Sheila Hancock

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Sheila Hancock

Sheila Hancock 2014.jpg
Hancock at a book signing in 2014
Born (1933-02-22) 22 February 1933 (age 88)
Alma mater Royal Academy of Dramatic Art
OccupationActress, theatre director, author, panellist
Years active1953–present
Alec Ross
(m. 1954;died 1971)

(m. 1973;died 2002)

Children3, including stepdaughter Abigail [1]

Dame Sheila Cameron Hancock DBE (born 22 February 1933) is an English actress and author. Hancock trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art before starting her career in repertory theatre. Hancock went on to perform in 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).

Early life

Sheila Hancock was born in Blackgang on the Isle of Wight, the daughter of Enrico Cameron Hancock and Ivy Louise (née Woodward). [2] Enrico Hancock was the son of a Thomas Cook employee, and grew up in Milan. He worked for Vickers, and was previously a publican and hotel manager for the Brakspear Brewery, working on the Isle of Wight, in Berkshire, and at King's Cross, London. Ivy Hancock worked at a family-owned department store, Mitchells of Erith, setting up a café and theatre booking office there after working in gloves and lingerie, having previously worked alongside her husband in pubs and hotels; before her marriage she had worked at a Lewisham pub and a flower shop at Greenwich.

After leaving the hospitality industry in 1938, the Hancocks moved to a semi-detached house in Latham Road, Bexleyheath, which Hancock considered "dreadfully dull" compared to "the rough and tumble" of King's Cross. Hancock recalled that there was a sense that "we had definitely gone up in the world... became lower-middle-class." Her sister Billie was seven years older. Hancock was educated at St Etheldreda's Convent at Ely Place, Holborn, then at Upton Road Junior School and Upland Junior School. [3] After wartime evacuation to Wallingford, Oxfordshire (at that time, in Berkshire) and to Crewkerne, Somerset, Hancock attended the Dartford County Grammar School and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.


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!" [4]

In 1965, she made her Broadway debut in Entertaining Mr Sloane . In 1978, she played Miss Hannigan in the original London cast of the musical Annie 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. [5]

Hancock has appeared in The Winter's Tale , Titus Andronicus and A Delicate Balance for the Royal Shakespeare Company. At the National Theatre she has appeared in Neil Bartlett's In Extremis/ De Profundis, [6] The Cherry Orchard and The Duchess of Malfi . As the first woman Artistic Director of their tour she also directed A Midsummer Night's Dream for the RSC and was the first woman to direct in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre on The Critic . She was also associate Artistic Director of the Cambridge Theatre Company.

Hancock took the role of Rose in the West Yorkshire Playhouse Company Christmas 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". [7]

In 2006, Hancock played the role of Fraulein 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.

In 2013, Hancock starred alongside Lee Evans [8] and Keeley Hawes in the comedy Barking in Essex at Wyndham's Theatre. [9]

In 2016, Hancock starred with Jenna Russell in the UK premiere of the musical Grey Gardens at the Southwark Playhouse.

In 2018, Hancock starred in Harold and Maude at the Charing Cross Theatre, London.

In 2019, Hancock starred in This Is My Family at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester.


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 , The Secretary Bird and Now Take My Wife . Her other television credits include Doctor Who (playing a parody of Margaret Thatcher in The Happiness Patrol ), [10] 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, part of the BBC daytime mini-series Moving On .

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. [11] 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. [12] In 2013 she presented, as part of the ITV Perspectives documentary series, Perspectives: Sheila Hancock – The Brilliant Brontë Sisters, [13] examining the writers' upbringing and the sources of their inspiration.

In December 2012, Hancock took part in a Christmas special edition of the BBC programme Strictly Come Dancing . [14]

In January 2016 she made a guest appearance in an episode of the BBC medical drama Casualty for its 30th Anniversary. In December 2016 she began starring alongside Dawn French, Emilia Fox and Iain Glen in the Sky One comedy drama series Delicious which went on to second series in 2018, and a third series in 2019.

In January 2017, she made a guest appearance in an episode of Inspector Morse prequel Endeavour alongside her stepdaughter Abigail Thaw.

In 2020 she co-presented Great Canal Journeys for Ch4 with Gyles Brandreth, with whom she had previously appeared on Celebrity Gogglebox .

In January 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 .

Other work

In March 1963, Hancock made a comedy single record, "My Last Cigarette". [15] The song is about someone trying to give up smoking: however, every good intention is dependent on her having "just one more cigarette".

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. [16]

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. [17]

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.

Personal life

Hancock was married to actor Alec Ross from 1954 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's daughter Abigail, from his first marriage, also joined their family. All three of their daughters have become actresses.

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. This was followed by the 2008 book, Just Me, an account of coming to terms with widowhood. In 2014 she published her debut novel, Miss Carter's War.

Hancock is a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). [18] She is a patron of Educational charity Digismart as well as a Trustee of the John Thaw Foundation.

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 [19] and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2021 New Year Honours for services to drama and charity. [20]

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. [21]

Honours and awards


1960 Light Up the Sky! Theatre Act
The Bulldog Breed DorisUncredited
Doctor in Love LibrarianUncredited
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
1987Maiking WavesDorisShort film
1988 Hawks Regina
Buster Mrs. Rothery
The Universe of Dermot FinnMother of PearlShort film
1990 Three Men and a Little Lady Vera
1994 A Business Affair Judith
1997 Love and Death on Long Island Mrs. Barker
1999Hold Back the NightVera
2004 Yes Aunt
2008 The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Grandma
2017 Edie Edie
The Dark MileMary
2018 The More You Ignore Me Nan Wildgoose
2019From This Day ForwardHerShort film

Partial Television Credits

1960 Bootsie and Snudge GretaEpisode: "Bootsie's Punctured Romance"
BBC Sunday-Night Play JanetEpisode: "Twentieth Century Theatre: Doctor in the House"
1961-62 The Rag Trade Carole Taylor12 episodes
1963 BBC Sunday-Night Play Jackie LambertEpisode: "June Fall"
1964 Festival WinifredEpisode: "Say Nothing"
Thursday Theatre Olive LeechEpisode: "Summer of the Seventeenth Doll"
1965 ITV Play of the Week HetyEpisode: "A Fearful Thing"
The Wednesday Thriller Joyce LambertEpisode: "The Regulator"
1966 The Bed-Sit Girl Sheila Ross12 episodes
Thirty-Minute Theatre Cynthia / Vi2 episodes
1966-81 Jacknaroy Storyteller15 episodes
1967 Armchair Theatre AliceEpisode: "Compensation Alice"
Life with Cooper Lady Stuck In Railings1 episode
1968 ITV Playhouse Naomi WoodleyEpisode: "Horizontal Hold"
KaffEpisode: "Entertaining Mr. Sloane"
Release Mrs. CaudleEpisode: "Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures "
Detective Mrs. MarkleEpisode: "Born Victim"
1969 All Star Comedy Carnival Thelma Teesdale
1969-71 Mr. Digby Darling Thelma Teesdale19 episodes
1970 The Mating Machine FredaEpisode: "Sealed with a Loving Kiss"
Comedy Playhouse Wendy HillbrightEpisode: "Better Than a Man"
1971Claire LoveEpisode: "Just Harry and Me"
Shadows of Fear Anne BrandEpisode: "Sugar and Spice"
Now Take My Wife Claire Love14 episodes
1972 Scoop Mrs. Stitch3 episodes
1976 Whodunnit? PanellistEpisode: "Dead Grass"
1982 Play for Today EllenEpisode: "The Remainder Man"
1985 Dramarama Rita ChartellEpisode: "The Audition"
1988 Doctor Who Helen A.Episode: "The Happiness Patrol"
1989 Theatre Night Mrs. MalapropEpisode: "The Rivals"
1991 Gone to the Dogs Jean4 episodes
1993 Comedy Playhouse FrancesEpisode: "Brighton Belles: Pilot"
1993-94 Brighton Belles Frances11 episodes
1995 Dangerous Lady Sarah Ryan
1999 Alice in Wonderland CookTV Movie
2000-01 EastEnders Barbara
2003 Bedtime Alice Oldfield15 episodes
2005 Bleak House Mrs. Guppy
2009 Moving On LizEpisode: "The Rain Has Stopped"
2016-19 Delicious Mimi Vincent12 episodes
2017 Endeavour Dowsable ChattoxEpisode: "Harvest"
2021 A Discovery of Witches Goody Alsop5 episodes
Unforgotten 6 episodes

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  1. Hancock, Sheila. The Two of Us, my life with John Thaw.
  2. Film reference Hancock Biography,, accessed 9 March 2010
  3. The Two of Us: My Life with John Thaw, Sheila Hancock, Bloomsbury, 2004, chapter 1
  4. Sheila Hancock, Ramblings of an Actress (1987), p. 4
  5. Milnes, Rodney. Opera in Britain – Sweeney Todd, Royal Opera at Covent Garden, December 15. Opera, March 2004, Vol.55 No.3, p349-352.
  6. Gardner, Lyn (9 November 2000). "In Extremis/ De Profundis". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 April 2021.
  7. Dreyer, Martin. Gypsy – West Yorkshire Playhouse Company, Leeds, December 20. Opera , February 1994, Vol.45 No.2, p244-245.
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  9. "Lee Evans – 'I really wanted to get back into theatre'". Whats on Stage. 3 May 2013. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  10. Graeme Burk; Robert Smith (2013). Who's 50: The 50 Doctor Who Stories to Watch Before You Die. ECW Press. p. 286. ISBN   9781770411661.
  11. [ dead link ]
  12. [ dead link ]
  13. "Perspectives: Sheila Hancock – The Brilliant Brontë Sisters". Perspectives. Series 3. Episode 3. 31 March 2013. ITV3. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
  14. "Strictly Come Dancing". Strictly Come Dancing. Series 10. 25 December 2012. Retrieved 25 December 2012.
  15. [ dead link ]
  16. BBC. "North by Northamptonshire". BBC. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
  17. University of Portsmouth News Archived 25 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine accessed 19 March 2010
  18. "Sheila Hancock: It was foolish to close churches during lockdown - Premier Christian News | Headlines, Breaking News, Comment & Analysis". Archived from the original on 13 December 2020. Retrieved 13 December 2020.
  19. "No. 59647". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2010. p. 7.
  20. "No. 63218". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2020. p. N7.
  21. "Thousands help comedian Sandi Toksvig renew vows after introduction of gay marriage". Herald Scotland. 29 March 2014. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  22. Guardian (4 October 2008). "Guardian Profile of Hancock Saturday 4 October 2008". The Guardian.
  23. "Sheila Hancock receives Women in Film and TV Award". BBC News.