Joan Sims: Too Happy A Face
Immortalised through her roles in twenty-four of the iconic Carry On films, Joan Sims remains one of Britain’s best-known comedy legends. For five decades - through more than seventy film appearances and work on stage, television and radio - she captured the hearts of audiences around the world. Yet behind the laughter was heartache and personal torment as the incredibly private actress battled depression, insecurity, loneliness and alcoholism.
In this authorised biography of Joan, Andrew Ross details her early years on stage and rise to stardom in theatre revue, her failed romances and the intense bond with her parents which ultimately led to the collapse of her one serious love affair.
Revealed is the truth about Joan’s relationships with her Carry On co-stars (including Kenneth Williams who bizarrely proposed to her), the drink problem which forced her to spend time in a grim Victorian mental institute in the early 1980s and the circumstances behind her reclusive final years and last months in hospital before her death in 2001.
With a cast of characters, ranging from Sidney James and Kenneth Williams to Laurence Olivier and Katharine Hepburn, Joan’s story, from a solitary and lonely childhood in 1930s Essex, to her status as a national treasure in the 1990s, is one of professional success over personal heartache achieved through immense determination.
Drawing on first-hand accounts from Joan’s closest surviving friends and contemporaries including Barbara Windsor, Fenella Fielding, Dame Judi Dench and Sir Tom Courtenay, as well as exclusive material from her personal archive, what emerges is the story of a much-loved lady who battled private demons to become one of the finest and best-loved actresses of her generation.
ANDREW ROSS discusses TOO HAPPY A FACE
I decided to write a biography of Joan Sims for a couple of reasons. The main being, quite simply, I have been a fan of her work since I was a child and felt her full story was worth telling. In my opinion her sheer presence lights up the screen and her versatility as an actress never ceases to amaze me. Of course I had a lot of information on her life and career as a result of my Carry On book but it has been an honour to dig deeper and discover the person behind the actress.
Despite being one of the most recognisable faces in British film/TV history Joan's private story has never really been told. Her own autobiography was filled with wonderful anecdotes but only scratched the surface of a sad personal life and the strength of spirit needed to overcome her many demons: shyness, insecurity, loneliness, depression and alcoholism.
Throughout her life Joan was intensely private. She did not 'court' the media and rarely gave interviews. While many of her 'Carry On' colleagues have been the subject of newspaper articles, books and even television dramas, the 'real' Joan has largely remained hidden behind the numerous faces she portrayed on screen.
Within the profession she was truly loved and remains a great example to other actresses who have attempted to follow in her footsteps. The affection with which she is held by her fans and the public at large remains undimmed over a decade after her death. However, the battles she faced to maintain her career as a 'star' actress remain largely unknown.
From my research it is clear that her parents (and in particular her mother) had a massive impact upon Joan's life. Isolated during her childhood she grew up to be a shy, insecure girl whose only escape from the often sad realities of her own life was found in the make-believe world of acting. Her strict upbringing also resulted in certain neuroses when it came to forming relationships, particularly with men. The collapse of her one true romance ultimately led to her addiction to alcohol, a problem which I discovered started much earlier than had originally been stated. For the first time the full extent of Joan's struggles with alcoholism and depression are described, drawing on first-hand accounts from those closest to her.
Also revealed through my research is Joan's true relationships with her mother, Peter Eade (her agent for over 20 years), Kenneth Williams (who remained one of Joan's best friends despite frequent frictions), Hattie Jacques (her surrogate sister and confidante) and Barbara Windsor (with whom the popular press attempted to say Joan was feuding with in later years). Likewise, the love and respect which Joan generated among friends and colleagues also emerges from my work and numerous surviving colleagues were happy to discuss their popular co-star.