Joan Sanderson

Joan Sanderson (24 November 1912 – 24 May 1992) was an English television and stage actress.[1] During a long career, the tall and commanding actress played dowagers, spinsters and matrons, as well as intense Shakespearean roles. Her television work included the sitcoms, Please Sir! (1968–72) and Me and My Girl (1984–88).[2]

Joan Sanderson
Born(1912-11-24)24 November 1912
Bristol, England
Died24 May 1992(1992-05-24) (aged 79)
Norwich, England


Born and educated at Northumberland House in Bristol, Sanderson trained at RADA. She had teaching diplomas in elocution. She appeared in repertory theatres, on the West End stage and at the Stratford Memorial Theatre, where she made her début in 1939 playing Amelia in The Comedy of Errors, a phase in her career that culminated in 1953 when she played both Goneril to Michael Redgrave's King Lear, and Queen Margaret in Richard III.[3]

During the Second World War she gained experience in repertory and toured North Africa and Italy entertaining the troops. In 1948 she married fellow actor Gregory Moseley. She achieved her apotheosis as Delia, Lady Rumpers, in Habeas Corpus by Alan Bennett (Lyric Theatre 1973). At one point during the play, Lady Rumpers recalls how her husband has gone into the Army only "to put his moustache to good purpose". She starred in numerous West End productions including See How They Run and Anyone for Denis.[4][5]

TV and film

She played Doris Ewell in the television comedy series Please Sir! (1968–72) and Mrs Pugh Critchley, in the series All Gas and Gaiters (1970–71), as well as a role in the short-lived sitcom Wild, Wild Women (1969).[6] However, she is probably best known to many for a single guest role: that of the abrasive and selectively deaf Mrs. Richards in Fawlty Towers (episode: "Communication Problems").[7] She was also in After Henry, a gently comic series on both radio (1985–88) and television (1988–92), in which she played the domineering Eleanor, mother of Sarah (Prunella Scales), who lives below her in the basement flat in Sarah's large house.[8] Her movie roles were rare but she appeared in the Hylda Baker film She Knows Y'Know (1962), Who Killed the Cat? (1966), the film version of Please Sir! (1971), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), playing John Cleese's wife, and Prick Up Your Ears (1987), the film based on the life of playwright Joe Orton.[1]

Personal life

Joan Sanderson died in Norwich on 24 May 1992, aged 79. A memorial service was held for her at St Paul's, Covent Garden (commonly known as "the Actors' Church") and many distinguished actors attended to pay tribute to her. The final series of After Henry was broadcast in 1992 after her death.


TV and film

1951Young Wives' TaleNurse
1954Sunday Night TheatreMrs. Dangerfield
1955St. IvesMiss Gilchrist
1961The Pocket LancerCountess of Clarencourt
1962She Knows Y'KnowEuphemia Smallhope
1962Dial RIXMrs. Hathaway
1964DetectiveMrs. Blayne
1965The Wednesday Play:
The Confidence Course
Angela Walker
1965Night Train To SurbitonManageress
1966Seven Deadly SinsHotel Receptionist
1966Who Killed the Cat?Mrs. Sandford
1967Boy Meets GirlGermaine
1967The Wednesday Play:
Fall of the Goat
1969Wild, Wild WomenMrs. Harcourt
1970The Human ElementLady Brancaster
1970–1971All Gas and GaitersMrs. Grace Pugh-Critchley
1971Please Sir!Miss Doris Ewell
1975The Les Dawson Showvarious
1975Crown CourtSusan Halls
1975Upstairs, Downstairs:
"Noblesse Oblige"
Mrs. Waddilove
1976Yus, My DearMrs. Hartington
1976Well AnywayThe Countess
1976Wodehouse Playhouse:
Strychnine in the Soup
Lady Bassett
Silver Lining
1978The Ghosts of Motley HallAlexandra
1978Rising Damp
"Pink Carnations"
1978Mixed BlessingsAunt Dorothy
1978Doris and DoreenDorothy Binns
1979Fawlty Towers:
"Communication Problems"
Mrs. Richards
1979Ripping Yarns
"Roger of the Raj"
Lady Bartlesham
1980How's Your Father?Unknown
1981The Great Muppet CaperDorcas
1981BarriersMiss Morton
1981Janet and CompanyUnknown
1982Play for Today:
Intensive Care
Miss Tunstall
1982Anyone for Denis?Rear Admiral
1983All for LoveMrs. Davidson
1983Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime The House of Lurking DeathRachel Logan
1984The Fainthearted FeministMother
1984–1988Me and My GirlNell Cresset
1985Alice in WonderlandThe Queen of Hearts (voice)
1986Full HouseMrs. Hatfield
1987Prick Up Your EarsJohn Lahr's mother-in-law
1987East of IpswichMiss Wilbraham
1988–1992After HenryEleanor Prescott
1989Alexei Sayle's Stuff
"Tinkering With Teeth"
Wilma Gatling
1992Land of Hope and GloriaNancy Princeton


1954Personal CallMrs. Lamb
1962–1977The Men from the MinistryVarious
1971–1972All Gas and GaitersMrs. Grace Pugh-Critchley
1973–1981What Ho! JeevesAunt Agatha
1976–1979Jim the GreatQueen Esmeralda
1985–1989After HenryEleanor Prescott


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