Grenfell in 1972
Joyce Irene Phipps|
10 February 1910
Knightsbridge, London, England
30 November 1979 (aged 69)|
Actress, comedian,satirist, monologist
|Spouse(s)||Reggie Grenfell (m. 1929–1979, her death)|
Joyce Irene Grenfell, OBE (née Phipps; 10 February 1910 – 30 November 1979) was a British comedienne, singer, actress and monologist. She is remembered for such roles as the gym mistress Miss Gossage in the 1950 film The Happiest Days of Your Life and Ruby Gates in the St Trinian's films.:jacket She was known as a writer and performer at a time when it was unusual for a woman of her social background to work in those fields.
Born in Montpelier Square in Knightsbridge, London, Joyce was the daughter of architect Paul Phipps (1880–1953), the grandson of Charles Paul Phipps and a second cousin of Ruth Draper. The Phipps family were wealthy clothiers, whose success gained them entry to the gentry of their native Wiltshire. Her mother was an American socialite, Nora Langhorne (1889–1955), one of five daughters of Chiswell Langhorne, an American railway millionaire. Nancy Astor, née Nancy Langhorne, was one of her maternal aunts, and had also married in England. Grenfell often visited her at Astor's home of Cliveden and later lived in a cottage on the estate ('Parr's'), a mile from the main house, in the early years of her marriage.:59
Joyce Phipps had an upper middle class London childhood. Among her friends was Virginia Graham, with whom she kept up a lifelong correspondence. She attended the Francis Holland School in Central London, and the Claremont Fan Court School, in Esher, Surrey. She was "finished" in Paris, where she attended Mlle Ozanne's finishing school at the age of seventeen.
In 1927, she met Reginald Pascoe Grenfell (1903–1993), a mining executive and lieutenant colonel in the King's Royal Rifle Corps, grandson of the 4th Earl Grey, ninth Governor General of Canada. They were married two years later at St Margaret's, Westminster and remained married until her death nearly 50 years later. They were unable to have children of their own.
She made her stage debut in 1939 in the Little Revue. In 1942 she wrote what became her signature song, "I'm Going to See You Today".
During the Second World War, Grenfell toured North Africa, Southern Italy, the Middle East and India with her pianist Viola Tunnard, performing for British troops. In 1989, her wartime journals were published under the title The Time of My Life: Entertaining the Troops. Her singing and comedic talents on stage led to offers to appear in film comedies. Although she performed in a number of films, she continued with her musical recording career, producing a number of humorous albums as well as books.
As a writer at the BBC during and just after the war, she collaborated with Stephen Potter in writing the "How" series of 30 satirical programmes from How to Talk to Children to How to Listen, the latter being the first programme broadcast on the BBC Third Programme, on 29 September 1946. During the 1950s she made her name as a sidekick to such comedy greats as Alastair Sim and Margaret Rutherford in films such as The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950) and the St Trinian's series. She was also a member of the influential Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting from 1960 to 1962. Her fame reached the United States and she appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show alongside Elvis Presley.
Grenfell is best remembered for her one-woman shows and monologues, in which she invented roles including a harassed nursery teacher ("George – don't do that"). She gained additional popularity as a result of her frequent appearances on the BBC's classical music quiz show, Face the Music. Although her humour appeared light and frilly on the surface, there was often a serious point to be made: the song "Three Brothers", for example, appears to recount the happy, busy life of a spinster in lightweight terms, but it essentially describes her willing slavery to her male siblings and their families.
Much of the music for Grenfell’s revues and shows was the result of a collaboration with the composers and pianists Richard Addinsell and William Blezard. From 1954 to 1974, Blezard composed Grenfell's songs and spoof operettas such as Freda and Eric. They performed on stage and television all over Britain, America and Australia. Although her singing career is best remembered for her self penned humorous songs she did also record standards such as Noël Coward songs ‘If Love Were All’ and ‘The Party’s Over Now’.
Death and legacy
Grenfell was taken ill in 1973 with an eye infection, which was subsequently diagnosed as cancer, although she was not told. The eye was removed and replaced with an artificial one. No one except those close to her was ever advised of this. She kept on performing and appearing on the BBC2 programme Face the Music. In October 1979 she became seriously ill and died just over a month later, on 30 November 1979, just before her golden wedding anniversary. She was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on 4 December and her ashes placed in section 4-D of the Garden of Remembrance.
In February 1980, a memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey, the first time such an honour had been granted to a comedian. Only Les Dawson, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett have been similarly honoured since.
Grenfell was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1946. It was confirmed after her death that she would have been made a Dame Commander (DBE) in the 1980 New Year Honours List.
In 2002, her friend and author Janie Hampton published the book Joyce Grenfell. In a 2005 poll to find the Comedians' Comedian, she was voted amongst the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.
Maureen Lipman has often toured with the one-woman show Re: Joyce!, which she co-wrote with James Roose-Evans. In it she recreates some of Grenfell's best-known sketches. Lipman also presented the radio programme Choice Grenfell, compiled from Grenfell's writings. Roose-Evans also edited Darling Ma, a 1997 collection of Grenfell's letters to her mother.
- Ensa Tour, Baghdad; Setif, Algeria (1944)
- Sigh No More, Piccadilly Theatre, London (1945)
- Tuppence Coloured at the Globe Theatre, London (1947)
- The Little Revue (1949)
- Penny Plain at St Martin's Theatre, London (1951–52)
- Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure at the Fortune and St Martin's, London (1954)
- Joyce Grenfell in an evening of monologues and songs at the Haymarket, London (1962)
- A Letter from Home (1941 short) – American Mother
- The Demi-Paradise (1943) – Sybil Paulson
- The Lamp Still Burns (1943) – Dr. Barrett
- While the Sun Shines (1947) – Daphne
- Alice in Wonderland (1949) – Ugly Duchess / Dormouse
- Poet's Pub (1949) – Miss Horsefell-Hughes
- Tuppence Coloured (1949 TV movie)
- A Run for Your Money (1949) – Mrs. Pargiet
- Stage Fright (1950) – 'Lovely Ducks'
- The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950) – Miss Gossage
- The Galloping Major (1951) – Maggie the Waitress
- Laughter in Paradise (1951) – Elizabeth Robson
- The Magic Box (1951) – Mrs. Claire
- Penny Plain (1952 TV movie)
- The Pickwick Papers (1952) – Mrs. Leo Hunter
- Genevieve (1953) – Hotel Proprietress
- The Million Pound Note (1953) – Duchess of Cromarty
- Forbidden Cargo (1954) – Lady Flavia Queensway
- The Belles of St Trinian's (1954) – P.W. Sgt. Ruby Gates
- The Good Companions (1957) – Lady Parlitt
- Blue Murder at St Trinian's (1957) – Sergeant Ruby Gates
- Happy Is the Bride (1958) – Aunt Florence
- The Pure Hell of St Trinian's (1960) – Sergeant Ruby Gates
- The Old Dark House (1963) – Agatha Femm
- The Americanization of Emily (1964) – Mrs. Barham
- The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964) – Hortense Astor
- Grenfell, Joyce (1976). Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-19428-4.
- Grenfell, Joyce (1977). George, Don't Do That. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-22080-3.
- Grenfell, Joyce (1979). In Pleasant Places. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-27288-9.
- Grenfell, Joyce (1988). Edited by James Roose-Evans, ed. Darling Ma. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-42368-4. Letters to her Mother, 1932–1944
- Grenfell, Joyce; Compiled and introduced by Janie Hampton (2000). Hats Off: Poems and drawings. London: John Murray. ISBN 0-7195-6152-3.
- Hampton, Janie Joyce Grenfell, John Murray, 2002. ISBN 978-0-7195-6143-6
- Grenfell, Joyce (1976). Joyce Grenfell requests the pleasure (autobiography). Macmillan. p. 13.
- A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. IV, 1838, pp. 509–10, "Phipps of Leighton House" pedigree.
- National Trust Magazine, Spring 2010, page 11
- Joyce & Ginnie : the letters of Joyce Grenfell & Virginia Graham, edited by Janie Hampton, 1997.
- Obituary .
- Victoria Crosses on the Western Front August 1914–April 1915: Mons to Hill 60, Peter Oldfield, Pen and Sword Books Ltd, 2014.
- Obituary: Reginald Grenfell, The Independent, 3 April 1993
- BBC4 Documentary The Real Joyce Grenfell (broadcast Monday 2 July 2007 20:00 BST)
- Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006
- "Choice Grenfell Series 2". Radio Times. BBC. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
- "Theatre Collection: search results for Joyce Grenfell". University of Bristol. Archived from the original on 1 October 2012. Retrieved 4 January 2013.
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