Joan Sims

Joan Sims
Joan Sims

Joan Sims was a wonderful comedy actress best remembered for her contribution to the “Carry on” films.   She has though made many terrific performances in other British films.   She was born in 1930 in Essex.   She graduated from RADA in 1950.   Her first fil part was in “Will Any Gentleman?” with George Cole.   Other per-Carry On films include “Trouble in Store” with Norman Wisdom, “Lost” with Julia Arnall, “The Captain’s Table” with John Gregson and Peggy Cummins.   Her first appearance in the Carry on series was in 1958 in “Carry On Nurse”.   In all she starred in 25 “Carry On Films” the last been “Carry On Emmannuelle” in 1978.   Her later films include  “The Canterville Ghost” and in 2000 with a wonderful collection of mature actresses in “The Last of the Blonde Bombshells”.   The cast included Judi Dench, Leslie Caron, Olympia Dukakis, Cleo Laine, June Whitfield and Billie Whitelaw.   Joan Sims died in 2000.

“Guardian” obituary:

Joan Sims
English actress whose fame and popularity was based on a series of high-spirited characters in the Carry On and Doctor films
Dennis Barker

That extreme rarity, a natural rather than thought-out comedian, Joan Sims, who has died aged 71, exuberantly enhanced the bawdiness of one of the British movie industry’s biggest successes, the Carry On films. She brought to 24 of them – 20 in an unbroken sequence – a plump, high-spirited raucousness, that might have been offensive, but for her obvious good nature.
Never married, though in her youth she had two close relationships – with the actor Tony Baird, and the stage manager John Walters – she claimed that, generally, men were put off by funny women, and that sometimes she had had to steel herself to get through the filming of the Carry Ons – especially as the male cast were apt to play practical jokes on her. The scripts also placed demands on her sensitivity; she had to strain hard to make funny anecdotes out of the sufferings she endured for her art.
She was not in the first of the series, Carry On Sergeant, but, in November 1958, she was hired to play the student nurse in the second, Carry On Nurse, the biggest box office success of 1959. Playing the gym mistress in the next, Carry On Teacher (1959), she developed thrombophlebitis, and had her bad leg propped up on off-camera cushions before being hospitalised for 10 days. In Carry On Constable (1960), her role was that of a WPC called Gloria Passworthy – and the jokes were to match. For Carry On Regardless (1961), she was required to take the tickets at the door of a wine tasting, then take part, ending up by falling down dead drunk.   Simultaneously, Sims was also appearing – on a similar nudge-nudge-wink-wink basis – in that other highly successful, if slightly more genteel, run of films, the Doctor series. By 1960, she had reached her third, Doctor In Love, followed by Doctor In Clover, both with Leslie Phillips, a more refined leading man than the bucolic Sid James, but the Doctor films satisfied her less than the Carry Ons, which she said gave her a unique comradeship and fun during shooting.

The producer Peter Rogers did, in fact, claim that he would do anything for his Carry On team – the camp Kenneth Williams and Charles Hawtrey, the randy Kenneth Connor, the mountainous Hattie Jacques – except pay them. The top men in the cast got a £5,000 fee and the women, including Sims, £2,500 – well below the market rate. By the final one, Carry On Columbus (1992), the jokes had grown laboured and joyless, and Sims wrote that she was glad she was not in it.   Her motivation for acting, she claimed, was a child’s desire to please. Her mother had been deeply in love with a man who, after a misunderstanding, took off, returning after a few weeks to discover that his beloved had married on the rebound. Divorce not being an option in those days, Sims’s father and mother showed no affection towards one another – and little to their daughter.

Joan compensated by dressing up and entertaining passengers at Laindon station, in Essex, where her father was station-master. A neighbour brought a gramophone to spice up the act, and Joan became adept at increasing her wardrobe by asking the passengers for cast-off clothes.   At Brentwood county school for girls, she became determined to find something at which she could excel. Acting seemed the most likely – she arranged entertainments in the school air-raid shelter, joined amateur groups, played old ladies (like Madame Arcati, in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, and Fumed Oak), and danced in Gilbert and Sullivan. But she failed her school certificate twice, and only got a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art on her third application, after her father persuaded the academy to give her a chance.

An agent, who also handled Ronnie Barker and Peter Eade, took her on, and she progressed through repertory at Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Southend, Luton and Salisbury to being principal girl in the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre’s production of the pantomime The Happy Ha’Penny. After that she showed her adaptability in the West End by appearing in two plays at once – a Grand Guignol shocker at the Irving Theatre Club and a revue called The Bells Of St Martin’s.   In 1952, Sims got her first small role in a British film, Colonel March Investigates. The following year, she had a bigger part, with George Cole, in Will Any Gentleman?, and appeared in the revue High Spirits, where she met John Walters and from which she took the title for her autobiography, High Spirits (2000).

A string of stage revues, films and radio comedies followed. Her association with Kenneth Horne, the urbane straight man of the BBC radio comedy, Round the Horne, began in 1968, but was cut short by his death the following year. She was in the show’s successor, Stop Messing About, starring her friend Kenneth Williams, but, with no straight man to play against, his hysterics fell flat.   In her last years, Sims struggled against illness, heavy drinking and depression. But audiences and producers thrived on her high-spirited lifeblood and she successfully appeared last September, with Dame Judi Dench, in the award-winning BBC TV film, Last Of The Blonde Bombshells.   Irene Joan Sims, actor, born May 9 1930; died June 27 2001

Her obituary from the Guardian newspaper can be found here.

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