Joyce Grenfell is such an icon of British cinema that it's easy to forget that her film career was only a part of her work. Indeed, it's easy to forget how few films she actually made and how little screen time she got in most of them. Of course, even a couple of minutes screen time was usually enough for her to run away with any film.
Joyce Phipps was born in London to well-to-do American parents (indeed her aunt was Nancy Astor). She wanted to be an actress from an early age but it took only one term at RADA to cure her of that ambition. By the time she was twenty she was Mrs Reggie Grenfell and looking forward to a life of quiet domestic bliss.
She wrote some light verse for Punch in her spare time, and thanks to sitting next to the editor at a dinner, became radio critic for the Observer. Another dinner party, and she impressed humorist Stephen (Oneupmanship) Potter with an impromptu monologue. He invited her to repeat the performance in a revue he was putting on. The Little Revue was a hit, and so was Joyce.
She kept busy during the war years: touring with ENSA, beginning her film career, and continuing her partnership with Potter. Their How To... series of broadcasts made her a familiar radio voice. It wasn't until the start of the 50s and the smash hit that was The Happiest Days of Your Life that cinema audiences really took to her. As the gauche schoolmistress she managed to steal scenes from Margaret Rutherford and Alastair Sim: quite an achievement!
Throughout the 50s she enlivened many films with her characterisations. Though 60s cinema was less welcoming, she continued with her comedy on stage, and made many radio and television appearances. She had her own specials in which she performed her monologues, but is most associated with the panel game My Music.
Many of today's female comics cite Joyce Grenfell as an inspiration. She was a comedienne who wrote much of her own material at a time when that was still an unusual thing for a woman to do. She herself was heavily influenced by Ruth Draper, who was a distant relative and who used to entertain Grenfell in her nursery with her monologues.
|1943||The Lamp Still Burns|
|1947||While the Sun Still Shines|
|1949||A Run for Your Money|
|1950||The Happiest Days of Your Life|
|1951||The Galloping Major|
|1951||Laughter in Paradise|
|1951||The Magic Box|
|1952||The Pickwick Papers|
|1954||The Million Pound Note|
|1954||The Belles of St Trinian's|
|1957||The Good Companions|
|1957||Blue Murder at St Trinian's|
|1958||Happy is the Bride|
|1960||Pure Hell of St Trinian's|
|1963||The Old Dark House|
|1964||The Yellow Rolls-Royce|
|1964||The Americanization of Emily|
Joyce Grenfell at Amazon UK
Joyce Grenfell at Amazon US