Joyce Grenfell biography

The Classic Creatives: Joyce Grenfell


Joyce Grenfell (1910-1979) was a British entertainer, famed for her songs, monologues and acting. After her death, volumes of her personal letters to friends and family were published, and universally adored.

Laughter was Joyce’s forte, and her roles in films such as the St Trinians series and The Happiest Days of Your Life secured her status as one of the great female comic actresses of the 1950s. However, it was for her brilliantly witty and fast-paced monologues and songs that Joyce is best remembered, including George, Don’t Do That – have a listen below.

What inspired her work?

Whilst good humour and jolly-hockey-sticks fun was at the foreground of a lot of Joyce’s work, there was often an edge of seriousness and a point to be made, whether it be about the class system or gender roles.

Born into an affluent family (she was the daughter of British architect Paul Phipps and American socialite Nora Langhorne, who was the sister of Nancy Astor), she grew up safe in a cocoon of upper-class comfort – but was still aware of the social turbulence of 20th century Britain.

What should I start with?

Have a gander through some of her monologues and songs on YouTube – there’s a great selection here. Fancy more of an insight into Joyce the woman, rather than Joyce the entertainer? Find a copy of Joyce and Ginnie: The Letters of Joyce Grenfell and Virginia Graham (see here); the two women were life-long best friends from the age of 7.

Why should I care about her?

Joyce had the rare talent of bringing genuine joy and amusement to people. She was a comic without spite, a wit without wither. Her playful spirit is almost as enduring as the laughter she brought to the world.

She said…

“There is no such thing as the pursuit of happiness, but there is the discovery of joy.”


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