Sheila Hancock

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sheila Hancock
Hancock in 2023
Sheila Cameron Hancock

(1933-02-22) 22 February 1933 (age 91)
Alma materRoyal Academy of Dramatic Art
  • Actress
  • theatre director
  • author
  • panellist
Years active1953–present
  • Alec Ross
    (m. 1955; died 1971)
  • (m. 1973; died 2002)
RelativesAbigail Thaw[3] (stepdaughter)

Dame Sheila Cameron Hancock DBE (born 22 February 1933) is an English actress, singer, and author. She has performed in theatre - plays and musicals in London, and her Broadway debut in Entertaining Mr Sloane (1966) earned her a Tony Award nomination for Best Lead Actress in Play.

She won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical for her role in Cabaret (2007) and was nominated at the Laurence Olivier Awards five other times for her work in Annie (1978), Sweeney Todd (1980), The Winter's Tale (1982), Prin (1989) and Sister Act (2010).

In film and television her credits include Carry On Cleo (1964), The Wildcats of St Trinian's (1980), Buster (1988), Three Men and a Little Lady (1990), The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008) and Edie (2017).

Early life and education[edit]

Sheila Cameron Hancock[citation needed] was born on 22 February 1933 in Blackgang on the Isle of Wight, the daughter of Enrico Cameron Hancock and Ivy Louise (née Woodward).[4] Her sister Billie was seven years older.[5] After Enrico and Ivy left the hospitality industry in 1938, the Hancocks moved to a semi-detached house in Latham Road, Bexleyheath, which Hancock considered dull compared to "the rough and tumble" of King's Cross. She later recalled that there was a sense that "we had definitely gone up in the world... became lower-middle-class".[5]

Hancock was educated at St Etheldreda's Convent at Ely Place, Holborn, then at Upton Road Junior School and Upland Junior School.[5] After wartime evacuation to Wallingford, Oxfordshire (at that time, in Berkshire) and to Crewkerne, Somerset, Hancock attended the Dartford County Grammar School.[6]

She furthered her acting education at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), graduating in 1952, with an Acting (RADA Diploma).[7]


Hancock worked in repertory during the 1950s and made her West End debut in 1958, replacing Joan Sims in the play Breath of Spring. She then appeared in Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop production of Make Me An Offer in 1959, and her other early West End appearances included Peter Cook's revue One Over the Eight with Kenneth Williams in 1961, and starring in Rattle of a Simple Man in 1962. She recalled that in One over the Eight she had been egged on by Irving Davies's exhortation as dance captain, "Eyes, teeth, and tits, darlings – and sparkle, sparkle, sparkle!"[8]

In 1965, Hancock made her Broadway debut in Entertaining Mr Sloane. In 1978, she played Miss Hannigan in the original London cast of the musical Annie at the Victoria Palace Theatre and two years later, she played Mrs Lovett in the original London production of the musical Sweeney Todd at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane; her portrayal was described as having "caught the love-story element perfectly.[9]

Hancock has appeared in The Winter's Tale, Titus Andronicus and A Delicate Balance for the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). At the National Theatre she has appeared in Neil Bartlett's In Extremis/ De Profundis,[10] The Cherry Orchard and The Duchess of Malfi. She was also the first woman director of the RSC touring company, directing A Midsummer Night's Dream and was the first woman to direct in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre with The Critic. She was also associate artistic director of the Cambridge Theatre Company.[11]

Hancock took the role of Rose in the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s 1993 production of Gypsy; a reviewer commented that she "certainly had the measure of Rose... 'Everything's coming up roses' brought the first hint of true pathos into the show", while in the final scene "her wild fluctuations between self-belief and self-doubt ended in tear-jerking self-awareness".[12]

In 2006, Hancock played the role of Fräulein Schneider in the West End revival of the musical Cabaret at the Lyric Theatre. She won the Laurence Olivier Award, and the Clarence Derwent Award, for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical. In 2009, she spent over a year playing Mother Superior in Sister Act the Musical at the London Palladium for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award.[13]

In 2013, Hancock starred alongside Lee Evans[14] and Keeley Hawes in the comedy Barking in Essex at Wyndham's Theatre.[15]

In 2016, Hancock starred with Jenna Russell in the UK premiere of the musical Grey Gardens at Southwark Playhouse.[16] In 2018, she played Maude in Harold and Maude at the Charing Cross Theatre, London.[17] In 2019, Hancock starred in the musical This Is My Family at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester.[18]


Hancock's first big television role was as Carol in the BBC sitcom The Rag Trade in the early 1960s. She also played the lead roles in the sitcoms The Bed-Sit Girl, Mr Digby Darling and Now Take My Wife. Her other television credits include Doctor Who (playing a parody of Margaret Thatcher in The Happiness Patrol),[19] Kavanagh QC (opposite her husband, John Thaw), Gone to the Dogs, Brighton Belles, EastEnders, The Russian Bride, Bedtime, Fortysomething, Feather Boy, Bleak House, New Tricks, Hustle and The Catherine Tate Show. In 2008, she played the part of a terminally ill patient who travelled to Switzerland for an assisted suicide in one of The Last Word monologues for the BBC, in a role that was written especially for her by Hugo Blick. In 2009, she played Liz in The Rain Has Stopped, the first episode of the BBC anthology series Moving On.[20]

Hancock has also presented several documentaries. In 2010, she presented Suffragette City (part of A History of the World series), telling the story of the suffragette movement through objects from the Museum of London's collection.[21] In 2011, she presented Sheila Hancock Brushes Up: The Art of Watercolours, exploring the history of watercolour via beautiful yet little-known works of professional and amateur artists.[22] In 2013 she presented, as part of the ITV Perspectives documentary series, Perspectives: Sheila Hancock – The Brilliant Brontë Sisters, examining the writers' upbringing and the sources of their inspiration.[23]

In December 2012, Hancock took part in a Christmas special edition of the BBC programme Strictly Come Dancing.[24]

In January 2016, Hancock made a guest appearance in an episode of the BBC medical drama Casualty for its 30th anniversary. From December 2016 until its conclusion in January 2019, she starred alongside Dawn French, Emilia Fox and Iain Glen in all three seasons of the Sky One comedy drama series Delicious.

In January 2017, Hancock made a guest appearance in an episode of the Inspector Morse prequel Endeavour alongside her stepdaughter Abigail Thaw.[25]

In 2020, Hancock co-presented Great Canal Journeys for Channel 4 with Gyles Brandreth, with whom she had previously appeared on Celebrity Gogglebox.[26] In 2021, she appeared in more Great Canal Journeys as well as the Sky One fantasy drama A Discovery of Witches as Goody Alsop, and as Eileen in ITV's Unforgotten.

In 2023, Hancock played Liz Zettl in the BBC true-life crime drama miniseries The Sixth Commandment.

Other work[edit]

In March 1963, Hancock made a comedy single record, "My Last Cigarette".[27] The song is about someone trying to give up smoking: however, every good intention is dependent on her having "just one more cigarette".

In 1980, she appeared in the movie The Wildcats of St Trinian's which she called "one of the worst films ever made".[28]

Hancock regularly works in radio. She has been a semi-regular contestant on the BBC Radio 4 panel game Just a Minute since 1967. She starred as Alice Foster in the BBC Radio 2 comedy series Thank You, Mrs Fothergill, in 1978–79, alongside Pat Coombs. In 1995 Hancock provided the voice of Granny Weatherwax in BBC Radio 4's adaptation of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Wyrd Sisters. In 2011, Hancock appeared in the BBC Radio 4 series North by Northamptonshire, alongside Geoffrey Palmer.[29]

She has made guest appearances on television shows like Grumpy Old Women, Room 101, Have I Got News for You and Would I Lie To You?. From March to May 2010, she appeared as a judge on the BBC show Over the Rainbow, along with Charlotte Church, Andrew Lloyd Webber and John Partridge.

From 2007 to 2012 Hancock was chancellor of the University of Portsmouth.[30]

Hancock was the subject of This Is Your Life in 1977 when she was surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the curtain call of the play The Bed Before Yesterday at the Lyric Theatre, London.[31]

Honours and awards[edit]

Hancock was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1974 Birthday Honours, Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours[32] and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2021 New Year Honours for services to drama and charity.[33]

Personal life[edit]

Hancock was married to actor Alec Ross from 1955 until his death from oesophageal cancer in 1971. They had one daughter, Melanie, born in 1964. In 1973, Hancock married actor John Thaw. He adopted Melanie and they had another daughter, Joanna Thaw. Thaw's daughter Abigail, from his first marriage, also joined their family. All three of their daughters have become actresses.[28][36]

Hancock was married to Thaw until his death (also from oesophageal cancer) on 21 February 2002. Hancock herself was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988, but made a full recovery. Her 2004 book, The Two of Us is a dual biography, which gives accounts of both their lives, as well as focusing on their 28-year marriage.[37] This was followed by the 2008 book, Just Me, an autobiographical account of coming to terms with widowhood,[38] and Old Rage in 2022.[39] In 2014 she published her debut novel, Miss Carter's War.[40] Hancock had published the memoir Ramblings of an Actress in 1987.[41]

Hancock is a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).[42] She is a patron of educational charity Digismart as well as a trustee of the John Thaw Foundation.[43]

Hancock is a friend of Sandi Toksvig and read Maya Angelou's poem "Touched by an Angel" at the "I Do To Equal Marriage" event which celebrated the introduction of same-sex marriage in England and Wales.[44]



Year Title Role Notes
1960 Light Up the Sky! Theatre Act
The Bulldog Breed Doris Uncredited
Doctor in Love Librarian Uncredited
1961 The Girl on the Boat Jane Hubbard
1962 Twice Round the Daffodils Dora
1964 Night Must Fall Dora Parkoe
The Moon-Spinners Cynthia Gamble
Carry On Cleo Senna Pod
1967 How I Won the War Mrs Clapper's Friend
1968 The Anniversary Karen Taggart
1970 Take a Girl Like You Martha Thompson
1980 The Wildcats of St Trinian's Olga Vandemeer
1987 Maiking Waves Doris Short film
1988 Hawks Regina
Buster Mrs Rothery
The Universe of Dermot Finn Mother of Pearl Short film
1990 Three Men and a Little Lady Vera
1994 A Business Affair Judith
1997 Love and Death on Long Island Mrs. Barker
1999 Hold Back the Night Vera
2004 Yes Aunt
2008 The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Grandma
2013 Delicious Patti
2017 Edie Edie
The Dark Mile Mary
2018 The More You Ignore Me[45] Nan Wildgoose
2019 From This Day Forward Her Short film

Television (partial)[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1960 Bootsie and Snudge Greta Episode: "Bootsie's Punctured Romance"
BBC Sunday-Night Play Janet Episode: " Doctor in the House"
1961-1962 The Rag Trade Carole Taylor 12 episodes
1963 BBC Sunday-Night Play Jackie Lambert Episode: "June Fall"
1964 Festival Winifred Episode: "Say Nothing"
Thursday Theatre Olive Leech Episode: "Summer of the Seventeenth Doll"
1965 ITV Play of the Week Hety Episode: "A Fearful Thing"
The Wednesday Thriller Joyce Lambert Episode: "The Regulator"
1966 The Bed-Sit Girl Sheila Ross 12 episodes
Thirty-Minute Theatre Cynthia / Vi 2 episodes
1966-1981 Jackanory Storyteller 15 episodes
1967 Armchair Theatre Alice Episode: "Compensation Alice"
Life with Cooper Lady Stuck In Railings 1 episode
1968 ITV Playhouse Naomi Woodley Episode: "Horizontal Hold"
Kaff Episode: "Entertaining Mr Sloane"
Release Mrs Caudle Episode: "Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures "
Detective Mrs Markle Episode: "Born Victim"
1969 All Star Comedy Carnival Thelma Teesdale
1969-1971 Mr Digby Darling Thelma Teesdale 19 episodes
1970 The Mating Machine Freda Episode: "Sealed with a Loving Kiss"
Comedy Playhouse Wendy Hillbright Episode: "Better Than a Man"
1971 Claire Love Episode: "Just Harry and Me"
Shadows of Fear Anne Brand Episode: "Sugar and Spice"
Now Take My Wife Claire Love 14 episodes
1972 Scoop Mrs Stitch 3 episodes
1982 Play for Today Ellen Episode: "The Remainder Man"
1985 Dramarama Rita Chartell Episode: "The Audition"
1985 The Daughter-in-Law Mrs Gascoigne [46]
1988 Doctor Who Helen A. Episode: "The Happiness Patrol"
1989 Theatre Night Mrs Malaprop Episode: "The Rivals"
1991 Gone to the Dogs Jean 4 episodes
1993–1994 The Brighton Belles Frances All 11 episodes
1993 The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends Anna Maria Episode: "The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding"
1995 The Buccaneers Duchess of Trevenick 5 episodes
1995 Dangerous Lady Sarah Ryan All 4 episodes
1997 Kavanagh QC Sarah Meadows Episode: "Blood Money"
1998 Close Relations Dorothy All 5 episodes
1999 Alice in Wonderland Cook TV film
2000–2001 EastEnders Barbara 3 episodes
2000 The Thing About Vince... Pat All 3 episodes
2001–2003 Bedtime Alice Oldfield All 15 episodes
2001 The Russian Bride Dora Blossom TV film
2001 The Practicality of Magnolia Isobel TV film
2002 Bait Pam Raeburn TV film
2003 Fortysomething Gwendolen Hartley All 6 episodes
2004 Feather Boy Edith Sorrel All 6 episodes
2005 Bleak House Mrs. Guppy 2 episodes
2006 The Catherine Tate Show June Episode: "Lauren Gets Hitched"
2006 After Thomas Granny Pat TV film
2007 Fallen Angel Lady Youlgreave 2 episodes
2007–2011 New Tricks Grace Pullman 4 episodes
2009 Moving On Liz Episode: "he Rain Has Stopped"
2011 Just Henry Gran TV film
2012 Hustle Dolly Hammond Episode: "Picasso Finger Painting"
2012 Playhouse Presents Melba Episode: "Nellie and Melba"
2014 Remember Me Loveday Hutton Episode: #1.3
2015 Toast of London Sheila Hancock Episode: "Global Warming"
2016 Casualty Hester Price Episode: "A Life Less Ordinary"
2016 The Dumping Ground Doris Episode: "Doris"
2016-2019 Delicious Mimi Vincent 12 episodes
2017 Endeavour Dowsable Chattox Episode: "Harvest"
2018 Urban Myths Gala Dalí Episode: "The Dalí and the Cooper"
2020 Housebound Audrey 3 episodes
2021 A Discovery of Witches Goody Alsop 5 episodes
Unforgotten Eileen Baildon 5 episodes
2023 The Sixth Commandment Liz Zettl 4 episodes


  1. ^ Melanie Thaw at IMDb
  2. ^ Joanna Thaw at IMDb
  3. ^ Hancock, Sheila (2004). The Two of Us: My Life with John Thaw. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9780747578215.
  4. ^ Film reference Hancock Biography,, accessed 9 March 2010
  5. ^ a b c Hancock 2004, ch. 1.
  6. ^ "Sheila Hancock on her debut novel, dramas and bucket lists". The Herald (Glasgow). Glasgow. 11 October 2014.
  7. ^ "RADA Student & graduate profiles - Sheila Hancock". Retrieved 21 June 2023.
  8. ^ Hancock, Sheila (1987). Ramblings of an Actress. Hutchinson. p. 4. ISBN 9780091682309.
  9. ^ Milnes, Rodney. "Opera in Britain – Sweeney Todd, Royal Opera at Covent Garden, December 15", Opera, March 2004, vol. 55, no. 3, pp. 349–352.
  10. ^ Gardner, Lyn (9 November 2000). "In Extremis/ De Profundis". The Guardian (review). Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  11. ^ "CTC job as Sheila Hancock turns to directing", The Stage, 4 December 1980, p. 1.
  12. ^ Dreyer, Martin. Gypsy – West Yorkshire Playhouse Company, Leeds, December 20. Opera, February 1994, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 244-245.
  13. ^ Shenton, Mark (21 March 2010). "Olivier Awards Presented March 21; Spring Awakening, Enron and Red Are Nominees". Playbill. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  14. ^ "Lee Evans and Sheila Hancock star in new stage comedy". BBC News. 30 November 2012. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  15. ^ "Lee Evans – 'I really wanted to get back into theatre'". Whats on Stage. 3 May 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  16. ^ Shenton, Mark (7 October 2015). "Sheila Hancock and Jenna Russell to Star in U.K. Premiere of Grey Gardens". Playbill. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  17. ^ Lyn Gardner (27 February 2018). "Harold and Maude review – a honking seal can't save this clunky adaptation". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  18. ^ Mark Lawson (1 May 2019). "This Is My Family review – terrifically funny musical is a triumph". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  19. ^ Graeme Burk; Robert Smith (2013). Who's 50: The 50 Doctor Who Stories to Watch Before You Die. ECW Press. p. 286. ISBN 9781770411661.
  20. ^ "Moving On". Manchester Evening News (review). 12 January 2013 [15 May 2009]. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  21. ^ "A History of the World, Suffragette City". BBC One. Archived from the original on 18 November 2018. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  22. ^ "Sheila Hancock Brushes Up: The Art of Watercolours". BBC One. Archived from the original on 28 April 2019. Retrieved 27 June 2019.
  23. ^ "Sheila Hancock – The Brilliant Brontë Sisters". TVF International. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  24. ^ "Christmas Special 2012". Strictly Come Dancing. Series 10. 25 December 2012. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
  25. ^ Huw Fullerton (29 January 2017). "Sheila Hancock on her Endeavour cameo: It wasn't a tribute to John Thaw". Radio Times. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  26. ^ Daniel Welsh (12 August 2022). "Sheila Hancock Reflects on Being Dropped by Celebrity Gogglebox: 'I Suppose I Was Too Rude'". HuffPost. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  27. ^ "My Last Cigarette by Sheila Hancock Songfacts". Archived from the original on 17 March 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  28. ^ a b Rachel Cooke (29 May 2022). "Sheila Hancock: 'Don't let them tell you you're old'". The Observer. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  29. ^ "North by Northamptonshire". BBC. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
  30. ^ University of Portsmouth News Archived 25 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine accessed 19 March 2010
  31. ^ This Is Your Life S17.E11 Sheila Hancock at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  32. ^ "No. 59647". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2010. p. 7.
  33. ^ "No. 63218". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2020. p. N7.
  34. ^ "Profile of Hancock". The Guardian. 4 October 2008.
  35. ^ "Sheila Hancock receives Women in Film and TV Award". BBC News. 3 December 2010.
  36. ^ Andrew Walker (15 June 2022). "Sheila Hancock Daughter Illness: An Update on Her Health Condition & Wellness!". Landscape Insight. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  37. ^ Hancock 2004.
  38. ^ Hancock, Sheila (2008). Just Me. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9780747588825.
  39. ^ Hancock, Sheila (2022). Old Rage. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781526647429.
  40. ^ Hancock, Sheila (2014). Miss Carter's War. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781408833841.
  41. ^ Hancock 1987.
  42. ^ "Sheila Hancock: It was foolish to close churches during lockdown". Premier Christian News. Archived from the original on 13 December 2020. Retrieved 13 December 2020.
  43. ^ "The John Thaw Foundation – 6 trustees". Charity Commission for England and Wales. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  44. ^ "Thousands help comedian Sandi Toksvig renew vows after introduction of gay marriage". The Herald. Glasgow. 29 March 2014. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  45. ^ The More You Ignore Me (2018) at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  46. ^ The Daughter-in-Law – BBC – Radio Times

External links[edit]