Mrs Brown's Boys: 5 surprising facts about the TV phenomenon

Rarely has an issue divided a nation more. While some are infuriated by it, a vast number of other people think it’s the best thing since soda bread.

No, not Brexit. Mrs Brown’s Boys.

But what exactly is Mrs Brown’s Boys? If you’re new to the show that many critics love to hate, here’s what you need to know:

Who is Brendan O'Carroll?

After a series of jobs including a stint as a milkman, Dubliner Brendan O’Carroll became a stand-up comic. His regular appearances on Gay Byrne’s chat show – The Late Late Show – made him a national celebrity in Ireland and he released a series of successful DVDs of his comedy routines.

What is Mrs Brown's Boys?

The show is a simple, old-fashioned feeling sitcom, played more or less as a stage show and performed in front of a live studio audience. O’Carroll plays central character Agnes Brown as a scrappy, often angry matriarch who is rarely more than thirty seconds from saying something we can’t quite print here.

The success of the sitcom means that the BBC have given Mrs Brown a Saturday night entertainment series - All Round To Mrs Brown's -  which will feature a mix of the classic Mrs Brown brash humour and some special celebrity guests.

5 surprising facts about Mrs Brown's Boys

1. How did Mrs Brown get started?

She started with a very slightly different name. In 1992, O’Carroll wrote a radio play called Mrs Browne’s Boys, and following its success published a series of books The Mammy, The Granny, The Chisellers and The Scrapper, which featured Agnes Browne and her family. 

O’Carroll then wrote and toured a series of plays based on the Brownes.  The ‘e’ in Browne was dropped when the plays were adapted as a sitcom for TV.

2. It's a family affair

Unlike most TV sitcoms, the cast isn’t made up of established actors that you recognise from a dozen other shows.
Mrs Brown’s daughter Cathy is played by O’Carroll’s real-life wife Jennifer Gibney. Her daughter-in law is played by O’Carroll’s actual daughter-in-law, Amanda Woods. Mrs Brown’s other daughter-in-law Maria is played by O'Carroll's real life daughter, Fiona.

Numerous other parts are taken by O’Carroll’s family and friends, lending the show a loose, rollicking air.

3. There have been two movies

There are two. And you’ve only heard of one of them.

Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie, which featured O’Carroll in the dual roles of Agnes Brown and the stereotypical ninja Mr Wang, was savaged by critics. The Daily Telegraph’s Robbie Collin gave the film one star out of five.

He was particularly critical of O’Carroll’s portrayal of Mr Wang. Film magazine Empire described the film as "shambolically performed by the majority of its cast, and shot and edited in a fashion so slapdash it seems like a movie made almost entirely by competition winners."

Despite the critical brickbats, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie did solid business at the box office and a sequel is already in the works.

Adding insult to the Daily Telegraph’s injury, there’s also talk of a separate spin-off movie starting Mr Wang.

But there’s also another Mrs Brown film. Or, rather, a Mrs Browne film.

This 1999 comedy drama Agnes Browne, which starred Anjelica Houston as the irascible matriarch, had rather less swearing and rather more soft-focus touchy-feely moments.

It fared rather better with the critics than its better-known cousin, winning the Youth Jury Award at the San Sebastián International Film Festival and a Grand Prix nomination at the Ghent International Film Festival.

Why do the critics seem to hate it so much?

Good reviews for Mrs Brown’s Boys are as rare as episodes where Agnes doesn’t say “feck”. As much as anything else, the demographic at which the show is principally aimed is a mile away from the profile of your average broadsheet journalist.

Then there’s the time-warp element. The humour of Mrs Brown’s Boys would seem more at home in the era of Mind Your Language or On the Buses than today’s more considered, politically correct shows.

Throw in the wilfully ramshackle presentation and you’ve got critical kryptonite.

A lot. For example, in its first week of release as a DVD, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie sold 315,981 units in the UK, more than double its nearest rival. In 2013 and 2014, the Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas specials were the most-watched shows over the festive period.

In 2015 it slipped a little, but only as far as second place.

Where will it end? It probably never will. There’s an animated version in development, which means that the show is future-proofed against its stars ageing or moving on. The foul-mouthed Dublin granny will be annoying TV and film critics for generations to come.

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