Yvonne Gilan, Scottish actress known as the flirtatious Frenchwoman in Fawlty Towers. An appreciation

YVONNE Gilan, who has died aged 86, was a Scottish actress well known on television and the stage. One role has secured her a place in the hall of sitcom fame – that of the flirtatious French antique dealer in a classic episode (The Wedding Party) of Fawlty Towers. She was also the mother of the acclaimed Sunday Times journalist AA Gill and her husband Michael Gill produced both the BBC’s Civilisation fronted by Kenneth Clark and America with Alistair Cooke.

Gilan followed a versatile career as an actress, appearing in several episodes of Dr Finlay’s Casebook (she admitted, “I don’t know how many I was in. The show was a joy to be part of”) and was a founding member of the adventurous Half Moon Theatre in London’s East End. She remained a proud Scot. In a recent interview about her schooldays in Edinburgh she recalled, “I always think of Edinburgh as home and it is still such a beautiful city.”

Yvonne Janette Gilan was born in Edinburgh in 1931 where her father was a dentist. She attended George Watson’s Ladies College and Edinburgh College of Speech and Drama. She showed a keen interest in theatre at school and has told of a production there of Shaw’s You Never Can Tell. “It was a great experience” and with a broad smile and an enchanting Scottish lilt in her voice added, “and some of the guys from the boys’ played the male roles.”

On graduating Gilan worked at both the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh and toured throughout Scotland with the Wilson Barrett Company. While still at college she met Michael Gill who was then a sub-editor on The Scotsman. They married in 1951 in the capital and had their first son (AA Gill) in the Royal Infirmary.

The family moved to London when Michael Gill got a job with the BBC. When her sons went to school Gilan returned to acting and was seen in various episodes of Z Cars, Crossroads, Alan Bennett’s On the Margin and played Eric Liddell’s stern and unsmiling mother in the movie Chariots of Fire.

But she will be fondly remembered for her appearance as Mme Peignoir the flighty French guest in Fawlty Towers. In the classic episode from 1975 Mme Peignoir books in while the fearsome Sybil is away. With eyes rolling and a mighty sexy French accent Gilan flirts with Basil (John Cleese) and asks, “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.” Then she tells a startled Basil, because it was so hot, “Tonight I sleep au naturel.”

Latterly Gilan also pursued a career advising businessmen how to project their voice and control their breathing while being interviewed. Her largest clients numbered The Bank of Scotland and British Airways and several politicians including the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

One last gem from that episode Fawlty Towers. At breakfast Mme Peignoir asks Basil in a very saucy voice for “un café noir”. A bemused Basil simply says, “Ole” and clicks his fingers like a matador. Gilan raises her eyebrows in horror. That says it all.

Her younger son Nick left the family home in 1988 without explanation and AA Gill died in 2016. She is survived by her six grandchildren.