Star Archive

Joyce Grenfell (1910 - 1979)

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. 

Joyce Grenfell


1943 The Lamp Still Burns
1943 The Demi-Paradise
1947 While the Sun Still Shines
1948 Designing Women
1949 Poet's Pub
1949 A Run for Your Money
1950 The Happiest Days of Your Life
1950 Stage Fright
1951 The Galloping Major
1951 Laughter in Paradise
1951 The Magic Box
1952 The Pickwick Papers
1953 Genevieve
1954 The Million Pound Note
1954 Forbidden Cargo
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