Saturday 5 March 2016

Life after the Carry Ons: Joan Sims


This is a new occasional series of blogs in which I will look at the careers of each of the main Carry On team players once they left the series. Some would go on to appear in many other productions over the years while others would sadly not be so fortunate. Today I am starting off with my own personal favourite, Joan Sims.

Joan stayed with the Carry On films until the end of the original run in 1978. Although this would pretty much mark the end of her prolific and wide ranging film career, Joan would be kept busy on the small screen for the next two decades. This shift in her career was more a reflection on the state of the British film industry at the time than anything else. Although most people are aware that Joan was a very humble lady, genuinely shy and lacking in self-confidence or self-believe, she was beloved by many of her peers and thousands of fans for years. And she still is.

While Joan may have played down her career successes over the years, the 1980s and 1990s saw her work on some fine productions. She had made her last stage appearance in a pantomime in 1984 and claimed to enjoy the immediacy of the television studio much more in later years. She never really had a major starring role in later life but I think that's how she preferred it, she enjoyed being part of a company and an ensemble. We all know her for her later roles in comedies such as As Time Goes By and On The Up, but there was plenty more besides.

One of Joan's first post-Carry On roles came with a recurring part as Mrs Bloomsbury-Barton in the classic series Worzel Gummidge. The series also starred two of Joan's old Carry On colleagues in Jon Pertwee and Barbara Windsor. Another regular role was that of Molly Peglar in the series Born and Bred which ran to two series between 1978 and 1980. This brought her back into contact with former Carry On colleague Richard O'Callaghan as well as the actor James Grout. Joan and James had worked together in repertory theatre decades before. He would go on to portray Inspector Morse's boss on television.

A complete change of tack came along later in 1980 when Joan was gven a rare serious role. She played Victorian child killer Amelia Dyer in an episode of the series Ladykillers. This harrowing role was mentioned in Joan's autobiography and although a difficult watch, I'd really love to see it. There were many more, lighter, sparkling productions in the 1980s. These included the role of Clara in a production of Hay Fever, co-starring the likes of Penelope Keith, Patricia Hodge and Paul Eddington. Joan also worked with Keith in Waters of the Moon in 1983. This play co-starred Joan's life long friend Dilys Laye. 


In 1985 Joan filmed one of my favourite of all her performances on screen, as Amy Murgatroyd in the definitive production of Agatha Christie's A Murder is Announced. As the simple, gentle Murgatroyd, Joan puts in a beautifully subtle and sympathetic turn. Sadly her character has a rather unpleasant end but if you haven't seen it I won't say any more. Next, and in complete contrast came Joan's role as Katryca in the 1986 series of Doctor Who. Although an iconic series, Joan claimed to have no idea what it was all about and admitted she just learned the lines and picked up the cheque! Fair enough! 

Between 1987 and 1988 Joan starred in Lady Fox-Custard in a wonderful BBC children's series Simon and the Witch. I vividly remember this series as a child and it was always one of my favourites. Those were the days when the BBC produced such a variety of dramas and comedies for children, featuring proper actors. On this series Joan formed a lasting friendship with Elizabeth Spriggs. The pair would work again several years later when Joan played a wonderfully filthy, grotty Betsy Prig in a sparkling BBC production of Martin Chuzzlewit. As the 1990s wore on, Joan would miss out on several roles due to ill health or just bad luck. Those included plum parts in series such as The VIllage Affair and Vanity Fair.  She did make guest appearances in the likes of Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, Pie in the Sky, My Good Friend and Just William, but it must have been a frustrating time for her.

As recounted in her autobiography, ill health dogged Joan as she grew older. That coupled with a variety of personal problems must have prevented her taking on some roles. I'd rather not dwell on this area of Joan's life but it does explain why appearances grew thin on the ground for a time in the 1990s. She did, however, have one final, triumphant role which was filmed in late 1999 and broadcast the following year. As Betty, the bandleader in the comedy drama The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, she was back on form and surrounded by a cast which included Judi Dench, Ian Holm, June Whitfield, Olympia Dukakis and Billie Whitelaw. Not a bad way to go out. Sadly this would be Joan's final screen appearance as she would leave us the following year.

While there was much to enjoy in Joan's later, post-Carry On career, I can't help but think she had so much more to give as an actress. Her early death at the age of just 71 robbed us of a great deal. 

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