Tuesday 4 August 2015

Joan Sims is On The Up

I have started a series of blogs looking back at some of the wonderful regular roles Carry On actors had in television sitcoms. The other week I wrote about my love of Hattie Jacques' performances alongside Eric Sykes in the classic comedy Sykes. I also posted a blog earlier last week about the successful BBC sitcom, The Rag Trade.

Today I am going to write about my favourite Carry On actress, Joan Sims. Joan is always best known for her film work. From the early 1950s until the 1980s she was incredibly prolific, appearing in scores of films for Peter Rogers, Betty Box and many others. She was a favourite supporting actress for the likes of Norman Wisdom, Leslie Phillips, Kenneth Williams and of course, Sid James.

Joan also worked a great deal on television from the 1950s right up until her final appearance on screen in 2000's The Last of The Blonde Bombshells. From the 1980s onwards, most of her work was on the small screen as the British film industry ground to a halt and she fell out of love with live theatre. In the 1960s and 70s Joan was a regular foil on television for the likes of Stanley Baxter, Dick Emery, Beryl Reid and Kenneth Williams. A regular sitcom role continued to elude her though.

There was an early attempt with the Norman Hudis scripted Our House which was broadcast in 1960. She played the ditzy Daisy Burke in the first series, although sadly not many episodes are left in the archives. In the mid 1960s she also starred in the comedy series Sam and Janet. This was a domestic sitcom that had originally aired on radio. Joan only appeared in the first television series, starring opposite John Junkin. In the early 1970s Joan also took on two irregular roles in classic BBC comedy series - as Gran in Till Death Us Do Part and as Madge Kettlewell in Sykes. Both involved only sporadic appearances. Apparently Johnny Speight wanted to write a spin off series for Joan as Gran but she turned it down as the character depressed her. What a shame!

It wasn't until 1990 that Joan Sims took on a regular television sitcom role, and one that provided her with her first ever catch phrase. As the cook and housekeeper Mrs Wembley in On the Up, Joan was often heard saying "Just the one!" as the sherry bottle was opened! On The Up ran for three series in the early 1990s and while perhaps not a classic series, I remember it fondly from childhood.

The series was a vehicle for Minder and Sweeney star, Dennis Waterman. I grew up watching Waterman in Minder and I've always had a soft spot for him because of that great show. In On The Up, he very much plays to type as a self-made cockney millionaire who struggles to cope with life in his new ritzy surroundings. It was a gentle comedy that also starred the late great Sam Kelly as Waterman's chauffeur. 

Joan was on fantastic form as Mrs Wembley. Twinkly eyed and suggestive at times, prim and proper at others, she stole many a scene. I remember one episode in particular in which Joan had to deliver quite a moving monologue about her character's sad past. It came as quite a shock in amongst all the gags but as always Joan showed what a capable dramatic actress she was when given the chance.

Dennis Waterman was obviously in awe of Joan. I remember him writing somewhere how much the cast and crew adored her and what a gentle, sweet and kind lady she was. He recalled that every time they came to record an episode in front of a live audience, Joan would be a bag of nerves and not want to go on. Waterman made it clear that this wasn't down to starry drama queen antics, Joan was genuinely scared. She would eventually be coaxed on and go on to steal the show. That was Joan though: a natural talent who probably never quite realised just how fantastic she was.

So if you've never seen On The Up, give it a go. It is worth tracking down on DVD just for some more wonderful performances from the much missed Joan Sims.

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