Joyce Grenfell was born Joyce Irene Phipps on 10 February 1910 in Knightsbridge, London. Joyce attended Clear View school based in Norwood, North London from 1924 - 1926. Clear View was the original school for the daughters of Christian Scientists, which in 1931 moved to Esher and took the name Claremont after the mansion house.
Born into a wealthy family of Wiltshire clothiers and her mother was the daughter of an American railway millionaire. Joyce’s maternal aunt was Nancy Witcher Langhorne Astor, Viscountess Astor – who became the second female MP and the first woman to take her seat in parliament in 1919. Lady Astor was known to be a strong supporter of the school providing financial support for Clear View, Claremont and Fan Court schools in their early inception.
Although Joyce only attended Clear View for two years, leaving to attend finishing school in Paris, we can from her file see that she took extra lessons in piano, drawing and elocution already displaying the talents she would be recognised for later in life.
Joyce Grenfell made her stage debut in 1939 and throughout the WWII toured North Africa, Southern Italy, ME and India using her singing and comic talents to perform for British troops. As a writer she worked for the BBC in TV and Radio and during the 1950’s and 60’s she made her name as the comedy sidekick in a number of films, most memorably as the beleaguered police woman sgt Ruby Gates in the St Trinian’s series of films. Remembered for her one woman shows, monologues and humour delivered in song and verse. In 2005 Joyce Grenfell voted amongst the top 50 comedy acts by fellow comedians.
Joyce Grenfell passed away in November 1979 after a long illness, but not before granting her permission for the school to name a new building in her honor. The Joyce Grenfell Centre (JGC) opened in 1984 and remains one of the most important and well used facilities on the school site today. The multipurpose centre houses amongst other things the school’s drama department and performance space and is appropriately named after former pupil and beloved entertainer Joyce Grenfell.
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