Saturday 9 May 2015

Carry On Joan

Joan Sims would have celebrated her 85th birthday today. As you will have probably gathered by now, Joan is my ultimate comedy heroine. I adore her. Her acting career spanned five decades and she consistently delivered wonderful performances whether it be film, television, radio or stage. She was a trouper.

Joan was basically just a bloody good actress. So many of her peers have praised her versatility and they're not wrong. Unlike any other actress in the Carry On films, each of her roles in the series was different. She could play anything the production team threw at her. She could be dowdy, she could be glamorous, she could be monstrous, she could be meek. Such versatility coupled with a natural flair for comedy and brilliant timing meant she was constantly in demand.

Being a funny woman during the peak period of Joan's career wasn't necessarily all it cracked up to be. Despite her incredible range and talent she was most definitely pigeon-holed as a Carry On actress. Being a comic actress at a time when comedy was definitely a man's game must have been tough but Joan definitely had guts and determination, even if she was, like so many of us, plagued by self-doubt. 

Joan also struggled to be taken seriously when being considered for more dramatic, serious parts. I would dearly love to see her performance as a child killer in the Granada drama series The Ladykillers. Apparently she was breathtaking and I can well believe it. I thought she was remarkably effective as Murgatroyd in the classic BBC adaptation of the Miss Marple novel A Murder Is Announced, while her Betsy Prigg in Martin Chuzzlewit was just superb.

While many great straight parts may have passed her by, in the world of comedy she was most definitely the Queen. My favourite actor in the Carry On team, I adored her as Belle in Carry On Cowboy. She just looked magnificent in that tight black dress. She was feisty and full of exotic vim as ZIg Zig in Follow That Camel and memorable as Desiree in Don't Lose Your Head. My brother...the count...

She excelled again as Lady Ruff Diamond in Up The Khyber, swooping from posh to common like a female Kenneth Williams. In Convenience she shared some terrific scenes in Brighton with the gang, but it was the tender, heartfelt scene with Sid at the end of the day trip which really stands out. A beautifully judged performance that she would match opposite Peter Butterworth in Carry On Behind. In Abroad, her laughter with Sid in those hotel room scenes is so genuine it goes way beyond performance.

I adored Joan in many other roles away from the Carry Ons. She was marvellous as Mrs Wembley in On The Up with Dennis Waterman. Just the one! She popped up in all manner of comedy shows working alongside the likes of Eric Sykes, Stanley Baxter, Dick Emery and Frankie Howerd. She worked brilliantly with Ronnie Barker and memorably played Gran in Till Death Us Do Part. She was a star of intimate revues, worked in theatre for years all over the country, appeared on radio with Kenneth Williams and even released a record or two.

Joan had the best pair of legs in the business. Although often in costume or playing nagging wives in her later years she was always a stunner. She had a wonderfully expressive face which could suggest innocence and naughtiness, often both at the same time. Quite a talent. Barbara Windsor may have been the bombshell of the Carry Ons but Joan in her prime was quite something!

I don't want to dwell on other aspects of Joan's life. Everyone has ups and downs and it saddens me still that someone who brought so much warmth, pleasure and enjoyment to so many for so long had her demons. In her last performance, as Betty in Last Of The Blonde Bombshells, she came up trumps and went out fighting. It was a glorious return to the Joan of old. Right up to the end there was a twinkle in her eye and a sense of humour that was infectious. She just lit up the screen.

God Bless you Joanie, what a legacy. Long may you make us laugh.

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan and also Facebook

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