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Thursday, 28 June, 2001, 12:43 GMT 13:43 UK
Joan Sims: Carry On comedienne
Joan Sims
Joan Sims was a classically-trained actress
Joan Sims's larger than life character graced 26 Carry On Films, beginning with Carry On Admiral in 1957 and ending with the shambolic Carry On Emmannuelle in 1978.

Her characters ranged from Belle Armitage, the saloon-owning femme fatale in Carry On Cowboy to the faux-aristocratic memsahib, Lady Jane Ruff-Diamond, in Carry On Up The Khyber.

More often than not she was teamed with Sid James, firstly as love interest and more later as his nagging, long-suffering, wife.

But, despite the huge cult success which the Carry On films still enjoy, Joan Sims was more than just a comic performer. She was a classically-trained actress, critically acclaimed for her work on stage and television.

The young Joan Sims
The young Joan Sims
Born in in Essex in 1930, she enjoyed a happy childhood, entertaining travellers on the platform of the station where her father was stationmaster. Later, relations with her parents were temporarily strained when she went to live with a boyfriend.

She succeeded in entering the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) only at the fourth attempt and learned the acting profession the hard way, appearing in dozens of roles in the challenging repertory theatre which then dominated the British stage scene.

Though she appeared in a number of Brian Rix's Aldwych farces, revue was always Joan Sims's greatest medium, especially in the witty and intimate works of Peter Myers.

Though she lacked the rapier sharp wit of many of her contemporaries, she more than made up for this with effortless comic timing and delivery.

Joan Sims with fellow Carry On star Kenneth Williams
Joan Sims with fellow Carry On star Kenneth Williams
Spells at the Bristol Old Vic and the Chichester Festival enhanced Joan Sims's reputation: her Mrs Malaprop in Sheridan's The Rivals earned rave reviews, paving the way for her later characterisations and establishing her as a star of cinema and television.

Carry On

But it was for her roles in the Carry On series that she will be best remembered. These low budget features, packed with corny gags and single entendres proved a huge hit at the cinema.

Numerous television repeats have turned the films into cult viewing, especially among 30-somethings who first saw them as children.

The films were replete with one-liners, none better than her retort in Carry On Don't Lose Your Head, based during the French Revolution. "I'm all for Equality and Fraternity," her character Desiree Dubarry tells a suitor, "but I'm not having you taking any Liberties."

With Dame Judy Dench and Geoffrey Palmer in As Time Goes By
With Dame Judy Dench and Geoffrey Palmer in As Time Goes By
Years of heavy drinking and personal unhappiness took their toll: she later described herself as a "queen of puddings" and lived alone in a flat in Kensington, an upmarket area of London.

Her later television work included a show-stealing appearence as Betsy Prig in the BBC's 1994 adaptaion of Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit, a series of cameos in As Time Goes By and, more recently, as Betty in Alan Plater's Last of the Blonde Bombshells with Dame Judy Dench and Leslie Caron.

See also:

28 Jun 01 | Film
Joan Sims: A life in pictures
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