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A Brief Profile of Joan Sims

Early Life

The character actress Joan Sims was born on 9 May 1930 in Laindon, near Basildon in Essex. She was the only child of John Henry Sims, the local stationmaster, and his wife Gladys, and christened Irene Joan Marion Sims. She showed an interest in acting from an early age, taking up local amateur dramatics. Sims decided that she would pursue an acting career in her early teens.

In 1946, Sims made an unsuccessful application to join the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). She succeeded at her fourth attempt and graduated from acting school in 1950, aged 19. One of her very first stage performances was at Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre in 1951. There, she appeared in pantomime in The Happy Ha’penny, opposite the famed Scottish funnyman Stanley Baxter.

Film Career

In 1953, Sims made her film debut in ‘Will Any Gentleman?’ with George Cole, Sid James and John Pertwee. Later the same year, she appeared in ‘Trouble in Store’, starring Norman Wisdom. In 1954, she appeared as Miss Dawn in ‘The Belles of St Trinian’s’, with Alastair Sim. She then made a cameo appearance in Doctor in the House (1954), opposite Dirk Bogarde. Afterwards, she became a regular in the Doctors series, produced by Betty E. Box. Box’s husband Peter Rogers, future producer of the ‘Carry On’ series, took note of Sims’ performances.

Joan Sims with Dirk Bogarde in ‘Doctor in the House’ (1953) Image credit: Creative Commons/(CC by 2.0)

In 1959, Sims was cast in ‘Carry On Nurse’ by producer Peter Rogers. It was the second film of the long-running comedy ‘Carry-On’ franchise. Sims went on to appear in 24 of the 31 ‘Carry On’ films, which was the most of any actress. The last of the films was Carry on Emmanuelle, made in 1978. In the intervening years of the ‘Carry On era (1959 – 1978), Sims made some further 20 film appearances.


After the Carry-On film franchise ended in 1978, Sims worked almost exclusively in television. Notably, she appeared opposite Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier in the award-winning television film Love Among the Ruins (1975). Still, in her late 30s, she also appeared as ‘Gran’ in the popular BBC comedy series Till Death Us Do Part (1967 – 1975). Between 1979 and 1981, she played Mrs Bloomsbury-Barton in the children’s comedy series Worzel Gummidge.

During 1986 and 1987, Sims starred as Annie Begley in the TV sitcom Farrington of the F.O. She also played Miss Murgatroyd in the Miss Marple adaptation ‘A Murder is Announced’ (1985). In 1986, she also appeared in four episodes of the popular long-running BBC science fiction series Doctor Who. Afterwards, in 1987, she joined the cast of the comedy sketch show ‘And There’s More’. In 1989, she appeared in the music video “Ouija Board, Ouija Board” by popular songster Morrissey.

Between 1990 and 1992, Sims played Mrs Wembley in the BBC comedy series ‘On the Up’, which starred Dennis Waterman. From 1994, she played Madge Hardcastle, stepmother of Geoffrey Palmer’s character Lionel in ‘As Time Goes By’. Notably, she was cast as Betsey Prig in a TV adaptations of Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit (1994) and as Lady Fox-Custard in Simon and the Witch (1987 – 1988).

Career Summary

After co-starring in Carry On Emmanuelle in 1978, Sims made only two further films for the big screen. She appeared as Lady Daphne in The Fool (1990) and provided the voice of the old witch in The Thief and the Cobbler (1993). In all, Sims made 72 movies for the big screen and 17 for TV, during her 47-year film career (1953 – 2000). Of those, she made a total of 17 films with fellow ‘Carry On’ actor Sid James, a record pairing for the industry.

As well as a film, Sims also had an extensive stage and TV career. She made her last stage appearance as Fairy Sweetcorn in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ with Kenneth Connor at the Richmond Theatre in 1985. Her last television appearance was as Betty the pianist in the TV film ‘The Last of the Blonde Bombshells’ (2000), starring Judi Dench.

Personal life

Sims never married, stating that “I never married because the right person never came along”. Fellow ‘Carry On’ actor and close friend Kenneth Williams, who was homosexual, once proposed a marriage of convenience. However, She respectively declined the offer. From 1958, Sims had a three years relationship with actor Tony Baird. After breaking up with Baird, she dated stage manager John Walters. It was Sims’ last serious relationship, which ended after two years of living together.

Ill-health and Death

Sims suffered from years of depression following the death of best friend and fellow ‘Carry On’ actress Hattie Jacques and her mother in the early ‘80s. In 1997, she was diagnosed with diverticular disease, and with Bell’s palsy in 1999. She fractured a hip in 2000 but made a good recovery. However, by this time, a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking had begun to take its toll. She was offered a place in a rehabilitation centre for alcoholics by her doctor but declined to take it up.

Sims spent the last few months of her life drifting in and out of a coma. On 27 June 2001, she died from liver failure and diverticulitis, with complications from diabetes and COPD being cited as contributory factors. She was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium, where her ashes were scattered on the grounds.

Her authorised biography ‘Too Happy A Face’, authored by Andrew Ross, was published in 2014.

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