Carol Raye, British comedy star who emigrated to Australia and hit the big time with The Mavis Bramston Show – obituary

Carol Raye backstage before performing a song at the Fun and Games variety show at the Princes Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, August 1941 – Smith/Popperfoto via Getty Images

Carol Raye, who died aged 99, was a popular star of musical comedy shows and films in the UK during the war and the immediate post-war period; then, in the early 1960s, she moved to Australia, where she became a household name as the creator and co-host of The Mavis Bramston Show (1964-68), an Australian version of That Was the Week That Was.

“Mavis Bramston” was a pejorative nickname for the kind of often C-grade British actors and actresses who in the post-war years were imported to star in Australian productions, although there were perfectly good local artists available (an example of what Australians call as “cultural cringe”). It was brave of Carol Raye to agree on the name.

The running gag of the satirical sketch series was that its titular “star” was so hopeless that she had been fired before the first episode aired, though she did appear every now and then (played by several actresses) with an oversized hat. , black wig and false eyelashes.

In addition to developing the concept for the weekly series (first aired on ATN-7 in Sydney and Canberra before being broadcast nationally on the Seven network in early 1965), Carol Raye recruited its cast and writers, co-produced the pilot and many of the first episodes and, with Gordon Chater and Barry Creyton, formed his first presentation team.

The Mavis Bramston Show was an immediate ratings success, earning nearly 60 percent of Australia’s television audience and winning the 1965 Logie Award for Best New Show.

“We were told that Qantas pilots tried to organize their lists to be home on Wednesday nights,” recalled Carol Raye. “ATN was asked by Canberra shopkeepers to reschedule the show as Wednesday was late night shopping and everyone was home!”

Carol Raye left the series in mid-1965, however, finding the pressures of juggling television work with raising three children too tiring. Her place was taken by another British star, Miriam Karlin, formerly famous as the chain-smoking shop manager in the BBC comedy The Rag Trade.

Carol Raye was a professional name; she was born Kathleen Mary Corkery in London on January 17, 1923. Her father was a commander in the Royal Navy.

Dance producer Freddie Carpenter trains Carol Raye on her day of leave from the RAF, August 1941 - George W Hales/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty

Dance producer Freddie Carpenter trains Carol Raye on her day of leave from the RAF, August 1941 – George W Hales/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty

She trained as a ballerina and was discovered at age 16 by choreographer and producer Freddie Carpenter. She also proved to be a talented singer.

She made her West End debut in January 1940 on Stanley Lupino’s “gay musical show” Funny Side Up at Her Majesty, singing popular World War I songs and giving, according to the Telegraph critic, “a good impression of Elsie Janis”. (the “darling” of American troops in the war).

In 1941, facing warnings of air raids, she triumphed in her first starring role in Douglas Furber’s Fun and Games at the Prince’s Theatre. The Telegraph critic WA Darlington, for example, was delighted: “She wasn’t on stage 10 seconds before anyone noticed how beautifully she moved. She has that strange, indefinable quality that catches your eye and holds you… I dare you to take your eyes off her when she dances.”

In 1943, she starred with Arthur Askey in Love Racket, a musical comedy by Jack Hylton, at the Victoria Palace Theatre, WA Darlington, noting that she had “a grace of movement of her own and excelled as a singer and actress”.

In Spring Song at the Astoria in 1946 she was a soubrette with whom an aristocrat falls in love. “Like Becky Sharp in charades, she plays on stage with all the innocence of theatrical youth,” observed the anonymous Telegraph critic, “carrying with her a reminiscence, but little else, of Jessie Matthews.”

In 1949 she was a lady-in-waiting in the light operetta by Sir Alan Herbert and Vivian Ellis Tough at the Top (Adelphi) and in 1950 she was “charming” in the title role of Dear Miss Phoebe, a musical based on the play Quality Rua by JM Barrie at the Theater Phoenix.

Felix Aylmer, Robert Beatty and Carol Raye in Green Fingers, 1947 - alamy

Felix Aylmer, Robert Beatty and Carol Raye in Green Fingers, 1947 – alamy

Her film career began with Strawberry Roan (1945), in which she played a city girl whose failure to adapt to country life after marrying a farmer (William Hartnell) ends in tragedy. She scored a UK box office hit as the passionate Empress Maria in Waltz Time (1945), a musical set in imperial Vienna, while in Spring Song (1946) she looked at the meaning and history of a brooch she was given. by a military admirer.

That same year, in John Harlow’s bizarre Green Fingers, she was the wife who stands by her husband, a fisherman turned unskilled doctor (Robert Beatty), after his affair with a patient (Nova Pilbeam) ends in suicide. .

In While I Live (1947), by the same director, equally idiotic but popular in her day, she played an amnesiac pianist who Sonia Dresdel’s Cornishwoman believes is the reincarnation of her sister who died after sleepwalking off a cliff. .

Carol Raye (left) and Judy McBurney preparing for the 1977 production of The Pleasure of his Company - Peter John Moxham/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Carol Raye (left) and Judy McBurney preparing for the 1977 production of The Pleasure of his Company – Peter John Moxham/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

In 1945 Carol Raye married Clark Spencer, an American soldier, but the marriage did not last, and in 1951 she married Robert Ayre-Smith, a veterinarian and agricultural scientist.

In 1952, her husband was appointed a cattle specialist in the Rift Valley, Kenya, where he developed a research station. As Carol Raye later wrote, “being an obedient wife, what could I do but pack up and go?”

Once there, she recalled, “I was fully occupied raising three kids and dealing with unexpected events like the Mau Mau Emergency,” although she did find time to star in Alastair Scobie’s No Rain at Timburi (1954) as the wife of Alastair Scobie. a district commissioner. who joins him in Kenya and runs into trouble with the locals.

Back in Britain in the mid-1950s, she appeared at the Arts Theater in Tom Taylor’s melodrama The Ticket-of-Leave-Man as the kind-hearted street singer who helps an innocent ex-con to recover. rise.

She also took a production director course at the BBC, and when her husband’s job took her to Nairobi in 1961, she spent two years producing and directing for the newly founded Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.

Carol Raye practicing her singing, circa 1955 - Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Carol Raye practicing her singing, circa 1955 – Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Before emigrating to Australia in 1964, Carol Raye asked friends in London for contacts on Australian television. This led to a presentation by James Oswin, general manager of ATN-7, who named her his assistant on “Live Programming Issues” with a mission to come up with ideas for new programs.

She recalled that when she came up with the idea for an Australian version of TW3, Oswin was skeptical. “He said, ‘The problem with you, Carol, is that you’re too BBC. I’m not sure Australians are ready to laugh at themselves.’ ”But they were.

In addition to The Mavis Bramston Show, she has had roles on Australian panels and soap operas, most notably Number 96, in which she played a very married socialite, Baroness Amanda von Pappenburg. She continued to appear in television and theater productions until the turn of the century.

She was named to the Order of Australia “for service to the performing arts as an actress and producer” a week before her death.

Carol Raye’s husband died in 2006 and she is survived by two daughters and a son.

Carol Raye, born January 17, 1923, died June 18, 2022

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