|About this Recording
8.120860 - GRENFELL, Joyce: Requests the Pleasure (1939-1954)
Joyce Grenfell – Requests the Pleasure
Joyce Grenfell is reported to have once said: "There is no such thing as the pursuit of happiness, but there is the discovery of joy". Those who were fortunate enough to have seen or heard Joyce Grenfell perform will each have discovered their own joy, from the side-splitting, hysterical joy of laughter to the wistful joy of times and loves remembered and perhaps lost. To remember her is to smile, as she would have wished.
As the daughter of a successful architect father, Paul Phipps, and Nora Langhorne, an American whose sister was Lady Astor, Joyce Irene Phipps was 'born into money' in London on 10 February 1910. As Nancy Astor's niece, she spent many happy times in her childhood at the Astor family home at Cliveden on the Thames. After going to private schools and to finishing school in Paris, she met Reggie Grenfell when she was only seventeen, and married him two years later, a marriage that was to last until her death fifty years later. Their first home was in a cottage on the Cliveden estate.
As a child, Joyce loved to sing with her guitar-playing mother, and to put on amateur shows at home, but one term at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1927, while she was still only seventeen, persuaded her that acting in scripted plays had no appeal, because she found this field of endeavour 'too restrictive'. Her first professional income came from the publication of some of her verse in Punch, and for two years, 1937–39, she reviewed radio programmes for The Observer.
Joyce had by then developed a great talent for mimicry, as well as an ability to write songs, sketches and monologues. Her performance of one such monologue, then titled "How to Make a Boutonnière out of Empty Beech Nut Husk Clusters", came to the attention of producer Herbert Farjeon, who invited her to perform it in his new revue, The Little Revue, which opened on 21 April 1939 (with "How to Make a Boutonnière out of Empty Beech Nut Husk Clusters" now retitled as Useful And Acceptable Gifts). When war broke out in 1939, Joyce was an early volunteer to appear in concerts organized for the troops by ENSA (Entertainments National Service Association), first around Britain and later in the Middle East and India. She was rewarded for her efforts in 1946, when she was awarded an OBE.
Back home she was still able to fit in appearances in two more revues. The first, Diversion, which opened in October 1940 at Wyndham's Theatre, played in the afternoons, so that audiences could be home before the air raid sirens sounded. A second edition of Diversion played in 1941. Then in 1942 came Light and Shade, another Farjeon revue, after which Joyce was off on her ENSA travels overseas.
It was in 1941 that Joyce had first met pianist/composer Richard Addinsell, known best then and since as the composer of the popular "Warsaw Concerto", which was used as the theme of the film Dangerous Moonlight in 1941. Their writing partnership developed quickly: two of their earliest songs were There Is Nothing New To Tell You and I'm Going To See You Today; the latter was to become Joyce's signature tune. In contrast to the broad comedic persona which Joyce would demonstrate in later years in a succession of very funny films, her gentle yet riveting performance of these songs touched a million heartstrings and launched not a few tears among the population of a wartime Britain with so many loved ones away from home.
Joyce first got involved in radio in 1943, when she collaborated with Stephen Potter on a series of radio programmes for the BBC, titled How. Originally intended as straightforward documentaries on the right way to do such things as talk to children, give a party, travel, and make friends, the series developed a satirical style, thanks to Joyce's impish sense of humour. How was initially largely improvised and only later became scripted.
Other radio series with which Joyce was associated included Here's Wishing You Well Again (1946), A Note With Music, which she wrote and performed with George Benson and the George Melachrino Orchestra in 1947, and We Beg to Differ (1949), a panel show with four women and two men discussing subjects which typified the 'battle of the sexes'. Much later, in 1956, she participated in a radio show named Call the Tune, which evolved into the television series Face The Music, in which she appeared from 1971 to 1975.
Joyce's first post-war stage revue was Sigh No More, which Noël Coward produced in August 1945, and for which he wrote much of the material. Among the material Joyce performed were Coward's The End Of The News and her own Du Maurier, which had nothing to do with cigarettes, but was about a famous Punch cartoonist of that name.
Fifteen years earlier, in 1932, Noël Coward had written a highly successful revue, Words and Music, and in 1947–48 Joyce recorded several numbers from the exceptionally strong score: I'm The Wife Of An Acrobat, Mad About The Boy, Children Of The Ritz and We Must All Be Very Kind To Aunt Jessie. 1947 was also the year in which she starred in and wrote material for a Max Adrian Revue, Tuppence Coloured. In 1951, Richard Addinsell wrote the music and Joyce and her cousin Nicholas Phipps provided the lyrics for a 'sequel' revue, Penny Plain, including Maud (A Moment With Tennyson), for which Phipps supplied the lyrics and which Joyce sang, with assistance from Julian Orchard, and Keepsake, with Joyce's lyrics.
During the war, Joyce had performed in several semi-documentary films promoting various aspects of the war effort. After the war, she was cast in small roles in four more pictures, before earning the splendid role of Miss Gossage ('Call me Sausage') in The Happiest Days of Your Life, where she co-starred with Alastair Sim. This made her much in demand for similar 'gawky woman' roles, all of which were but preludes to the three St Trinian's box-office hits: Belles of St. Trinians (1954), Blue Murder at St. Trinian's (1957) and The Pure Hell of St. Trinian's (1961).
1954 proved to be a banner year for Joyce. Not only did the first St Trinian's film open to great reviews, but Joyce was to star in Joyce Grenfell Requests The Pleasure, which opened at the Fortune Theatre on 2 June and ran for 276 performances, followed by an eight-week run on Broadway. Once again Richard Addinsell wrote almost all the music and Joyce provided the majority of the lyrics. The show's structure was a series of keenly-observed character studies of a wide range of females, with support from Paddy Stone, Irving Davies and Beryl Kaye, and an orchestra under the direction of William Blezard.
Of 27 items that made up the programme, seven are heard here: The Music's Message, Understanding Mother, Three Brothers, Palais Dancers, Folk Song (A Song Of The Weather) – written by Michael Flanders and Donald Swann and with Joyce replacing their chorus of 'Bloody January again' with the more appropriately genteel 'Dear old January again …' – Shirley's Girl Friend and Hostess. The show, as does this record, concluded with the charming farewell that Joyce Grenfell spoke to the audience at the end of each performance. "I wish I could invite you all back for supper, but …"
So here's Joyce, her songs and her humour. You'll have to provide your own supper.
Joyce Grenfell first recorded in 1939, and did two more sessions in 1942 and 1945. All of these discs are extremely rare, the few known copies are in less than perfect condition, and aside from participating in a Noël Coward medley in 1947, she made no more records before 1951. But even more rare and not for commercial issue are the recordings she made for a radio series around 1947–48. The Noël Coward Programme, a set of thirteen half-hour shows produced by Harry Alan Towers (Towers of London), was offered for syndication around the world. It would appear that not many markets were interested, since the programmes didn't make easy provision for the insertion of commercials and the material was pretty sophisticated, and the transcription discs are seldom found. The technical quality was mediocre even by standards of the time, since the individual songs were recorded on 78 RPM lacquers and dubbed into the final version, with resultant wow and flutter. But they allowed for full-length versions of Coward's songs, and 25 of them were by Joyce Grenfell. Five are in this collection.
I'm Going To See You Today (Joyce Grenfell–Richard Addinsell)
There Is Nothing New To Tell You (Joyce Grenfell–Richard Addinsell)
Useful And Acceptable Gifts (An Institute Lecture Demonstration)
The End Of The News
I'm The Wife Of An Acrobat (Noël Coward)
Mad About The Boy (Noël Coward)
Children Of The Ritz (Noël Coward)
We Must All Be Very Kind To Auntie Jessie (Noël Coward)
Maud (A Moment With Tennyson)
The Music's Message (Joyce Grenfell–Richard Addinsell)
All selections recorded in London
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