Joan Sims

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Joan Sims
Joan Sims B&W.jpg
Sims in 1957
Born Irene Joan Marian Sims
(1930-05-09)9 May 1930
Laindon, Essex, England
Died 27 June 2001(2001-06-27) (aged 71)
Chelsea, London, England
Cause of death Diverticular disease
Occupation Actress
Years active 1951–2000
Known for Carry On (franchise), As Time Goes By
Spouse(s) never married

Irene Joan Marion Sims (9 May 1930 – 27[1] June 2001), best known as Joan Sims, was an English actress, best remembered for her roles in the Carry On films, for playing Madge Hardcastle in As Time Goes By and Mrs Wembley, the cook with a liking for sherry, in On the Up.


Early life[edit]

Sims was born in 1930, the daughter of the station master of Laindon railway station in Laindon, Essex.[2] Sims' early interest in being an actress came from living at the railway station. She would often put on performances for waiting passengers. She decided that she wanted to pursue show business during her teens, and soon became a familiar face in a growing number of amateur productions locally.

In 1946, Sims first applied to RADA, but her audition was unsuccessful. Her first audition included a rendition of Winnie the Pooh. She did succeed in being admitted to PARADA, the academy's preparatory school, and finally, on her fourth attempt, she graduated and was trained at RADA.[2] She graduated from RADA in 1950 at the age of 19.[3] One of her first stage performances was in the 1951 pantomime, The Happy Ha'penny, opposite Stanley Baxter at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre.[4]

Sims appeared in a number of Brian Rix's Aldwych Theatre farces, but revue was Sims' greatest medium, especially in the works of Peter Myers.[2] In 1958, she got a part in Peter Coke's play Breath of Spring, which opened at the Cambridge Theatre in March, transferring to the Duke of York's Theatre in August 1958, which ran until April 1959. Sims preferred film to stage work. "It was, of course, lovely to be in a successful play, to have the excitement of performing a hit to packed houses (and, not least, the assurance of a regular income for the foreseeable future). But, on the other hand, I found it extremely difficult to keep a performance fresh, and I'd soon get bored."[5]

Acting career[edit]

Sims made her first film appearance in Will Any Gentleman? with George Cole in 1953, closely followed by Trouble in Store with Norman Wisdom. In 1954, she made a cameo appearance in Doctor in the House, opposite Dirk Bogarde as the sexually repressed Nurse Rigor Mortis. Sims became a regular in the Doctors series, which was produced by Betty E. Box, and was hence spotted by Box's husband Peter Rogers.[3]

She had a small part in the 1957 film Carry on Admiral, unrelated to the later Carry On series and with no other cast members in common with the series.

Carry On[edit]

In 1958, Sims received a script from Peter Rogers; it was for Carry On Nurse. The film Carry On Sergeant had been a huge success at the box office and in the autumn of that year, Rogers and director Gerald Thomas began planning a follow-up.[6]

She first starred in Carry On Nurse, then Carry On Teacher,[7] followed by Carry On Constable and Carry On Regardless, and this sealed her future as a regular Carry On performer. Following a bout of ill health, Dilys Laye had to be brought in to take her place in Carry On Cruising at very short notice; however, Sims rejoined the team with Carry On Cleo.[8] Her role in this was to set the tone for the rest of the Carry On films. "...[F]or once the costumes were made for me, rather than my having to resort to some old dress that had been used before and had to have a new panel sewn in the back to accommodate my girth – which by now was unvaryingly plump."[this quote needs a citation]

Sims' characters evolved from objects of desire in the early films to frumpy, nagging wives in the later ones, epitomised by the Emily Bung role in Carry On Screaming. Following the success of Carry On Cleo, she stayed with the films all the way though to the final one in the original series, Carry On Emmannuelle. Sims appeared in 24 Carry On films in all; she did not return for the one-off revival film, Carry On Columbus (1992). However, she did appear alongside Kenneth Williams in the radio show Stop Messing About in 1969–70.[9] Prior to this she had worked on the BBC Radio comedy Play it Cool, with Hugh Paddick and Ian Carmichael.[10]

Later work[edit]

After the Carry On series ended in 1978, Sims continued to work on television. She appeared opposite Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier in the award-winning 1975 television film Love Among the Ruins and had a recurring role as Gran in the BBC comedy series Till Death Us Do Part. From 1979 until 1981, she played the recurring character Mrs Bloomsbury-Barton in Worzel Gummidge for Southern Television. During 1986 and 1987, Sims starred as Annie Begley alongside Angela Thorne in the Yorkshire Television sitcom Farrington of the F.O. Also in 1986, Sims appeared in the long-running BBC science fiction series Doctor Who in the four episodes of The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet as Katryca. She also played Miss Murgatroyd in the Miss Marple adaptation A Murder is Announced, Betsy Prig in a star-studded adaptation of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit and Lady Fox-Custard in Simon and the Witch. In 1987 she joined the cast on And There's More and was paired up with Nicholas Smith for a number of sketches for each episode as an old couple.

In 1989, she appeared as a medium in the video for Morrissey's "Ouija Board, Ouija Board".

She played Mrs Wembley in the BBC comedy series On the Up, which starred Dennis Waterman and ran from 1990 to 1992. From 1994, she played Madge Hardcastle, stepmother of Geoffrey Palmer's character Lionel in As Time Goes By. Sims also appeared in episodes of the hit television comedy series Only Fools and Horses and The Goodies, in the One Foot in the Grave special One Foot in the Algarve, and made a guest appearance in a sketch show with Victoria Wood.

In her later years, Sims fought a long battle against depression. This was worsened by the deaths of her agent Peter Eade, her best friend Hattie Jacques and her mother, all within a two-year period, after which she fell into alcoholism. Sims suffered from Bell's palsy in 1999 and fractured her hip in 2000, but recovered well. However, her alcoholism was beginning to dominate life in her rented Kensington flat, and she described herself as "the queen of puddings."[2][11] After assessment by a doctor, she was offered a place in a rehabilitation centre, but declined. Offered the opportunity to write her autobiography, she took a role in the BBC television film The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, alongside Dame Judi Dench and Olympia Dukakis.

Music career[edit]

During 1963, Sims made several recordings. "Hurry Up Gran" / "Oh Not Again Ken" was issued as a single, followed by "Spring Song" / "Men". Both were produced by George Martin for the Parlophone label but neither single made an impact on the UK Singles Chart. This did not deter her from releasing a third and final single during 1967, "Sweet Lovely Whatsisname" / "The Lass With the Delicate Hair". Again it failed to chart, and as a result the singles are now quite rare. As of 2009, both "Spring Song" and "Men" are available for the first time through iTunes and other download services, as well as on CD as part of re-issues of the comedy compilation albums Oh! What a Carry On! and Laugh A Minute. Sims also featured on an original cast recording of The Lord Chamberlain Regrets in 1961, as well as The Water Gypsies.[12]

Personal life[edit]

Plaque at Esmond Court, Thackeray Street, Kensington, London

Sims, like her fellow Carry On star Kenneth Williams, never married. Williams, who was homosexual, did however propose a marriage of convenience to her, which she promptly declined.[13] From 1958, she lived for three years with fellow actor Tony Baird but, every time her parents visited, she asked Baird to remove all of his belongings from their London flat.

After she told her mother on a visit that she was living with Baird, her father wrote her a stern letter, condemning the relationship. Sims replied, telling her parents that they had to come to terms with Tony being an extremely important part of her life. For the next six months she had no contact with her parents. Sims was a devoted daughter and found the separation from her parents difficult. She continued living with Baird.

The relationship began to founder, Sims said, due to her success and Tony Baird's failure as an actor. Sims writes "Had house husbands been in vogue in those days we'd have made an excellent couple, since Tony was not very successful as an actor and I soon became the main breadwinner. If we had been able to accept that I would go out and earn the money and he would concentrate on running the home, things might have turned out better.... For three years I was besotted with this loveable reprobate, but then the icing on the cake began to chip off and the love started to wear thin. I was virtually keeping him and the friction of the situation was getting harder to bear." Of the break-up, which was finally triggered by Sims returning from a tour to find Baird had not done any washing or housework, she wrote "I could tell that he was genuinely heartbroken, and so was I, but I had to do it for my own survival." [5]

Following this came a relationship with John Walters whom Sims had known for a long time. He had been assistant stage manager for the play High Spirits, in which she appeared. They had had an 'innocent' romance at the time, but they embarked on a more serious relationship after Sims's break-up with Baird. However, Sims never felt it would be a long-term relationship: John was a much moodier character than Tony. During what she described as the 'one broody phase of my life', they discussed marriage and children, but it came to nothing and the relationship, the last serious one of Sims's life, ended after around two years of living together.

"I never married because the right person never came along... I leave others to seek for darker explanations. For me it's extremely simple!"

High Spirits[edit]

The tone of Sims's autobiography High Spirits is revealing (though not sensationalist), frank and sometimes mordant:

"In Doctor at Sea I was cast again as the Plain Jane character ... my rival in love was played by ... Brigitte Bardot. Joan Sims versus Brigitte Bardot. I'll leave you to guess which of us got her man."

"Then the effects of the tablets rapidly started wearing off – as is the way with Benzedrine – and suddenly I was feeling worse than I had ever felt in my life."

"I learned the hard way how deflating it can be to get too excited by a prospect before you know for sure that it will come off. The worst aspect of this fiasco was that I was now not only jobless but homeless."

"I was always useless at flirting, and simply did not know what needed to be done in order to snare my target... I always ended up resorting to jokes, and most men don't like funny women. They like to do the jokes."

"I've never been able to understand women who have this burning desire to have children. I've never had those feelings in any depth."

—Joan Sims, High Spirits

High Spirits concluded with Sims in reflective and rueful mood. Having been disappointed to miss out on the part in a BBC adaptation of Vanity Fair, she is somewhat crestfallen to discover that there are only two entries on her 'Trivia' page on It ends:

"The last couple of years have seen more lows than highs .... my long-held view that whether you're up or you're down, there's only one way to react to whatever life throws at you. Carry on."

—Joan Sims, High Spirits


Sims entered hospital in November 2000, and complications of a routine operation caused her to slip into a coma.[3] Her lifelong friend and stand-in Norah Holland[14] spoke of the doctors' amazement at her strength and courage throughout her final illness.

On 27 June 2001, ten minutes before she died, Norah Holland spoke to her gently about Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and their time on the Carry On films. She died with Holland holding her hand. She was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium, and her ashes scattered in the grounds there.[citation needed]



Year Title Role Notes
1953 The Square Ring Bunty
Will Any Gentleman...? Beryl
Meet Mr. Lucifer Fairy Queen
Trouble in Store Edna
1954 Doctor in the House Rigor Mortis
What Every Woman Wants Doll
The Young Lovers Telephone Operator, American Embassy Uncredited
The Belles of St. Trinian's Miss Dawn
To Dorothy a Son Telephone Operator
The Sea Shall Not Have Them Hilda Tebbitt
1955 As Long as They're Happy Linda
Doctor at Sea Wendy Thomas
1956 Lost Ice Cream Seller in the Park Uncredited
Keep It Clean Violet Tarbottom
The Silken Affair Lady Barber
Dry Rot Beth
Stars in Your Eyes Walter's Secretary
1957 Carry on Admiral Mary
No Time for Tears Sister O'Malley
Just My Luck Phoebe
The Naked Truth Ethel Ransom
1958 Davy Tea Lady
Passport to Shame Miriam (Phone operator in taxi office) Uncredited
1959 The Captain's Table Maude Pritchett
Carry on Nurse Student Nurse Stella Dawson
Life in Emergency Ward 10 Mrs. Pryor
Carry on Teacher Sarah Allcock
Upstairs and Downstairs Blodwen
Please Turn Over Beryl
1960 Carry on Constable WPC. Gloria Passworthy
Doctor in Love Dawn
Watch Your Stern Anne Foster
1961 His and Hers Hortense
Mr. Topaze Colette
Carry on Regardless Lily Duveen
No My Darling Daughter Second Typist
1962 A Pair of Briefs Gale Tornado
Twice Round the Daffodils Harriet Halfpenny
The Iron Maiden Nellie Carter
1963 Nurse on Wheels Deborah Walcott
Strictly for the Birds Peggy Blessing
1964 Carry on Cleo Calpurnia
1965 San Ferry Ann Mum
The Big Job Mildred Gamely
Carry on Cowboy Belle Armitage
1966 Doctor in Clover Matron Sweet
Carry on Screaming! Emily Bung
Don't Lose Your Head Désirée Dubarry
1967 Follow That Camel Zig-Zig
Carry on Doctor Chloë Gibson
1968 Carry On... Up the Khyber Lady Ruff-Diamond
1969 Carry on Camping Joan Fussey
Carry on Again Doctor Ellen Moore
1970 Carry on Up the Jungle Lady Evelyn Bagley
Doctor in Trouble Russian Captain
Carry on Loving Esme Crowfoot
1971 Carry on Henry Queen Marie
The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins Policewoman (segment "Avarice")
Carry on at Your Convenience Chloë Moore
1972 Carry on Matron Mrs. Tidey
The Alf Garnett Saga Gran
Carry on Abroad Cora Flange
1973 Not Now Darling Miss Tipdale
Carry on Girls Connie Philpotts
1974 Don't Just Lie There, Say Something! Birdie aka Lady 'Birdie' Mainwaring-Brown
Carry on Dick Madame Desirée
1975 One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing Emily
Carry on Behind Daphne Barnes
1976 Carry on England Private Jennifer Ffoukes-Sharpe
1978 Carry on Emmannuelle Mrs. Dangle
1990 The Fool Lady Daphne
1993 The Thief and the Cobbler Mad and Holy Old Witch Voice


Year Title Role Notes
1951 John of the Fair Parlourmaid TV Movie
1953 Hurrah for Halloween Mrs. Grouse TV Movie
1955 Curtains for Harry Uncredited TV Movie
BBC Sunday-Night Theatre Audrey Fraser Episode: The Makepeace Story #4: The New Executive
London Playhouse Daffy Lovell Episode: The General's Mess
1955-1956 Here and Now Uncredited 7 Episodes
1956 The Adventures of Robin Hood Nell Episode: The Sheriff's Boots
Colonel March of Scotland Yard Marjorie Dawson Episode: Hot Money
Frankie Howerd Various Characters Episode 2
ITV Play of the Week Eva Episode: Traveller's Joy
1956-1957 The Buccaneers Abigail 2 Episodes
1957 ITV Play of the Week Phyllis Episode: Accolade
1960 ITV Television Playhouse Beatrice Episode: A Holiday Abroad
Our House Daisy Burke 13 Episodes
Alice Through the Looking Box Chambermaid TV Movie
1961 BBC Sunday-Night Play Mavis Hunter Episode: Off Centre
1962 Hugh and I Uncredited It's a Dog's Life
Dial RIX Shirley Rix Episode: Nose to Wheel
1963 Dial RIX Rita Haythorne Episode: Come Prancing
A Touch of the Sun Uncredited TV Movie
The Stanley Baxter Show Uncredited 1 Episode
A Christmas Night with the Stars Various 1 Episode
1963-1964 The Dick Emery Show Uncredited 14 Episodes
1964 The Benny Hill Show Guest 1 Episode
1965 Thirty-Minute Theatre Jill Watson Episode: Love in Triplicate
1966 Comedy Playhouse Isabel 'Is' Conway Episode: Seven Year Hitch
1967 ITV Play of the Week Beryl Cockburn Episode: That Old Black Magic
Sam and Janet Janet Marshall 6 Episodes
Before the Fringe Uncredited 2 Episodes
1967-1975 Till Death Us Do Part Gran 13 Episodes
1968 Beryl Reid Says Good Evening Freda 1 Episode
Iolanthe The Fairy Queen TV Movie
1968-1969 According to Dora Various 4 Episodes
1969 The Jimmy Logan Show Uncredited 1 Episode
The Very Merry Widow and How Station Announcer Episode: How About Going Into Transports of Delight?
1970 The Kenneth Williams Show Uncredited 1 Episode
Tarbuck's Luck Uncredited 1 Episode
1971 Six Dates with Barker Kitty Harriman Episode: The Odd Job
Decimal Five Uncredited Voice
Father Dear Father Miss Armitage Episode: A Domestic Comedy
A Christmas Carol Mrs. Cratchit Voice
The Goodies Delia Capone Episode: Wicked Waltzing
1972 Jackanory Playhouse Sycamore Episode: The Wednesday Wand
Carry on Christmas: Carry on Stuffing Lady Rhoda Cockhorse
Miss Esmerelda
Princess Yo-Yo
Clodhopper's Mother-in-Law
TV Movie
1972-1978 Sykes Madge Kettlewell 5 Episodes
1973 The Cobblers of Umbridge Lilian Beverly
Carol Begorrah
Norah Pepper
Voice of Doris
TV Movie
The Goodies Matron Episode: Way Outward Bound
7 of 1 Mrs. Dawkins Episode: One Man's Meat
Ooh La La! Amandine Episode: A Pig in a Poke
Carry on Christmas Virginia's Mother
Senna Pod
Bishop's Wife
6th Ballerina
Salvation Army Collector
Maid Marion
Traffic Warden
TV Movie
1973-1974 Men of Affairs Lady Mainwaring-Brown 4 Episodes
1975 Love Among the Ruins Fanny Pratt TV Movie
A Journey to London Lady Headpiece TV Movie
Carry on Laughing! Mrs. Breeches
Dr. Janis Crunbitt
Lady Guinevere
Mrs. MacFlute
Amelia Forbush
Lady Kate
Lady Isobel
Madame Olga
2 Episodes
1 Episode
2 Episodes
1 Episode
1 Episode
1 Episode
1 Episode
1 Episode
1 Episode
1976 The Two Ronnies Dowager Duchess of Arc 1 Episode
The Howerd Confessions Mrs. Beachum
The Matron
1 Episode
1 Episode
1 Episode
East Lynne Joyce (servant) TV Movie
1977 Lord Tramp Miss Pratt 6 Episodes
1978-1980 Born and Bred Molly Peglar
1979 In Loving Memory Annie Potter Episode: Pork
1979-1980 Worzel Gummidge Mrs. Bloomsbury-Barton 8 Episodes
1980 Dick Turpin Countess of Durham Episode: The Godmother
Ladykillers Amelia Elizabeth Dyer Episode: Suffer Little Children
1981 Ladykillers 'Belle' Elmore Episode: Miss Elmore
1982 Educating Marmalade Signora Bandolini Episode: Marmalade in Venice
1983 Crown Court Maureen Vairey Episode: Night Fever: Part 1
Hallelujah! Ella Scratchitt Episode: A Goose for Mrs. Scratchitt
Waters of the Moon Mrs. Ashworth TV Movie
1984 Cockles Gloria du Bois 1 Episode
Dramarama Beryl Episode: Fowl Pest
Poor Little Rich Girls Madge Henshawe Episode: Rainbows
Hay Fever Clara TV Movie
1985 Agatha Christie's Miss Marple:
A Murder Is Announced
Miss Murgatroyd TV Mini-series
Deceptions Mrs. Thirkell TV Movie
1986 In Loving Memory Annie Potter
Hilda Pardoe
Episode: The Second Time Around
Episode: King of the Mountains
Doctor Who Katryca 4 Episodes
1986-1987 Farrington of the F.O. Annie Begley 14 Episodes
1987 Drummonds Mrs. Fordham Episode: Fathers and Sons
Super Gran Cat Burglar Episode: Supergran Snookered
Only Fools and Horses Auntie Reenie Turpin Episode: The Frog's Legacy
1987-1988 Simon and the Witch Lady Fox-Custard 23 Episodes
1989 Victoria Wood Susan Episode: Val De Ree (Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha)
1990 Cluedo Mrs. White (II) Episode: Christmas Past, Christmas Present
1990-1992 On the Up Mrs. Fiona Wembley 19 Episodes
1991 Tonight at 8:30 Mrs Rockett Episode: Fumed Oak
1992 Boys from the Bush Grace 3 Episodes
1993 Screen One Daisy Potter Episode: Tender Loving Care
One Foot in the Grave Lady on Plane Episode: One Foot in the Algarve
1994 Smokescreen Mrs. Nash 6 Episodes
Martin Chuzzlewit Betsy Prig 3 Episodes
1994-1998 As Time Goes By Madge 9 Episodes
1995 Pie in the Sky Harriet Coverly Episode: The Mild Bunch
Just William Mrs. Miggs Episode: William Clears the Slums
1995-1996 My Good Friend Miss Byron 3 Episodes
1996 The Canterville Ghost Mrs. Umney TV Movie
1997 Hetty Wainthropp Investigates Adele McCarthy Episode: A Rose by Any Other Name
Spark Aunt Hattie Episode: Fourth Cousin Kimberley
2000 The Last of the Blonde Bombshells Betty TV Movie

Video Games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1997 Cluedo Mrs. Blanche White


  1. ^ Butters, Wes. "Carry On Actors: Andrew Ross: Books". Retrieved 9 June 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Joan Sims obituary". BBC News. 28 June 2001. Retrieved 18 August 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c "Carry on actress Joan Sims dead". BBC News. 28 June 2001. Retrieved 18 August 2008. 
  4. ^ Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 370. ISBN 1-84854-195-3. 
  5. ^ a b Sims, Joan (June 1, 2000). High Spirits. London: Partridge Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-1852252809. Retrieved January 15, 2015. 
  6. ^ Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 121. ISBN 1-84854-195-3. 
  7. ^ Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 124. ISBN 1-84854-195-3. 
  8. ^ Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 183. ISBN 1-84854-195-3. 
  9. ^ Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 237. ISBN 1-84854-195-3. 
  10. ^ "BBC Radio 4 Extra - Play It Cool". Retrieved 20 May 2015. 
  11. ^ "Joan Sims bio". Screenonline. Retrieved 18 August 2008. 
  12. ^ Peter Rice official website
  13. ^ Stevens, Christopher (2010). Born Brilliant: The Life Of Kenneth Williams. John Murray. p. 260. ISBN 1-84854-195-3. 
  14. ^ "Tribute to a studio's dream". Bucks Free Press (29 January 2003). Retrieved 9 November 2014.


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