GRENFELL, Joyce (1910-1979)
Plaque erected in 2003 by English Heritage at 34 Elm Park Gardens, Chelsea, London, SW10 9NZ, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Actress, Writer, Broadcaster
Radio and Television, Theatre and Film
JOYCE GRENFELL 1910-1979 Entertainer and Writer lived here in flat No.8 1957-1979
Joyce Grenfell was a much loved English entertainer and writer who garnered a huge following on the stage, radio and television. She is commemorated with a blue plaque at 34 Elm Park Gardens, Chelsea, where she lived for over 20 years from the height of her career in the 1950s.
Joyce Grenfell (née Phipps) was born in 1910, the only daughter of the architect Paul Phipps and Nora Langhorne, sister of Nancy Astor. Joyce loved the area of Chelsea in West London, living there for the majority of her life. With a passion for acting from a young age, Joyce once said she had ‘been stage-struck since I’d first been taken to the theatre, aged seven’. She grew up performing at family gatherings and started taking acting lessons in her late teens however she gave this up in 1929 when she married Reginald Pascoe Grenfell, a chartered accountant.
A Big Break
In the late 1930s, Joyce started to entertain and write again. She was given her ‘big break’ when, at a party, she performed a rendering of a talk she had heard at a Women’s Institute meeting. She was spotted by Herbert Farjeon, a theatre critic, playwright and presenter of revues on London’s West End. Farjeon was so taken by Joyce’s performance that he invited her to be part of his upcoming revue. This opened in March 1939 and Joyce’s performance was well received – the start of a long and successful career as an entertainer.
During the Second World War, Joyce embarked on two long tours with the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), performing for British troops at hospitals and isolated units in North Africa, Southern Italy, the Middle East and India.
After 1945, her reputation was established with a series of revues, a radio programme and films that included The Million Pound Note (1953) and the St Trinian’s series. In 1954 she reached the height of her career with the launch of her own show, Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure. This featured some of her finest comic monologues, many of which were fuelled by the idiosyncrasies and behaviours of the middle classes.
Elm Park Gardens
In 1957 when Joyce was still at the height of her career, she and Reggie moved to Flat 8, 34 Elm Park Gardens, where they remained until their respective deaths. When Joyce first heard of the availability of the flat – which occupied the third and attic floors of what had been two separate houses – she remarked,
Nothing would make me live in Elm Park Gardens . . . where the Victorian houses, built at just the wrong period, are made of what I think of as public-lavatory yellow brick.
Once inside, however, she ‘liked it at once’, and enlisted the help of her second cousin, Elizabeth Winn, an interior decorator. The Grenfells had a wide circle of friends and colleagues who they entertained at the flat – one notable guest being the poet John Betjeman who visited to compile a poetry programme with Joyce. In her later life Joyce remained hugely prolific, even after her retirement from the stage in 1973.
Joyce Grenfell passed away in 1979, from cancer, at her home in Elm Park Gardens. By this time she had a huge following on the stage, radio and television and was somewhat of a British institution. Had she lived just a little longer she would have been appointed DBE in the 1980 New Years honours list.