworldly, homespun members of the Elizabethan court, Nursie was old enough to recall unflattering details of the Virgin Queen's birth: "Out you popped, out of your mummy's tumkin, and everybody shouting: 'It's a boy, it's a boy!' And somebody said: 'But it hasn't got a winkle!' And then I said: 'A boy without a winkle? God be praised, it's a miracle. A boy without a winkle!' And then Sir Thomas More pointed out that a boy without a winkle is a girl, and everyone was really disappointed."

She also had a memorable scene with Rik Mayall when he made a cameo appearance as the sex-obsessed Lord Flashheart, bellowing: "Nursie! I like it firm and fruity!" and adding: "Am I pleased to see you or did I just put a canoe in my pocket?"

The programme's producer, John Lloyd, pointed out that while Patsy Byrne would be remembered as "a lovable, slightly idiotic character with that ludicrous drawl", she was, in fact, a classically trained actress.

The only daughter of a railway engineer, Patricia Anne Thirza Byrne was born on July 13 1933 at Ashford, Kent.After studying Drama at the Rose Bruford College, she joined weekly repertory at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch, doubling as assistant stage manager, later taking acting roles eventually the Royal Court in London, where she appeared in the original production of Arnold Wesker's trilogy of plays, Chicken Soup with Barley, Roots, and I'm Talking about Jerusalem.

In 1960 she joined the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing as Maria in Twelfth Night. In 1964, during an RSC tour of Latin America, she met Patrick Seccombe , then the British Council representative in Uruguay.

They married three years later, by which time he had been posted to Finland. Patsy Byrne acted as his cultural representative, giving readings of Dickens and undertaking acting roles before the couple returned to Britain in 1970, settling near Bridgnorth in Shropshire.

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The following year she played Mrs Nubbles in the BBC's adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop in 1979, and in the early 1990s appeared again with Tony Robinson (who had played Baldrick in Blackadder) in Maid Marian and her Merry Men. She also starred as Betty the Tea Lady in the BBC children's programme Playdays. Other roles included that of the domineering mother in the ITV sitcom Watching (1988-93), as well as appearances in Stealing Heaven (1988); Inspector Morse (1989); as Mrs Gummidge in David Copperfield (1999); and Kevin & Perry Go Large (2000). Her last role was in Holby City in 2006.

Patsy Byrne's husband predeceased her in 2000. Her six stepchildren survive her.

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