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Yvonne Janette Gilan (12 October 1931 – 14 June 2018[1][2][3]) was a British actress who is best known for her portrayal of Mme. Peignoir in Fawlty Towers and minor roles in both EastEnders and French Fields. She was married to the television director Michael Gill, and is the mother of the late journalist, Adrian, known as A. A. Gill.

Yvonne Gilan
Yvonne Janette Gilan

(1931-10-12)12 October 1931
Died14 June 2018 (aged 86)
London, England
OccupationActress, writer, vocal coach
Years active1961–94
Spouse(s)Michael Gill (m. 1951–78)
ChildrenNicholas Gill
A. A. Gill

Early workEdit

In 1964 she wrote a short fantasy film, The Peaches, starring Juliet Harmer, with a small cameo role for her son Adrian as a bespectacled chess player. The film became the British choice for the Cannes Film Festival, and won several international awards.

Her comic skills were displayed earlier in Alan Bennett's comedy series On the Margin (1966). Gilan's acting career has also included roles in Z-Cars (1967) as Vera Cowley, Dixon of Dock Green (1969), Crossroads (1976) as Eileen Blythe, a few episodes of Dr. Finlay's Casebook (1963–69) in several roles and The House of Elliot as Ruth Bannister. Her film credits include Agatha (1979) as Mrs Braithwaite, Chariots of Fire (1981) as Mrs Liddell, and Empire of the Sun (1987) as Mrs Lockwood.

Fawlty Towers (1975)Edit

Gilan's Fawlty Towers appearance in "The Wedding Party", first transmitted on BBC television on 3 October 1975, was as a French antiques dealer who seemed to have a soft spot for hotel owner Basil Fawlty. He, in turn, indulged her a little, while fending off her hints at a nocturnal encounter while she was under the influence of alcohol ("a little tipsy", as she put it). Her character had an unusual take on his character: "Are you a romantic, Mr. Fawlty..? Well, I think you are. I think beneath that English exterior throbs a passion that would make Lord Byron look like a tobacconist." After announcing that, due to the summer heat, she would sleep "au naturel tonight", subsequently she teased Fawlty that he had left his cassette player in her room as an excuse to gain entry during the night.

In May 2009 G.O.L.D. screened Fawlty Towers: Re-Opened, a show that brought the original Fawlty Towers cast back together for the first time since Torquay's most notorious hotel closed. In the show, Gilan was interviewed and suggested that her French accent sounded more like a Hungarian accent to her now.

Later careerEdit

From 1980 onwards, she worked as a motivational speaker at the Oxford Said Business School, helping leaders improve their presentation and communication skills,[4] and lectured at the Imperial College, London. She was awarded Fellowships from both the London Business School and the Saïd Business School.

In 2003 Gilan was consulted on picking the right voice for the 118 118 directory enquiry service.[5]

Personal lifeEdit

At the University of Edinburgh Gilan met Michael Gill, later to have a career as a television director and producer; they married in 1951 and had two sons, Adrian and Nicholas. Their marriage was dissolved in 1978.[6] Gilan's younger son Nicholas (Nick), a talented chef, unaccountably disappeared in 1998 and has not been heard from since. "He was an incredibly successful Michelin-starred chef, but he had reached rock bottom".[7]

Her older son, Adrian, a newspaper columnist and writer, was known professionally as A. A. Gill. In his autobiography, Adrian described his mother's appearance and characteristics as he recalled them from childhood:

Physical, gamine, a thick shock of short black hair with a heavy fringe. Freckles, dark complexion. A witty, interested, boyish face, but provocative, mocking, with an exhibitionist smile that is not altogether humorous ... Her smile can wither or zap like Dan Dare's ray gun.[8]

Gilan kept the letters that Adrian wrote to her from his boarding school, St. Christopher School, Letchworth, in Hertfordshire, and returned them to him half a century later.[8] [9] Adrian (A. A. Gill) died 10 December 2016 aged 62.[10][11]

Gilian died on the 14 June 2018 of breast and lung cancer and is survived by her grandchildren, Louis, Hannah, Flora, Alasdair, Edith and Isaac. [12]


Year Title Role Notes
1979 Agatha Mrs. Braithwaite
1981 Chariots of Fire Mrs. Liddell
1983 Another Time, Another Place Jess
1987 Empire of the Sun Mrs. Lockwood


  1. ^ "Yvonne Gilan obituary". The Guardian. 30 August 2018. Retrieved 30 August 2018.
  2. ^ "Yvonne: The story of me and my mentor – Resonance Training / Karen Glossop".
  3. ^ "Yvonne Gilan obituary". The Times. 5 September 2018.
  4. ^ "Meet Our Trainers". Retrieved 17 July 2011.
  5. ^ "The Welsh accent". BBC. 21 February 2003. Retrieved 24 May 2009.
  6. ^ Levy, Paul (24 October 2005). "Michael Gill (obituary)". The Independent. Retrieved 23 May 2009.
  7. ^ Rumbelow, Helen (14 March 2005). "Missing persons charity faces closure". The Times. London. Retrieved 20 November 2016. (subscription required)
  8. ^ a b Gill, A.A. (25 October 2015). "Drunks' dreams are never a pretty, relaxed place… I knew all about hallucination". The Sunday Times Magazine. Retrieved 20 November 2016. (subscription required)
  9. ^ Adrian Gill had been sent to St. Christopher because his parents thought it might have been able to assist with his dyslexia, but he left without any qualifications: Sunday Times, 11 December 2016
  10. ^ "Yvonne Gilan obituary". The Times. 5 September 2018.
  11. ^ "Obituary - Yvonne Gilan, Scottish actress known as the flirtatious Frenchwoman in Fawlty Towers".
  12. ^ Yvonne Gilan obituary - The Guardian

External linksEdit