The mystery of Mrs Brown's Boys: how did a show nobody likes become so popular?

Brendan O'Carroll as Mrs Brown
Brendan O'Carroll as Mrs Brown

Surprised by Brendan O'Carroll's shock win over Fleabag at the National Television Awards? Here's why you shouldn't be

David Walliams cut a lively and divisive figure as he took over from Dermot O’Leary as host the National Television Awards on Tuesday night. He fired off dead-on-arrival jokes about Love Island’s Caroline Flack  and “anti-woke” actor Laurence Fox and for good measure dashed about in his underpants.

Yet the evening’s biggest controversy had nothing to do with Walliams and his amazing technicolour motormouth. The moment of infamy came when Brendan O’Carroll’s Mrs Brown’s Boys was named Best Comedy, ahead of Fleabag, Derry Girls, Ricky Gervais’s After Life and Sex Education

 “The British public can’t be trusted with decisions,” went one of the many outraged tweets. “Mrs Browns Boys a better show than After Life? In what f______ world?” thundered another. For a while it felt as if Mrs Brown’s Boys was about to torch the internet to the ground. 

三级成人视频The level of shock is itself surprising. The NTAs are awarded by public vote and make no apology about being a straightforward popularity contestant. Is it really an upset that O’Carroll’s onslaught of single-entendres would find favour ahead of Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge and her dissection of the pain of being droll, misunderstood and middle class? 

Mrs Brown's Boys mastermind Brendan O'Carroll with his Best Comedy award Credit: getty

Moreover, O’Carroll will surely have won over some – though clearly not all – of the haters with his sweet and warmhearted acceptance speech. He singled Ricky Gervais and After Life for particular praise. With a camera shoved in his face, Gervais briefly tried to look gracious and then went back to scowling. 

The ensuing backlash is unlikely to unduly detain the Dublin comic. He’s weathered such animosity or years. In 2006, long before anyone in the UK had heard of Mrs Brown’s Boys, he had been grilled on Irish TV by two extremely hostile puppets. Podge and Rodge were potty-mouthed alter-egos of the Big Breakfast’s Zig and Zag (they were voiced by the same performers) and had a reputation for cutting their interviewees to the bone. 

O’Carroll was introduced as “the equally annoying, equally successful” creator of Agnes Brown. The stereotypical Dublin “mammy” was already the star of sell-out tours around Ireland alongside four bestselling novels (and a bizarre 1999 Anjelica Huston movie featuring Ray Winston as loan-shark). 

It took a few minutes but eventually Podge (perhaps it was Rodge) got around to the question viewers had been silently willing them to pose. “Would you ever kill off Mrs Brown, please?”

The comedian smiled and shook his head. Critics might jeer (and they did) but, after a narrow escape from financial ruin, O’Carroll knew a sure thing when he saw it. Mrs Brown was already on the hoof a decade and a half at that point – and the astute comic may have sensed the best was yet to come. 

Fourteen years later, many in the UK might ask the very question posed by Podge and Rodge. How much longer, they will wonder, will we have to endure Mrs Brown’s Boys – an innuendo apocalypse that sends the chattering classes into a horrified faint yet which continues to clock up blockbuster ratings? And is now, officially, better than Fleabag or After Life.

It’s nine years since this nominal sitcom debuted on BBC One and immediately established itself as one of Britain’s favourite chortle-fests. It has reigned supreme ever since. The 2018 Christmas special was the second most watched festive programme, its audience of nine million placing it ahead of juggernauts such as the Christmas Strictly Come Dancing and the Great Christmas Bake Off. 

In Ireland, the steamroller popularity of O’Carroll and Mrs Brown in the much larger and more competitive UK market is a source of ongoing befuddlement. Irish television, it is true, has been historically awful. There is no tradition of quality drama or comedy for new generations to draw. Even the “best” shows tend to be qualified failures (one of the reasons Father Ted ended up on Channel 4 rather than Irish national broadcaster RTÉ). 

Mrs Brown, ratings queen of the Christmas TV schedules

T三级成人视频hat being the case, Mrs Brown’s Boys was nevertheless regarded as something of a guilty secret back home. O’Carroll had first became famous as a guest on Gay Byrne’s Late Late Show in the early Nineties. He would crack up the usually implacable host with his stories about getting up to no good as a rascal in Dublin’s socially disadvantaged Finglas neighbourhood (where Mrs Brown’s Boys is set). 

O’Carroll thereafter picked up some work at RTÉ hosting lame quiz shows. It was a thankless route also taken by pre-Father Ted Dermot Morgan and a puppy-faced Dara O Briain, for many years team captain on a pulseless Have I Got News For You? knock-off called Don’t Feed The Gondolas (even less funny than its title). 

Mrs Brown’s Boys was an empire O’Carroll built entirely on his own. He debuted Agnes Browne (the “e” was later dropped) on a one-off radio play on RTÉ Radio 2 in 1992. Four books – The Mammy, The Chisellers, The Granny, and The Young Wan – followed, the first adapted by Hibernophile Anjelica Huston into Agnes Brown. If you can bear to watch, hang on for the cameo by Tom Jones. 

三级成人视频With his love for nudges, winks and toilet gags, O’Carroll was quickly deemed beyond the bounds of polite taste in Ireland. It was unthinkable he be given his own TV show. Consequently, the seven Mrs Brown DVDs he released were self-financed and self-directed. That brought a degree of financial precariousness. More importantly it gave complete creative control. 

Mrs Brown's Boys Credit: BBC

T三级成人视频hus, by the time the Mrs Brown stage show became a phenomenon O'Carroll was utterly in command of his creation (it helped that his crew was staffed with friends and family members). Say what you like about the quality of the humour – but O’Carroll never compromised his vision and wasn’t obliged to ingratiate himself to the powers that b 

三级成人视频He had also been knocked about quite a bit by life. Though his mother was a Labour party politician, he grew up in stereotypically hard-knock circumstances in Finglas. He’d worked as waiter and milkman and even ran a pub before his partner in the business skipped the country. When the abscondee subsequently died a baffled O’Carroll was briefly questioned by police.

B三级成人视频ut the biggest setback was when, on the back of his Late Late Show fame, he produced a boxing movie called Sparrow’s Trap, to star Stephen Rea. Financing collapsed before production was completed and, with the film having accumulated debts of £1 million, O’Carroll was forced to declare bankruptcy. Every breakthrough he has since had – he is now said to be worth in excess of £10 million – must be seen in the context of that disaster. 

Brendan O'Carroll in 1996 Credit: rex

The secret of Mrs Brown’s Boys appeal is a question that has stumped many. But there is no reason to tie oneself up in loops. The plain truth is that elbow-nudging and quips about bodily functions – O’Carroll’s stock in trade – can be relied upon to raise guffaws. A chaotic filming style, in which the live audience is encouraged to laugh at the flubs and misfires, merely adds to the hilarity. 

Watching a preview of last year’s Christmas special I, for instance, found myself rolling my eyes but also – and feel free to judge – stifling the very occasional chuckle. Is it funny to confuse “mahogany” for “monogamy”? Probably not – but in a moment of weakness I threw my head back and groaned. A bad joke can be as effective as a good one, as O’Carroll has discovered with lucrative results. 

It should be noted, too, that O’Carroll isn’t so much an Irish comedian as a Dublin one. The city has been historically more anglicised than any other part of the Republic – as anyone who has stepped into a pub in Blanchardstown or Kimmage to be greeted by a wall of Liverpool and Manchester United replica shirts will testify. 

三级成人视频So it doesn’t take a huge leap to see how O’Carroll’s kitchen sink, fnar-fnar humour might chime in British regional cities (as Dublin essentially was until the early 20th century).  Mrs Brown's Boys  certainly has none of the relative exoticism of Father Ted or BBC3’s Young Offenders. 

I三级成人视频ndeed it is surely no coincidence that O’Carroll’s big break in the UK was in Glasgow, where his Mrs Brown stage show had its first success outside Ireland (and where the TV show is presently filmed). It was there that he was approached in 2009 by a BBC producer who thought Mrs Brown’s Boys might translate to television (RTÉ, having ignored him for years, later came on as co-producers). British comedy, it is fair to say, hasn’t recovered since.

三级成人视频Imagine if Jim Davidson or Del Boy-vintage David Jason were flown to New York and unveiled as the new host of the CBS Late Show following the departure of Stephen Colbert. That’s how the unstoppable rise in the UK of Mrs Brown appears in Ireland – flabbergasting and completely unnerving. Now, in the aftermath of the NTAs, the rest of you can appreciate exactly how we feel. Let's all share our pain together. 

Are you a Mrs Brown's Boys fan? What do you love about the show? Or are you one of the many people who dislike it? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

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