Joyce Grenfell

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Joyce Grenfell
Joyce Grenfell Allan Warren.jpg
Grenfell in 1972
Joyce Irene Phipps

(1910-02-10)10 February 1910
Died30 November 1979(1979-11-30) (aged 69)
London, England
OccupationActress, comedian, satirist, monologist
Years active1941–1979
Spouse(s)Reggie Grenfell (m. 1929–1979, her death)

Joyce Irene Grenfell, OBE (née Phipps; 10 February 1910 – 30 November 1979) was an English comedian, singer, actress, monologist, scriptwriter and producer. For her film appearances, she was cast in such roles as the gym mistress Miss Gossage in The Happiest Days of Your Life and Ruby Gates in the St Trinian's films. [1]

Order of the British Empire British order of chivalry

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is a British order of chivalry, rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations, and public service outside the civil service. It was established on 4 June 1917 by King George V and comprises five classes across both civil and military divisions, the most senior two of which make the recipient either a knight if male or dame if female. There is also the related British Empire Medal, whose recipients are affiliated with, but not members of, the order.

<i>The Happiest Days of Your Life</i> 1950 film by Frank Launder

The Happiest Days of Your Life is a 1950 British comedy film directed by Frank Launder, based on the play by John Dighton. The two men also wrote the screenplay. It is one of a stable of classic British film comedies produced by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat for British Lion Film Corporation. The film was made on location and at Riverside Studios, London. In several respects, including some common casting, it was a precursor of the more anarchic St. Trinian's films of the 1950s.


Early life

Born in Montpelier Square in Knightsbridge, London, [2] 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. [3] 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 [4] and later lived in a cottage on the estate (Parr's), a mile from the main house, in the early years of her marriage. [1] :59

Montpelier Square is a residential garden square located in London's Knightsbridge district, in the City of Westminster, SW7.

Knightsbridge district in central London

Knightsbridge is a residential and retail district in central London, south of Hyde Park. It is identified in the London Plan as one of two international retail centres in London, alongside the West End.

Charles Paul Phipps British politician

Charles Paul Phipps (1815–1880), of Chalcot House, Westbury, Wiltshire, was an English merchant in Brazil and later Conservative MP for Westbury (1869–1874) and High Sheriff of Wiltshire (1875).

Joyce Phipps had an upper middle class London childhood. Among her friends was Virginia Graham, with whom she kept up a lifelong correspondence. [5] She attended the Francis Holland School in Central London, and the Claremont Fan Court School, in Esher, Surrey. She attended Mlle Ozanne's finishing school in Paris at the age of seventeen.

Virginia Margaret Graham (1910–1993) was a London-born English writer, critic and poet, whose humorous verses on Second World War subjects were republished in London by Persephone Books in 2000 as Consider the Years 1938–1946. She had a long correspondence with Joyce Grenfell, which was later published.

Francis Holland School is the name of two separate independent day schools for girls in central London, England, governed by the Francis Holland Schools Trust. The schools are located at Clarence Gate and at Graham Terrace.

Central London Innermost part of London, England

Central London is the innermost part of London, in the United Kingdom, spanning several boroughs. Over time, a number of definitions have been used to define the scope of central London for statistics, urban planning and local government. Its characteristics are understood to include a high density built environment, high land values, an elevated daytime population and a concentration of regionally, nationally and internationally significant organisations and facilities.

In 1927, she met Reginald Pascoe Grenfell (1903–1993), a mining executive and later a lieutenant colonel in the King's Royal Rifle Corps, grandson of the 4th Earl Grey, ninth Governor General of Canada. [6] [7] 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. [8]

Kings Royal Rifle Corps infantry rifle regiment of the British Army

The King's Royal Rifle Corps was an infantry rifle regiment of the British Army that was originally raised in British North America as the Royal American Regiment during the phase of the Seven Years' War in North America known as 'The French and Indian War.' Subsequently numbered the 60th Regiment of Foot, the regiment served for more than 200 years throughout the British Empire. In 1958, the regiment joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and the Rifle Brigade in the Green Jackets Brigade and in 1966 the three regiments were formally amalgamated to become the Royal Green Jackets. The KRRC became the 2nd Battalion, Royal Green Jackets. On the disbandment of the 1st Battalion, Royal Green Jackets in 1992, the RGJ's KRRC battalion was redesignated as the 1st Battalion, Royal Green Jackets, eventually becoming 2nd Battalion, The Rifles in 2007.

Albert Grey, 4th Earl Grey British politician and Governor General of Canada

Albert Henry George Grey, 4th Earl Grey was a British nobleman and politician who served as Governor General of Canada, the ninth since Canadian Confederation. He was a radical Liberal aristocrat, founder of the Society of Apostles, and Aricles Club and a member of a string of liberal high society clubs in London. An active and articulate campaigner in late Victorian England he was associated with many of the leading Imperialists seeking change.

Governor General of Canada representative of the monarch of Canada

The Governor General of Canada is the federal viceregal representative of the Canadian monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. The person of the sovereign is shared equally both with the 15 other Commonwealth realms and the 10 provinces of Canada, but resides predominantly in her oldest and most populous realm, the United Kingdom. The Queen, on the advice of her Canadian prime minister, appoints a governor general to carry out most of her constitutional and ceremonial duties. The commission is for an unfixed period of time—known as serving at Her Majesty's pleasure—though five years is the normal convention. Beginning in 1959, it has also been traditional to rotate between anglophone and francophone officeholders—although many recent governors general have been bilingual. Once in office, the governor general maintains direct contact with the Queen, wherever she may be at the time.

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.

North Africa Northernmost region of Africa

North Africa is a region encompassing the northern portion of the African continent. There is no singularly accepted scope for the region, and it is sometimes defined as stretching from the Atlantic shores of Mauritania in the west, to Egypt's Suez Canal and the Red Sea in the east. Others have limited it to the countries of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, a region that was known by the French during colonial times as "Afrique du Nord" and is known by Arabs as the Maghreb. The most commonly accepted definition includes Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Sudan, the 6 countries that shape the top North of the African continent. Meanwhile, "North Africa", particularly when used in the term North Africa and the Middle East, often refers only to the countries of the Maghreb and Libya. Egypt, being also part of the Middle East, is often considered separately, due to being both North African and Middle Eastern at the same time.

Southern Italy Macroregion of Italy

Southern Italy or Mezzogiorno is a macroregion of Italy meant to broadly denote the southern half of the Italian state.

Middle East region that encompasses Western Asia and Egypt

The Middle East is a transcontinental region centered on Western Asia, Turkey, and Egypt. Saudi Arabia is geographically the largest Middle Eastern nation while Bahrain is the smallest. The corresponding adjective is Middle Eastern and the derived noun is Middle Easterner. The term has come into wider usage as a replacement of the term Near East beginning in the early 20th century.

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. [9]

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

Stephen Potter British writer

Stephen Meredith Potter was a British author best known for his parodies of self-help books, and their film and television derivatives.

BBC Third Programme

The BBC Third Programme was a national radio service produced and broadcast by the BBC between 1946 and 1967. It first went on the air on 29 September 1946 and quickly became one of the leading cultural and intellectual forces in Britain, playing a crucial role in disseminating the arts. It was the BBC's third national radio network, the other two being the Home Service and the Light Programme, principally devoted to light entertainment and music. The Third Programme was rebranded to BBC Radio 3 on 30 September 1967.

Grenfell is best remembered for her one-woman shows and monologues, in which she invented roles including a harassed nursery teacher with the catchphrase "George – don't do that". She gained attention 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 parodic 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".

Personal life

Like her maternal aunt, Lady Astor, Grenfell was a member of the Church of Christ, Scientist, a religious organisation based on Christianity and spiritual healing.

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 1998, the Royal Mail memorialised Grenfell with her image on a postage stamp as part of a series of stamps celebrating Heroes of Comedy.

Her widower husband, Reggie Grenfell, died in Kensington and Chelsea, London, in 1993, aged 89. [10]

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. [11] Roose-Evans also edited Darling Ma, a 1997 collection of Grenfell's letters to her mother.

Stage performances

Complete filmography

1941 A Letter from Home American MotherShort
1943 The Demi-Paradise Sybil Paulson
The Lamp Still Burns Dr. Barrett
1947 While the Sun Shines Daphne
1949 Alice in Wonderland Ugly Duchess / Dormouse
Poet's Pub Miss Horsefell-Hughes
Tuppence ColouredTV movie
A Run for Your Money Mrs. Pargiet
1950 Stage Fright 'Lovely Ducks'
The Happiest Days of Your Life Miss Gossage
1951 The Galloping Major Maggie the Waitress
Laughter in Paradise Elizabeth Robson
The Magic Box Mrs. Claire
1952Penny PlainTV movie
The Pickwick Papers Mrs. Leo Hunter
1953 Genevieve Hotel Proprietress
The Million Pound Note Duchess of Cromarty
1954 Forbidden Cargo Lady Flavia Queensway
The Belles of St Trinian's P.W. Sgt. Ruby Gates
1957 The Good Companions Lady Parlitt
Blue Murder at St Trinian's Sergeant Ruby Gates
1958 Happy Is the Bride Aunt Florence
1960 The Pure Hell of St Trinian's Sergeant Ruby Gates
1963 The Old Dark House Agatha Femm
1964 The Americanization of Emily Mrs. Barham
The Yellow Rolls-Royce Hortense Astor

Other works

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  1. 1 2 Hampton, Janie Joyce Grenfell, John Murray, 2002. ISBN   978-0-7195-6143-6
  2. Grenfell, Joyce (1976). Joyce Grenfell requests the pleasure (autobiography). Macmillan. p. 13.
  3. A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. IV, 1838, pp. 509–510, "Phipps of Leighton House" pedigree.
  4. National Trust Magazine, Spring 2010, page 11
  5. Joyce & Ginnie: the letters of Joyce Grenfell and Virginia Graham, edited by Janie Hampton, 1997.
  6. Obituary .
  7. Victoria Crosses on the Western Front August 1914–April 1915: Mons to Hill 60, Peter Oldfield, Pen and Sword Books Ltd, 2014.
  8. Obituary: Reginald Grenfell, The Independent, 3 April 1993
  9. BBC4 Documentary The Real Joyce Grenfell (broadcast Monday 2 July 2007, 20:00 BST)
  10. Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006
  11. "Choice Grenfell Series 2". Radio Times. BBC. Retrieved 31 May 2014.
  12. "Theatre Collection: search results for Joyce Grenfell". University of Bristol. Archived from the original on 1 October 2012. Retrieved 4 January 2013.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help); Cite web requires |website= (help)