One of the longest running–and certainly most popular–series on Afternoon Tea is As Time Goes By–and this week we take a look at Joan Sims, who played Lionel’s stepmother Madge. What a character! The actress as well as the role she played.
Born in 1930, Sims grew up as a lonely, only child, in a railway station in Essex, where her father was the Station Master. It was there that she got her first taste of what it felt like to be a performer, as she entertained the waiting passengers with musical shows in the ladies waiting room.
Her railway station performances led Sims to becoming involved as a young teenager in local community theatre productions and her next step was to audition for London’s prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Her first attempt at getting into the school when she was just 16 was unsuccessful, but she didn’t give up and finally after three attempts was admitted.
After graduating, Sims didn’t have any trouble getting stage work, but found that film and television was more to her liking. Her first film appearance was in 1952 and two years later she appeared in the first of the successful Doctors comedy series, alongside Dirk Bogarde. It was another batch of rib-tickling comedy films though that really made Sims a household name in the U.K.–the Carry On series of films in which she appeared in a total of 24 from 1958 to 1978. She would eventually appear in over 100 films and television productions.
While primarily known as a comedic actress, Sims showed off her dramatic acting abilities in television productions such as Love Among the Ruins, in which she starred alongside Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier, and in the 1995 Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of Charles Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit. You may also recall Sims’ appearances in One Foot In The Grave and in the Miss Marple series, A Murder is Announced.
Despite Sims being a “National Institution”, whose jolly-face brightened up the lives of so many, her own life was far from happy. Depression and alcoholism haunted her, although Sims swore her drinking never affected her work and that she only ever drank when she wasn’t working. In 1982 Sims was admitted to hospital following a nervous breakdown and spent two months in a psychiatric hospital. After her release she continued to do what she loved doing best–work, but in 1999, she suffered from Bell's palsy and a year later fractured her hip. She underwent hip replacement surgery and recovered well, but in November of 2000 she was admitted to hospital for a routine operation, developed complications and slipped into a coma from which she never recovered. Sims died on June 28th, 2001.
At the time of her death, the never married and childless Sims was living in what one obituary called "genteel poverty", having staved on bankruptcy by selling her home and moving into a small rented flat. Despite the hugely successful and highly profitable Carry On films, Sims, like the rest of the cast, had failed to negotiate residuals and was only paid £2,500 per film.
Sims role as Madge in As Time Goes By was never recast. Instead the writers made mention in series eight that the character was away participating in an Egyptian archaeological dig.
If you've got a favorite actor you'd like to know more about let me know, drop me a line.
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