Joan Turner

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Joan Turner
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.

Early years[edit]

Her father was Leonard Turner, who became a London bus driver and subsequently taxicab driver after serving with the British Army in Ireland.[1] 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.[2] 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.[1] 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[2] and, after that, performed with The Crazy Gang in 1954.[1]

In the 1960s and 1970s, she was a major star in the UK,[1] becoming the highest-earning female singer in Britain,[3] and a disc jockey on her own radio show.[1] Turner was nicknamed "the women's answer to Harry Secombe"[1] and presented her own television show.[4] She topped the bill at the London Palladium and appeared in the 1963 Royal Variety Show[5] topping the bill ahead of The Beatles[1][6] She also topped bills in New York City and Las Vegas[3] and was romantically linked to Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock and Terry-Thomas.[7]

The London Evening News once said that she had "the voice of an angel and the wit of a devil".[1] 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."[1]

Later years[edit]

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."[2] In later years, it was reported that, after two divorces,[5] she "drank and gambled away her fortune"[4] and she was declared bankrupt in 1977,[5] the same year she appeared in the Queen's Silver Jubilee performance.[1] It was also in 1977 she was given the role of Widow Corney in a two-year tour of Cameron Mackintosh’s revival[2] of the stage version of Oliver!.[1] However when the show subsequently opened in London,[2] she was sacked after two weeks for throwing empty wine bottles out of her dressing room window.[1][7]

In 1991, she was a guest of honour at the Queen Mother's 90th birthday celebrations.[5] 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.[5] However, she was sacked from the latter after four episodes[2] because of her drinking.[7] In 1996, she went to California to attempt to give it "one more try"[5] 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.[2]

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."[5] She was interviewed in situ as a "bag lady" on Sunset Boulevard[8] in the August 2001 Channel 4 documentary Celebrity: The Rise and Fall[9] and it was reported elsewhere that she had spent five years "down-and-out" in L.A.[4] Later that year, she returned to the U.K.[4] In her final years, spent in sheltered accommodation in Surrey, she wrote an autobiography called I Thought It Grew on Trees.[10] She was twice married (to Christopher Page and Leslie Cocks) and had three children. She died of a heart attack.[3]

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.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Dennis Barker (4 March 2009). "Obituary: Joan Turner". The Guardian. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Joan Turner: comedienne and popular entertainer". The Times. London. 5 March 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c Patrick Newley (5 March 2009). "Comedian Joan Turner dies aged 86". The Stage. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Hats off to Joan". The Daily Telegraph. 26 October 2001. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g David Gardner (11 March 2001). "Down and out in Beverly Hills; SHE HAD A BIGGER BILLING THAN THE [BEATLES]". Sunday Mirror. [permanent dead link]
  6. ^ "Chit chat - Turning back time". The Stage. 31 August 2008. 
  7. ^ a b c "'Voice of an angel' comic dies". Chortle (comedy industry website). 5 March 2009. 
  8. ^ Andrew Billen (27 August 2001). "Fame, fame, fatal fame". New Statesman. 
  9. ^ "Victorian Value (TV review of Victoria and Albert)". The Guardian. 27 August 2001. 
  10. ^ "Joan Turner". Lasting Tribute. Archived from the original on 9 March 2009. 

See also BBC Radio 4 broadcast by Lesley Garrett 16 December 2010

External links[edit]