DoctorDoctor Who Guide

Joan Sims

Last updated 03 February 2017


Joan Sims (1930-2001)
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Irene Joan Marion Sims

Born: Fri 9th May 1930
Died: Wed 27th June 2001 (age: 71)

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Joan Sims was an English actress, best remembered for her roles in the Carry On films, and latterly for playing both Madge Hardcastle in As Time Goes By, and Mrs Wembley the cook with a liking for sherry in the TV comedy series On the Up.

Sims was born in 1930, the daughter of the station master of Laindon railway station in LaindonEssex. Sims' 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 was certainly interested in pursuing show business, and soon became a familiar face in a growing number of amateur productions locally, during her teens.

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 pantomimeThe Happy Ha'penny, opposite Stanley Baxter at Glasgow's Citizens Theatre.

Sims appeared in a number of Brian Rix's Aldwych Theatre farces, but revue was Sims' greatest medium, especially in the works of Peter Myers. In 1958 she got a part in Peter Coke's play Breath of Spring, which opened at theCambridge Theatre in March, transferring to the Duke of York's Theatre in August 1958, and running until April 1959. Sims preferred film to stage work. "It was, of course, lovely to be in a successful play, to have the excitement of performing a hit to packed houses (and, not least, the assurance of a regular income for the foreseeable future). But, on the other hand, I found it extremely difficult to keep a performance fresh, and I'd soon get bored."

Sims made her first film appearance in Will Any Gentleman? with George Cole in 1953, closely followed by Trouble in Store with Norman Wisdom. In 1954 she made a cameo appearance in Doctor in the House, opposite Dirk Bogardeas the sexually repressed Nurse Rigor Mortis. Sims became a regular in the Doctors series, which was produced by Betty E. Box, and was hence spotted by Box's husband Peter Rogers.

In 1958, Sims received a script from Peter Rogers: it was for Carry On Nurse. The film Carry On Sergeant had been a huge success at the box office and in the autumn of that year and Rogers and director Gerald Thomas began planning a follow-up.

She first starred in Carry On Nurse, then Carry On Teacher, followed by Carry On Constable and Carry On Regardless, and this sealed her future as a regular Carry On performer. Following a bout of ill health, Dilys Laye had to be brought in to take her place in Carry On Cruising at very short notice; however, Sims rejoined the team with Carry On Cleo.

After the Carry On series ended in 1978, Sims continued to work on television. She appeared opposite Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier in the award-winning 1975 television film Love Among the Ruins and had a recurring role as Gran in the BBC comedy series Till Death Us Do Part. From 1979 until 1981 she played the recurring character Mrs Bloomsbury-Barton in Worzel Gummidge for Southern Television. During 1986 and 1987, Sims starred as Annie Begley alongside Angela Thorne in the Yorkshire Television sitcom Farrington of the F.O.. Also in 1986, Sims appeared in Doctor Who in the four episodes of The Trial of a Time Lord: The Mysterious Planet as Katryca. She also played Miss Murgatroyd in the Miss Marple adaptation, A Murder is Announced, Betsy Prig in a star-studded adaptation of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit and Lady Fox-Custard in Simon and the Witch.

In 1989, she appeared as a medium in the video for Morrisey's "Ouija Board, Ouija Board".

She played Mrs Wembley in the BBC comedy series On the Up, which starred Dennis Waterman and ran from 1990 to 1992. From 1994, she played Madge Hardcastle, stepmother of Geoffrey Palmer's character Lionel in As Time Goes By. Sims also appeared in episodes of the hit television comedy series Only Fools and Horses and The Goodies, in One Foot in the Grave special One Foot in the Algarve, and made a guest appearance in a sketch show with Victoria Wood.

In her later years, Sims fought a long battle against depression. 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, which resulted in her falling intoalcoholism. 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."[2][10] After assessment by a doctor, she was offered a place in a rehabilitation centre, but she decided to take control of her life. Offered the opportunity to write her autobiography, she took a role in the BBC television film The Last of the Blonde Bombshells, alongside Dame Judi Dench and Olympia Dukakis.

During 1963 Sims made several recordings. "Hurry Up Gran" / "Oh Not Again Ken" was issued as a single followed by "Spring Song" / "Men". 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". Although 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.