|Born||24 November 1922
Belfast, Northern Ireland
|Died||1 March 2009
Banstead, Surrey, England
Joan Turner (24 November 1922 – 1 March 2009) was a British comedian and singer born in Belfast and brought up in London. She appeared on stage and TV and had her own radio show, becoming the highest-earning female singer in Britain. But she proved difficult to work with, largely through her drinking habit, and lived for years as a down-and-out in Los Angeles.
Her father was Leonard Turner, who became a London bus driver and subsequently taxicab driver after serving with the British Army in Ireland. At the age of 11, Turner won a talent competition at a cinema in Peckham, South London, doing impressions of Shirley Temple and Jessie Matthews. She won a scholarship to the Sacred Heart convent in Victoria, London but told her teachers an intention to pursue a theatrical career and left school. In 1937, aged 14, she performed onstage at a London music hall - the Queen’s Theatre, Poplar - and, the following year, toured in a revue and, after that, performed with The Crazy Gang in 1954.
In the 1960s and 1970s, she was a major star in the UK, becoming the highest-earning female singer in Britain, and a disc jockey on her own radio show. Turner was nicknamed "the women's answer to Harry Secombe" and presented her own television show. She topped the bill at the London Palladium and appeared in the 1963 Royal Variety Show topping the bill ahead of The Beatles She also topped bills in New York City and Las Vegas and was romantically linked to Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock and Terry-Thomas.
The London Evening News once said that she had "the voice of an angel and the wit of a devil". In its obituary, The Guardian claimed "she could sing a pop or operatic song with her four-and-a-half-octave soprano voice, do an almost eerily convincing impersonation of Bette Davis, and then switch to a stand-up comic routine."
According to her obituary in The Times, "she gained a reputation in show business for being difficult, despite her talent and managements soon became wary of booking her." In later years, it was reported that, after two divorces, she "drank and gambled away her fortune" and she was declared bankrupt in 1977, the same year she appeared in the Queen's Silver Jubilee performance. It was also in 1977 she was given the role of Widow Corney in a two-year tour of Cameron Mackintosh’s revival of the stage version of Oliver!. However when the show subsequently opened in London, she was sacked after two weeks for throwing empty wine bottles out of her dressing room window.
In 1991, she was a guest of honour at the Queen Mother's 90th birthday celebrations. and, in the early 1990s, attempting to revive her career, she had a cameo role in EastEnders and a role as Auntie Lou in the Channel 4 soap opera Brookside. However, she was sacked from the latter after four episodes because of her drinking. In 1996, she went to California to attempt to give it "one more try" by auditioning for The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies, a dance troupe in Palm Springs for over-60 performers. She failed the audition but decided to stay on in California illegally, her green card having expired in the 1980s.
In March 2001, the Sunday Mirror newspaper reported that she was living "among the winos, drug addicts and down-and-outs in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles... dressed in charity shop clothes and surrounded by her worldly possessions - with barely a penny to her name." She was interviewed in situ as a "bag lady" on Sunset Boulevard in the August 2001 Channel 4 documentary Celebrity: The Rise and Fall and it was reported elsewhere that she had spent five years "down-and-out" in L.A. Later that year, she returned to the U.K. In her final years, spent in sheltered accommodation in Surrey, she wrote an autobiography called I Thought It Grew on Trees. She was twice married (to Christopher Page and Leslie Cocks) and had three children. She died of a heart attack.
On 16 December 2010, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a programme in which Lesley Garrett told the story of the operatic comedian, entitled 'Joan Turner: The Highs and Lows of the Wacky Warbler' containing interviews with her friends, stage associates and family as well as excerpts of her musical and comedy routines.
- Dennis Barker (4 March 2009). "Obituary: Joan Turner". The Guardian.
- "Joan Turner: comedienne and popular entertainer". The Times. London. 5 March 2009.
- Patrick Newley (5 March 2009). "Comedian Joan Turner dies aged 86". The Stage.
- "Hats off to Joan". The Daily Telegraph. 26 October 2001.
- David Gardner (11 March 2001). "Down and out in Beverly Hills; SHE HAD A BIGGER BILLING THAN THE [BEATLES]". Sunday Mirror.[permanent dead link]
- "Chit chat - Turning back time". The Stage. 31 August 2008.
- "'Voice of an angel' comic dies". Chortle (comedy industry website). 5 March 2009.
- Andrew Billen (27 August 2001). "Fame, fame, fatal fame". New Statesman.
- "Victorian Value (TV review of Victoria and Albert)". The Guardian. 27 August 2001.
- "Joan Turner". Lasting Tribute. Archived from the original on 9 March 2009.
See also BBC Radio 4 broadcast by Lesley Garrett 16 December 2010