A 2004 British television poll to find 'The Comedian's Comedian' named Joyce Grenfell as one of the most influential humourists of all time. Grenfell was not only a hugely successful radio, film and television comedian, but also an accomplished singer. Unusually for a woman of her era she wrote most of her own material, and though three-quarters American her gentle comedy was definitively English.
Born Joyce Irene Phipps in London in 1910, her father was the architect Paul Phipps, her mother the socialite Nora Langhorne. She was partly educated at Clearview, a Christian Science School, and remained a Christian Scientist through her life. At 17 she studied briefly at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and met Reggie Grenfell, whom she married in 1929.
Having begun her professional career writing for Punch, Joyce made her performing debut with the monologue 'Useful and Acceptable Gifts' in The Little Review in 1939. When WWII began Joyce joined ENSA (Entertainments National Service Organisation), entertaining the armed forces in Britain, the Middle East and India, for which she received an OBE. In 1941 Joyce began a long collaboration with the composer Richard Addinsell, best known for his Warsaw Concerto. One of their songs, "I'm Going to See You Today" became her signature tune.
Also in 1941 Grenfell made her film début, starring in the Carol Reed directed short, A Letter From Home. Later Joyce would become a screen comedy icon, with roles in The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), Genevieve (1953) and three of the smash-hit St. Trinians comedies. In 1954 the stage show Joyce Grenfell Requests The Pleasure opened in London, running for 276 performances, followed by eight weeks on Broadway.
Joyce's radio career began in 1943, with How, an increasingly whimsical documentary series. Later series included A Note With Music (1947) and Call The Tune (1956). This became television's Face The Music, in which Joyce appeared between 1971-75. Beginning in 1947 with selections from Noel Coward's Words and Music, Joyce recorded several LPs, and in 1976 wrote her autobiography, "Joyce Grenfell Requests the Pleasure". In 1977 she followed this with "George, Don't Do That", titled after her famous catch-phrase.
Joyce Grenfell took delight in small pleasures – the smell of old books, a beautiful countryside twilight – and gave delight to millions. After she died of cancer in 1979 thousands queued for hours to attend a service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey.