It was typical of the droll and hard-working actor Patsy Rowlands, who has died aged 71, that, when she was in the last stages of cancer, she still tried to convince her friends that she was about to "go back to the gym" and would soon be ready for work. She did it to spare their feelings. She had been ill for over four years, but had continued to work until a few months ago, when she abandoned her plans to become a teacher of acting and publicly retired.
She acted with distinguished theatre companies, including the National Theatre, and was in many television series, but she will also be remembered for her roles in nine Carry On films, which started with Carry On Again Doctor (1969) and ended with Carry On Behind (1975).
She could play for laughs, often with moon-faced dolefulness beneath her crop of flame-red hair, without quite losing her dignity. Her films included On The Fiddle (1961) with Alfred Lynch and Sean Connery, John Schlesinger's A Kind Of Loving (1962) with Alan Bates and June Ritchie, Tony Richardson's Tom Jones (1963) with Albert Finney, and Roman Polanski's Tess (1979).
Sometimes her TV work led to cinema spin-offs. The series Please Sir! was the basis of the 1971 film, and Bless This House, which ran for five years from 1971, in which she played the scatty neighbour of Sid James, resulted in a 1972 movie.
Rowlands was born in the Seven Sisters area of north London, and was educated at the Sacred Heart convent in Whetstone. She then trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Her first professional appearance was in the chorus for the touring version of Annie Get Your Gun (1951). In 1958, she debuted at the Lyric Hammersmith in Sandy Wilson's frothy Valmouth, opening in the West End in 1959. The musical was set in a spa which gave the elderly a sexual boost, and it certainly gave a pointer to the sort of comedy in which her persona shone.
Directors soon got to know that she was so individual that she had to be cast selectively, but when she was right for a part she was very right, and her range stretched more broadly than some expected. Later in 1959, she was in NF Simpson's One Way Pendulum, and in 1962 with Laurence Olivier in Tony Richardson's London production of David Turner's groundbreaking Semi-Detached.
With Donald Sinden she appeared in Shut Your Eyes And Think Of England, and was directed by Lindsay Anderson in The Seagull and by Ronald Eyre in JB Priestley's When We Are Married. Anderson also directed her in The March On Russia at the National Theatre, where she appeared in The Pied Piper as a very idiosyncratic Lady Mayoress, and in The Wind In The Willows, directed by Nicholas Hytner. For the Mermaid Theatre, she appeared in two classics, The Miser and The Imaginary Invalid.
Her musicals included the West End premiere of Stephen Sondheim's Into The Woods, at the Phoenix Theatre, Me And My Girl and Sam Mendes' production of Oliver! at the London Palladium. Her latest was in the Cameron Mackintosh production of My Fair Lady.
Though she regarded herself primarily as a stage performer, when her wacky technique could be in full flower, her TV work never dried up. Her first appearances had been in Danger Man (1961), she was in The Avengers (1969) and her other work included The Squirrels (1975-77), Nigel Kneale's Kinvig (1981) and the 1998 version of Vanity Fair.
An admirer of Monet, she was an accomplished watercolour and pastel artist, and once got her work into the Royal Academy summer show.
Rowlands' marriage to Malcolm Sircom ended in divorce. They had a son, Alan, who survives her.
· Patsy Rowlands, actor, born January 19 1934; died January 22 2005