Joyce Grenfell is well known, loved and best remembered for her monolgues, songs, and comic writings. She was an accomplished actress and starred in many well known films, including the St Trinians along with George Cole, Alastiar Sims and Frankie Howerd. She was also a regular to television, radio and the stage, and entertained troops during the war with her usual wit, charm and humour.
The daughter of a madcap socialite American mother, Nora Langhorne, and architect Paul Phipps, she was born Joyce Phipps in 1910. The neice of Nancy Astor, she spent a lot of her younger years at the Astor family home, Cliveden, and despite being born three quarters American, she is quintessentially English in character.
Joyce met her husband Reggie Grenfell, in 1927 and two years later they were married, living in a cottage on the Cliveden Estate lent by aunt Nancy. It was whilst at a luncheon party at Cliveden that she met the editor of the Observer and told of how she listened tot he radio during the day and was given the job of writing the first radio critic column in the paper, something she enjoyed for the next two years.
It was in 1939 when her performance debut took place. After meeting radio producer Stephen Potter at a party and amusing him with an impersonation of the speaker she had seen at a local Women's Institute meeting, she was persuaded to take part in a revue, The Little Revue, and it was a hugh success.
Like many entertainers, she worked for ENSA during the war, performing in military hosiptals and in 1942 toured the UK, with later tours of India and the Middle East. For over thirty years she appeared in revues, on radio and in films, and it was with Stephen Potter (of Gamesmanship fame) that she wrote and performed in the How To.. series for the launch of the Third Programme in 1946.
Recently there have beena further two releases from the BBC Radio Collections. Hat's Off is a single tape compilation of Grenfell's poetry read by Maureen Lipman and introduced and linked by Janie Hampton, whilst Choice Grenfell is a double cassette of Lipman's one woman show about Joyce. As Lipman says at the beginning of Choice Grenfell, if you can forget that it is her, and imagine some sort of amalgum of the two performing then she has done what she achieves - I will go one further and say that until I read the sleeve notes of Hat's Off, I thought is WAS Grenfell. In the absence of archive recordings of the great woman herself, these tapes, along with those of her autobiography and letters, provide an excellent insight into a superb comedienne, monologist, and entertainer.
In 1976 she wrote her autobiography, Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure, and on Radio 4 in 1977, as part of the Women's Hour Serial, she read it in fifteen parts. Janet Quligley abridged the text and Pat McLoughlin produced, and now the BBC Radio Collections has re-issued it on double cassette at £8.99 (ISBN 0563 226 064).
Grenfell was also an avid letter writer and her friendship with Virginia Graham lasted for 62 years until her death in November 1979. The two were inseperable, and when they were apart, wrote daily. The letters were undiscovered until 1995, and give a whole social narrative as they discuss everything from war to politics, as well as the more private and emotional lives behind the comic performances. Maureen Lipman, a devoted fan of Grenfell, reads a selection of these for Radio 3,a long with Janie Hampton, and they are available for the first time on cassette in March. The ISBN is 0563 552 727 and the double cassette is priced £8.99.