Actress Joan Turner 1922-2009

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Mar 4, 2009, 8:13:46 AM3/4/09
Joan TurnerFeisty comedian and actor, she found fame in the 1960s and
Dennis Barker The Guardian, Wednesday 4 March 2009 Article historyJoan
Turner, who has died at the age of 86, was an outstandingly versatile
performer who was called "the women's answer to Harry Secombe". She
could sing a pop or operatic song with her four-and-a-half-octave
soprano voice, do an almost eerily convincing impersonation of Bette
Davis, and then switch to a stand-up comic routine. The London Evening
News once said that she had "the voice of an angel and the wit of a
devil". Her agent, Janet Glass, thought that she never had an equal
before her peak time or after it - and was apt to challenge any
doubters to think of one.

Joan could hold her own with the unpredictable Crazy Gang at the
Victoria Palace, and was perhaps the only female popular singer,
impressionist and comedian of the last 50 years with a voice capable
of conquering concert halls. It was a cruel reverse when alcohol and
gambling reduced her, for several years in the 1990s, to the status of
a bag lady walking the streets of Los Angeles and Las Vegas looking
for work - an experience she ebulliently strove to present to friends
as no more than an adventure.

Joan, a practising Catholic, was born in Belfast, the daughter of
Leonard Turner, who became a London bus driver and subsequently taxi
driver after serving with the British Army in Ireland, where he met
Ellen Charlesson, the woman who would become his wife and the mother
of Joan. Their bright daughter won a scholarship to the Sacred Heart
convent in Victoria, and travelled there every day from their home
miles away in Peckham. When, at 14, Joan told her teachers she wanted
to leave for a theatrical career, the Mother Superior begged Ellen to
persuade her to stay.

Persuasion was fruitless, and the girl appeared at a London music hall
when still 14, the following year appearing in revue and after that
featuring, in 1954, with the nihilistic Crazy Gang. Even against such
opposition, she imposed herself sufficiently to appear that year at
the Royal Command Performance, a forerunner of the one in 1963 when
she topped a bill that also included the Beatles. Joan was to star at
many royal events. She appeared at the Queen's Silver Jubilee
performance in 1977 and was guest of honour at the Queen Mother's 90th
birthday in 1990.

For many years it was as if she trod a golden road, becoming the
highest-earning female singer in Britain, and the disc jockey of her
own radio show. She was a recording artist for Decca and Pye, made a
religious programme for radio about the saints, was chairman of the
Catholic Stage Guild Ball for nine years, raising thousands for
charities, and won the Manchester Evening News best supporting actress
award for her role of Dolly in The Belle of Belfast City at the
Contact Theatre. As a result of this, she got the role of Aunty Lou in
Brookside for Channel 4 in 1991. In the West End she was in Call Me
Madam and was Mrs Bumble in Oliver! In the 1970s, apart from being the
star at the Talk of the Town in London, she took her own show, Joan
Turner Unlimited, all over the country and then, in 1980, to the US -
an experience that may well have inflamed her liking for champagne and

Two years previously, she had been fired from Oliver! after throwing
empty wine bottles from the dressing-room window. She was later
declared bankrupt, sacked from Brookside, and, in 1992, was the
subject of a television documentary, The Comeback, showing an
alcoholic and quarrelsome former star living squalidly in a Surrey
flat. She probably saw the seven-year move to the US as her last throw
in the game of success, but she returned to Britain virtually empty-
handed. Her daughter Susanna Page always believed that "the best way
to describe Mum is that she thought every day was Christmas". She was
to discover painfully that it was not.

Called by one critic "the greatest of the old-time funny ladies",
discretion was rarely her watchword. In her autobiography I Thought It
Grew on Trees, due to appear in August, she recalls sleeping with
Peter Sellers while he was engaged to Anne Howe, his first wife. It
was on a sunny day in the 1960s when she and Sellers took a walk in
some gardens. "Before I knew what was happening," she recalled, "he
grabbed me and I found myself in the hedge with him." On the other
hand a number of stars with whom she also allegedly dallied, including
Tony Hancock and Terry-Thomas, all pleaded, when it came to the point,
that they were too drunk to consummate. In the case of Hancock, she
wrote that: "Tony and I began an affair together yet we never had full
sex as he was always too inebriated to do it."

The tabloid press was restrained from presenting such tidings when the
male parties were still alive (any suggestion of sexual incapacity
being one of the best ways of increasing the business of lawyers), but
her unpredictable behaviour was a different matter. In 2003 it did not
cause absolute surprise when she arrived two hours late at her own
annual Joan Turner Lunch at the Club for Acts and Actors, lurched into
the room and barracked the speakers. Some of her colleagues walked
out, but a crowd of elderly fans were waiting outside for her
autograph and were overjoyed when they were allowed in. She still had
good friends, including the writer Lynda La Plante, who, in 2004,
offered to her what was intended as the comeback role of Mrs Sunnelly
in The Commander, which ITV screened the following year.

Television had helped make Joan's reputation, and she appeared on it
virtually to the last. She had made some of her first appearances on
The Frankie Howerd Show in 1953, and featured in The Roy Hudd Show in
1969. A number of one-off appearances included The Bill in 1988 and
Grange Hill in 1990, and, in 1995, she was Gran in the children's
series I Hate This House, with Helen Lederer.

Joan married first Christopher Page, a Lincoln solicitor, in the
1940s, and then Leslie Cocks, a Pye record producer; both marriages
ended in divorce. She is survived by three daughters, Susanna, Joanna
and Amanda.

• Joan Turner, singer, actor and comedian, born November 24 1922; died
1 March 2009

Apr 10, 2016, 7:27:47 AM4/10/16
Does anyone know whether her autobiography was ever published?
I have searched everywhere without success.

Chloe Robinson

Jun 27, 2022, 2:47:24 PMJun 27
I am her great Niece, If you ever find it please let me know
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