Irene Handl (27 December 1901 – 29 November 1987) was a British character actress who appeared in more than 100 British films.[1]

Irene Handl
Irene Handl 1966.jpg
Irene Handl in the 1966 BBC TV comedy Mum's Boys
Born(1901-12-27)27 December 1901
Maida Vale, London, England
Died29 November 1987(1987-11-29) (aged 85)
Kensington, London, England
Resting placeGolders Green Crematorium, London, England
Years active1937–1987


Irene Handl was born in Maida Vale, London, the youngest of two daughters of an Austrian banker and stockbroker, Frederick Handl, born as Friedrich Handl (1874–1961), a naturalised British subject, and his German wife, Maria née Schiepp (1875–before 1924), also a naturalised British subject. Theirs was a comfortable middle-class life, with a German cook and housekeeper living in the family home.[2] From 1907 to 1915 she attended the Paddington and Maida Vale High School.[3] In the 1920s Handl travelled several times to New York with her father, with the ship's log listing her on each occasion as having no occupation and residing in the family home.[4]

She studied at an acting school run by a sister of Dame Sybil Thorndike's, and then made her stage debut in London in February 1937, at the relatively advanced age of 36. Among her many later appearances on stage, she played Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest in 1975, in a production directed by Jonathan Miller.

In 1939, and by now an actress, she was living with her widowed father in London.[5] She continued to live with her father until his death in 1961.[6] It was common at this time for younger daughters not to marry in order to stay with and take care of their widowed fathers. Her older sister Liane (1897–1977) had married the Russian electrical engineer and photographer Victor Asarius Kraminsky (1894–1980) in London in 1920.

She appeared in supporting roles in more than 100 British films, mostly comedy character parts such as slightly eccentric mothers, grannies, landladies and servants.

She was a passionate lover of rock and roll, especially the work of Elvis Presley, and was president of the Lewisham branch of the Elvis Presley fan club.[7] She was also a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and one of Britain's most avid champions of Chihuahuas, being inseparable from the pair that she owned.[7]



Handl had minor roles in such landmark films as Night Train to Munich and Brief Encounter. Her other notable roles included the wife of the union activist Fred Kite (played by Peter Sellers) in I'm All Right Jack (1959); Mrs Gammon, the formidable cook, opposite Gordon Harker in Small Hotel (1957); Tony Hancock's landlady in The Rebel (1961); Sherlock Holmes's housekeeper, Mrs Hudson, in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970); and Morgan's Communist mother, Mrs Delt, in Morgan – A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966). She also had small roles in two of the Carry On films, Carry On Nurse and Carry On Constable), and played Miss Peach in the original version of The Italian Job.



Comic Heritage plaque, Teddington

On television, she appeared as a guest in a number of comedy series, notably as a regular in Educating Archie and as the Cockney widow Ada Cresswell in For the Love of Ada, which was later adapted for the cinema. In 1969 she starred in the series World in Ferment as Madame Astoria.[8] She also appeared in Maggie and Her (1978) opposite Julia McKenzie. In the early 1980s, she played Gran in the ITV children's comedy show Metal Mickey. She appeared in a rare aristocratic role as the Duchess of Sheffield in Mapp and Lucia and as another aristocratic character in Eric Sykes's television film It's Your Move (1982), in which her chauffeur was played by Brian Murphy. She also appeared as Madame de Bonneuil in the BBC's TV film Hotel du Lac in 1986. She appeared in Super Gran as the magician The Great Ronaldo and as Tim Wylton's mother in Clinging Ivy (1985). Her last appearance was in the BBC sitcom In Sickness and in Health in 1987, just before her death at the age of 85.


In addition to acting, she wrote two novels: The Sioux (1965), described by Margaret Drabble as "strange and unforgettable ... Highly original and oddly haunting";[9] and its sequel, The Gold Tip Pfitzer, (a type of Juniper, associated with mourning), (1966). The Sioux was reprinted as Green and Purple Dream (1973).[10] She began writing what became The Sioux when she was living in Paris at the age of 19, put it aside, and did not start to write again until 1961.[7]


Handl died in her flat in Kensington, West London, on 29 November 1987,[11] from metastasised breast cancer.[citation needed] She was unmarried. She was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, North London.[12]

Selected filmographyEdit


  • Thomas, Jane. "Irene Handl", Bete Noir, 4 (Winter, 1987), pp. 102–103.
  • Thomas, Jane. "Irene Handl: The Last Interview", Bete Noir, 4 (Winter, 1987), pp. 104–116.


  1. ^ "Irene Handl". BFI. Archived from the original on 11 July 2012.
  2. ^ 1911 England Census for Irene Handl: (subscription required)
  3. ^ Irene Handl in the London, England, School Admissions and Discharges, 1840-1911: (subscription required)
  4. ^ UK and Ireland, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960 for Irene Handl, Southampton, England, 1924: (subscription required)
  5. ^ 1939 England and Wales Register for Irene Handl, London, St Marylebone: (subscription required)
  6. ^ London, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1965 for Irene Handl, City of London, London And Westminster: (subscription required)
  7. ^ a b c Guide, British Comedy (22 January 2020). "The hidden world of Irene Handl - Comedy Chronicles". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  8. ^ Marjorie Bilbow (3 July 1969). "TELEVISION TODAY; Reviews: In a rare class of comedy show". The Stage and Television Today (4603): 12.
  9. ^ Irene Handl. "The Sioux". Goodreads.
  10. ^ The green and purple dream (formerly The Sioux)
  11. ^ "Irene Handl Dies at 85; Comedienne in Britain". The New York Times. 29 November 1987. p. B13. Retrieved 23 December 2021.
  12. ^ "Irene Handl (1902-1987) - Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved 27 April 2020.

External linksEdit