Recalling two of her forerunners, Dawn French and Tracey Ullman, the auburn-haired and rubber-faced British comedienne Catherine Tate scored hugely in her native England for The Catherine Tate Show, a compendium of irreverent, off-the-wall sketches in which she played a broad array of nutty characters, often with the added element of elaborate makeup. Favorite recurring portrayals included the Cockney nag Lauren Cooper (famous for her catchphrase "Am I bovvered?"), upper middle class Briton The Aga Saga Woman (an absurdly perfectionist housewife and mother given to fits of anxiety), and Derek Faye, a bald and overtly homosexual gentleman with a falsetto voice who repeatedly draws accusations of being gay but responds with, "How very dare you." Unlike, say, the work of Sacha Baron Cohen, Tate's sketches were invariably scripted, even one in which Tony Blair made a cameo appearance.
Raised as an only child by her florist mother, her grandmother, and her godmother in the Brunswick Council Estate of Central London, Tate reportedly struggled with shyness from early on, but also claimed a streak of flamboyancy that prompted a life-changing discovery: when she acted humorously, people habitually examined her with much less scrutiny. As an adolescent, she attended a Catholic convent school, but was forced out at the age of 16 when the nuns couldn't provide her with the resources to develop her acting abilities; in the years to follow, she trained as an actress at the University of London's famed Central School of Speech and Drama, then, after accepting a series of minor "straight" roles, decided to give stand-up comedy a shot. Her success in that venue is of course well-known (The Catherine Tate Show evolved into a minor institution on British television), but it ultimately left her dissatisfied and she wanted to be taken seriously as a non-comedic actress. That dream materialized with plum roles in features including the Jewish-themed coming-of-age seriocomedy Sixty Six (2006) (as Aunty Lila), director Edward Blum's ensemble-driven romantic comedy Scenes of a Sexual Nature (2006), and Billie Eltringham's period political comedy Mrs. Ratcliffe's Revolution (2007). She did a stint on the cult favorite series Dr. Who, and in 2010 she played Queen Isabelle in the Jack Black vehicle Gulliver's Travels. In 2011 she joined the cast of The Office for a brief period, and appeared as the mother of a socialite in the teen rom-com Monte Carlo. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi