Joyce Grenfell

Joyce Grenfell

Infobox actor
name = Joyce Grenfell

caption = CD cover of collection of songs
birthname = Joyce Irene Phipps
birthdate = birth date|1910|02|10|df=yes
birthplace = London, England
deathdate = death date and age|1979|11|30|1910|02|10|df=yes
deathplace = London, England
othername =
yearsactive =
spouse = Reggie Grenfell (1929-79)
partner =
children =
parents =
website =

Joyce Irene Grenfell, OBE (née Phipps; 10 February 1910 – 30 November 1979) was an English film and television actress, comedienne and singer-songwriter.

Early life

Born in London, Joyce was the daughter of architect Paul Phipps (1880-1953), (the grandson of Charles Paul Phipps and a second cousin of Ruth Draper), and an eccentric American mother, Nora Langhorne (1889-1955), the daughter of Chiswell Langhorne, an American railroad millionaire. Nancy Astor, née Nancy Langhorne, was her mother's sister.

As such, Joyce Phipps grew up around money and privilege. She had a London childhood and considered herself a "townie." Joyce attended the Francis Holland School in Central London, and the Christian Science School, Clearview, in South Norwood, and then she was "finished off" in Paris where she attended Mlle. Ozanne's finishing school at the age of 17.

In 1927 she met Reggie Grenfell; they were married two years later at St. Margaret's Westminster; they remained married for 50 years (until her death).

From an early age she invented characters and pretended to be other people. Being funny and imaginative came easily to her. Wanting to pursue a career in the theatre, 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 World War II, Grenfell toured India, North Africa, and the Middle East with a company 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 motion picture comedies. Although she performed in a number of films, she continued with her 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". 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 as far as the U.S.A. and she appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show alongside Elvis Presley [ BBC4 Documenary "The Real Joyce Grenfell" ( broadcast, Monday 2nd July 2007 20:00 GMT)] .

Grenfell is now 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, underneath there was always a surprisingly darker undertone.

Much of the music for Grenfell's revues and shows was the result of a collaboration with composer and pianist Richard Addinsell.

Grenfell was a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist, a religious organisation based on Christianity and spiritual healing.

Death and after

She was taken ill in 1973 with an eye infection, was subsequently diagnosed with cancer, and retired from performing. In October 1979 she had the eye removed, but died a month later. 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 and Ronnie Barker have been similarly honoured since. In 1998, the Royal Mail memorialised Grenfell with her image on a postage stamp as part of a series of stamps celebrating "Heroes of Comedy".

In 2002, her friend and author Janie Hampton published the book "Joyce Grenfell". In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's 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. This performance is available on DVD. Roose-Evans also edited "Darling Ma", a 1997 collection of Grenfell's letters to her mother.

Grenfell was created an Officer 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's Honours List.

She was cremated and her ashes are at the Golders Green Crematorium.


* "A Letter from Home" (1941)
* "The Lamp Still Burns" (1943)
*"The Demi-Paradise" (1943)
*"While the Sun Shines" (1947)
*"A Run for Your Money" (1949)
*"Poet's Pub" (1949)
*"Alice in Wonderland" (1949)
*"Stage Fright" (1950)
*"The Happiest Days of Your Life" (1950)
*"Laughter in Paradise" (1951)
*"The Galloping Major" (1951)
*"The Magic Box" (1951)
*"The Pickwick Papers" (1952)
*"The Million Pound Note" (1953)
*"Genevieve" (1953)
*"The Belles of St. Trinian's" (1954)
*"Forbidden Cargo" (1954)
*"The Good Companions" (1957)
*"Happy Is the Bride" (1957)
*"Blue Murder at St. Trinian's" (1957)
*"The Pure Hell of St. Trinian's" (1960)
*"The Old Dark House" (1963)
*"The Americanization of Emily" (1964)
*"The Yellow Rolls-Royce" (1964)

Other works

* Letters to her Mother, 1932-1944


External links

* [ Joyce Grenfell archive at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection] , University of Bristol

NAME = Grenfell, Joyce
ALTERNATIVE NAMES = Phipps, Joyce Irene
DATE OF BIRTH = 1910-02-10
PLACE OF BIRTH = London, England
DATE OF DEATH = 1979-11-27
PLACE OF DEATH = London, England

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