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Joan Sims

Joan Sims Life story

Irene Joan Marion Sims was an English actress, best remembered for her roles in the Carry On films, appearing in 24 of the films from Carry On Nurse to Carry On Emmannuelle, including popular entries like Carry On Cleo, Carry On Camping and Carry On Abroad.

Irene Joan Marion Sims (9 May 1930 – 27 June 2001) was an English actress, best remembered for her roles in the Carry On films, appearing in 24 of the films from Carry On Nurse (1959) to Carry On Emmannuelle (1978), including popular entries like Carry On Cleo (1964), Carry On Camping (1969) and Carry On Abroad (1972).

On television, she is known for playing Gran in Till Death Us Do Part (1967–1975), Madge Kettlewell in Sykes (1972–1978), Mrs Wembley, the cook with a liking for sherry, in On the Up (1990–1992), and Madge Hardcastle in As Time Goes By (1994–1998).

Early life and education

Sims was born on 9 May 1930, the only child of John Henry Sims (1888-1964), Station Master of Laindon railway station in Essex, and his wife Gladys Marie Sims, née Ladbrook (1898-1981). Sims's early interest in being an actress came from living at the railway station. She would often put on performances for waiting passengers. She decided that she wanted to pursue show business during her teens, and soon became a familiar face in a growing number of amateur productions locally. One of her first stage appearances was as Miranda Bute in the Langdon Players production of Esther McCracken's comedy Quiet Wedding in May 1946.

In 1946, Sims first applied to RADA, but her audition was unsuccessful. Her first audition included a rendition of Winnie the Pooh. She did succeed in being admitted to PARADA, the academy's preparatory school, and finally, on her fourth attempt, she graduated and was trained at RADA. She graduated from RADA in 1950 at the age of 19. One of her first stage performances was in the 1951 pantomime, The Happy Ha'penny, opposite Stanley Baxter at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre.

Music career

During 1963, Sims made several recordings. "Hurry Up Gran" / "Oh Not Again Ken" was issued as a single, followed by "Spring Song" / "Men". Both were produced by George Martin for the Parlophone label but neither single made an impact on the UK Singles Chart. This did not deter her from releasing a third and final single during 1967, "Sweet Lovely Whatsisname" / "The Lass With the Delicate Hair". Again it failed to chart, and as a result the singles are now quite rare. As of 2009, both "Spring Song" and "Men" are available for the first time through iTunes and other download services, as well as on CD as part of re-issues of the comedy compilation albums Oh! What a Carry On! and Laugh A Minute. Sims also featured on an original cast recording of The Lord Chamberlain Regrets in 1961, as well as The Water Gypsies.

Personal life

Sims, like her fellow Carry On star Kenneth Williams, never married. Williams, who was homosexual, did, however, propose a marriage of convenience to her, which she promptly declined. From 1958, she lived for three years with fellow actor Tony Baird but, every time her parents visited, she asked Baird to remove all of his belongings from their London flat.

After she told her mother on a visit that she was living with Baird, her father wrote her a stern letter, condemning the relationship. Sims replied, telling her parents that they had to come to terms with Tony being an extremely important part of her life. For the next six months she had no contact with her parents. Sims was a devoted daughter and found the separation from her parents difficult.

The relationship with Baird began to founder, Sims said, due to her success and Tony Baird's failure as an actor. Sims writes Had house husbands been in vogue in those days we'd have made an excellent couple, since Tony was not very successful as an actor and I soon became the main breadwinner. If we had been able to accept that I would go out and earn the money and he would concentrate on running the home, things might have turned out better... For three years I was besotted with this loveable reprobate, but then the icing on the cake began to chip off and the love started to wear thin. I was virtually keeping him and the friction of the situation was getting harder to bear. Of the break-up, which was finally triggered by Sims returning from a tour to find Baird had not done any washing or housework, she wrote "I could tell that he was genuinely heartbroken, and so was I, but I had to do it for my own survival."Following this came a relationship with John Walters whom Sims had known for a long time. He had been assistant stage manager for the play High Spirits, in which she appeared. They had had an 'innocent' romance at the time, but they embarked on a more serious relationship after Sims's break-up with Baird. However, Sims never felt it would be a long-term relationship: John was a much moodier character than Tony. During what she described as the 'one broody phase of my life', they discussed marriage and children, but it came to nothing and the relationship, the last serious one of Sims's life, ended after around two years of living together.

"I never married because the right person never came along... I leave others to seek for darker explanations. For me it's extremely simple!"


Sims had depression for many of her later years. This was worsened by the deaths of her agent Peter Eade, her best friend Hattie Jacques and her mother, all within a two-year period, after which she fell into alcoholism. Sims suffered from Bell's palsy in 1999 and fractured her hip in 2000, but recovered well. However, her alcoholism was beginning to dominate life in her rented Kensington flat, and she described herself as "the queen of puddings." After assessment by a doctor, she was offered a place in a rehabilitation centre, but declined.

High Spirits

The tone of Sims's 2000 autobiography High Spirits is revealing (though not sensationalist), frank and sometimes mordant:

"In Doctor at Sea I was cast again as the Plain Jane character ... my rival in love was played by ... Brigitte Bardot. Joan Sims versus Brigitte Bardot. I'll leave you to guess which of us got her man."

"Then the effects of the tablets rapidly started wearing off – as is the way with Benzedrine – and suddenly I was feeling worse than I had ever felt in my life."

"I learned the hard way how deflating it can be to get too excited by a prospect before you know for sure that it will come off. The worst aspect of this fiasco was that I was now not only jobless but homeless."

"I was always useless at flirting, and simply did not know what needed to be done in order to snare my target... I always ended up resorting to jokes, and most men don't like funny women. They like to do the jokes."

"I've never been able to understand women who have this burning desire to have children. I've never had those feelings in any depth."

High Spirits concluded with Sims in reflective and rueful mood. Having been disappointed to miss out on the part in a BBC adaptation of Vanity Fair, she is somewhat crestfallen to discover that there are only two entries on her 'Trivia' page on It ends:

"The last couple of years have seen more lows than highs .... my long-held view that whether you're up or you're down, there's only one way to react to whatever life throws at you. Carry on."


Sims was diagnosed with diverticular disease in 1997 and she was admitted to hospital in November 2000, and complications of a routine operation caused her to slip into a coma. Her lifelong friend and stand-in, Norah Holland spoke of the doctors' amazement at her strength and courage throughout her final illness.On 27 June 2001, ten minutes before she died, Holland spoke to her gently about Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques and their time on the Carry On films. Sims died from liver failure and diverticulitis, with diabetes and COPD cited as contributory factors. She was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium, and her ashes scattered in the grounds there.Her authorised biography, Too Happy A Face, by Andrew Ross, was published in 2014.

In popular culture

Sims was played by Chrissie Cotterill in the 2000 television film, Cor, Blimey!, an adaptation of Terry Johnson's play Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick, and by Beatie Edney in the 2006 television film Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!

Selected filmography



High Spirits by Joan Sims (ISBN 1-85225-280-4)

Too Happy A Face – The Authorised Biography of Joan Sims by Andrew Ross (ISBN 1781961212, 978-1781961216)

External links

Joan Sims at IMDb

News about Joan Sims


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