Sheila Sim

Sheila Sim
Sheila Sim

Sheila Sim was born in 1922 in Liverpool. Her films include the brilliant Powell & Pressburger “A Canterbury Tale” in 1944, “The Guinea Pig” in 1948 opposite her husband Richard Attenborough and “West of Zanzibar” opposite Anthony Steel. She is the sister of the actor Gerard Sim.

IMDB entry:

Sheila Sim was born on June 5, 1922 in Liverpool, England as Sheila Beryl Grant Sim. She is an actress, known for A Canterbury Tale (1944), Pandora and the Flying Dutchman(1951) and The Night My Number Came Up (1955). She has been married to Richard Attenborough since January 22, 1945. They have three children.   She died in 2016.

“Guardian” obituary:

When Agatha Christie’s murder mystery play The Mousetrap opened in London in 1952, the actor Sheila Sim, who has died aged 93, had doubts about its ability to last for six months. But the fact that she could wait until just before its 50th anniversary before publicly confessing those doubts, at a lunch at the Savoy hotel with 300 other actors who had appeared in the play, showed them to be unfounded. By then it had long passed its 20,000th performance, and it is still going strong, as the world’s longest initial run of a play.

Through starring as Mollie Ralston, owner of the snowed-in Monkswell Manor, Sim set the seal on her growing reputation as an actor. Her husband, Richard Attenborough, co-starred in the play as Detective Sergeant Trotter, who arrives on a pair of skis, and the couple took a 10% profit share. This continued to serve them very well, Attenborough eventually selling it only when trying to keep the production of his 1982 film Gandhi afloat.

Sim had made her film debut in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s memorable A Canterbury Tale (1944), a modern propaganda adaptation of the Chaucer story, in which a treacherous wartime magistrate is brought to book by a land girl, a British army sergeant and an American serviceman. She drew on her own experience for the role of the land girl, having volunteered in 1940 to work for the Women’s Land Army at harvest time, when she was posted to a farm near Hereford.

In 1945 she played a leading role in an RKO film, Great Day, about a village thrown into turmoil by an impending visit from Eleanor Roosevelt, and had a part in Journey Together, a wartime training drama made by the RAF Film Unit. Attenborough was also in the cast, and they were married at the start of the year. Sim made her television debut in 1946 in a series of plays, and was also in demand for radio work.

She appeared in the film The Guinea Pig (1948, known in the US as The Outsider), in which Attenborough played the central character, a working-class boy at a private school, and she was signed up by J Arthur Rank, then the major if not always the most imaginative of British film producers.

Sim and Attenborough also worked together in Dancing With Crime (1947) and The Magic Box (1951). She had a prominent part in the wild fantasy Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), starring Ava Gardner as a nightclub singer and James Mason as a drifter in a Spanish fishing village. It was shown in a BFI season celebrating the cinematographer Jack Cardiff in 2010.

Born in Liverpool and later educated at Croydon high school, Sim started work in a bank, but soon came to the conclusion that the routine was not for her. Instead she spent two years training as an actor at Rada in London, where she met her future husband. Her first stage appearance, in 1942, was at the Intimate theatre, Palmers Green, in Ivor Novello’s Fresh Fields. She remained with the theatre’s repertory company for six months, then went to the small but fashionable Q theatre at the end of Kew Bridge for another six months, after which she toured with Noël Coward’s This Happy Breed and the drama Landslide. She was in Landslide at the Westminster theatre in London in 1943, and played the lead in the domestic comedy To Dorothy a Son.

At the time of her marriage to Attenborough, he had just come out of the RAF as a sergeant air gunner/cameraman. A honeymoon seemed out of the question until some generous cheques arrived as wedding presents. They went to Bournemouth, which – like most of Britain in that very cold winter – was covered in snow. Sim’s parents then provided them with two rooms in their flat until their fortunes improved and they could afford a house in Chelsea, which they renovated themselves.

Sim said from the first that if they had children, she would put family before career, and she did so to look after their three children, Michael, Jane and Charlotte: her final film credit was The Night My Number Came Up (1955). From 1956, the family lived comfortably in Richmond upon Thames, south-west London.

In 1968, Sim was sworn in as a magistrate in Surbiton, joining the Richmond bench. She was also an enthusiastic member of the Richmond Society, the amenity group that contributed to the thinking behind the restoration and redevelopment of the banks of the Thames at Richmond.

In 2004, her daughter Jane and granddaughter Lucy were killed by the Pacific tsunami while on holiday in Thailand. Richard, who in 1993 was made a life peer, died in 2014. Sheila is survived by Michael and Charlotte.

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.


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