Joan Sims was born Irene Joan Marion Sims on 9 May 1930, the daughter of an Essex railway station master. An only child, the remote location of her parents' home meant that Joan didn't have many friends. Other amusements, however, were on hand and she spent much of her childhood entertaining passengers with impromptu stage routines on the station platform and befriending any poor soul who missed their train and became stranded there. Such diversions sparked an interest in pursuing showbusiness and Joan soon became a familiar face in a growing number of amateur productions.
Her West End debut was in the revue Intimacy at Eight, at the Irving Theatre. This revue followed a lengthy spell in rep, working in Manchester, Glasgow and Salisbury, amongst others.
When, in 1946, Joan first applied to RADA, her audition was less than successful; one of the adjudicators apparently not overly keen on a rendition from Winnie the Pooh!. Joan did, however, succeed in being admitted to PARADA, the academy's preparatory school, and finally, on her fourth attempt, Joan graduated and trained at RADA alongside the likes of Ian Holm, Brian Matthew and Shaw Taylor.
Joan graduated from RADA in 1950 at the age of nineteen. She was spotted shortly thereafter by a young theatrical agent, Peter Eade, who at the time was starting to establish himself in the business (Eade also represented Kenneth Williams and Ronnie Barker) and began the slow struggle through rep and a string of cameo appearances in film, usually playing the buxom sexpot. A cameo appearance in Doctor in the House as the sexually repressed Nurse Rigor Mortis led to Joan being first spotted by Peter Rogers; Rogers' wife Betty Box was producer of what went on to become the Doctor... series, in which Joan herself became a regular. Rogers offered Joan a part in his 1954 movie, To Dorothy a Son. A few years later, in 1958, Joan received another script from Peter Rogers. Carry On Sergeant had been a huge success at the box office and in the autumn of that year Rogers and Gerald Thomas began planning a follow up.
Joan appeared in 24 of the films, making her the longest serving female member of the team. She first starred in Carry On Nurse, then Teacher, Constable and Regardless before taking a break from the next four films to concentrate on stage work. She rejoined the team with Carry On Cleo and remained all the way through to Carry On Emmannuelle.
Since parting company with the Carry Ons in 1978, Joan went on to become a familiar face on our TV screens, with ongoing roles in a number of highly successful sitcoms (On the Up, As Time Goes By) and more recently the BBC's prestigious classic drama adaptations (Martin Chuzzlewit). Joan's autobiography, High Spirits, was released in 2000.
As a person, Joan admitted to being very nervous when it comes to being herself, and as such her nerves were a liability at many auditions. One of the compensations for being famous, in her own words, is that the producers now "Just call for Sims". Her first film role, alongside George Cole, was "Will any Gentlemen" in 1953 (ironically, she was given the part by a director who had previously failed her at an audition).
Joan never married, not, she says because she doesn't want to, but simply because the right person never came along (Kenneth Williams once proposed to her, but with Kenny, you never could tell whether he was being serious or not!). She was very close to her mother, and also to Hattie Jacques - who became an extremely close friend. Sims admitted she leaned on others for support, and was absolutely devastated when her mother, Hattie Jacques and her manager Peter Eade, all died within a few years of each other.
Joan passed away in June 2001 following a prolonged period of ill health.