Joan Sanderson

Joan Sanderson (24 November 1912 – 24 May 1992) was a British television and stage actress born in Bristol.[1] During a long career, her tall and commanding disposition led to her playing mostly dowagers, spinsters and matrons, as well as intense Shakespearean roles. Her television work included the sitcoms Please Sir! (1968–72), Fawlty Towers (1979) and Me and My Girl (1984–88).[2]

Joan Sanderson
Actress Joan Sanderson.jpg
Born(1912-11-24)24 November 1912
Bristol, England
Died24 May 1992(1992-05-24) (aged 79)
Norwich, Norfolk, England
Years active1939–1992


Born and educated in Bristol, Sanderson trained at RADA.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

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). She starred in numerous West End productions including See How They Run and Anyone for Denis.[3][4]

TV and filmEdit

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).[5] In 1979, she played the abrasive and selectively deaf Mrs. Richards in the Fawlty Towers episode: "Communication Problems".[6] She also appeared 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.[7] 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 lifeEdit

Joan Sanderson died of natural causes in Norwich on 24 May 1992.[8] A memorial service was held for her four days later at St Paul's, Covent Garden.[9]

The final series of After Henry was broadcast July-August 1992, following her death; the last episode of which paid tribute to Sanderson.[citation needed]


TV and filmEdit

Year Title Role
1951 Young Wives' Tale Nurse
1954 Sunday Night Theatre Mrs. Dangerfield
1955 St. Ives Miss Gilchrist
1961 The Pocket Lancer Countess of Clarencourt
1962 She Knows Y'Know Euphemia Smallhope
1962 Dial RIX Mrs. Hathaway
1963 Maigret Unknown
1964 Detective Mrs. Blayne
1965 The Wednesday Play:
The Confidence Course
Angela Walker
1965 Night Train To Surbiton Manageress
1966 Seven Deadly Sins Hotel Receptionist
1966 Who Killed the Cat? Mrs. Sandford
1967 Boy Meets Girl Germaine
1967 The Wednesday Play:
Fall of the Goat
1969 Wild, Wild Women Mrs. Harcourt
1970 The Human Element Lady Brancaster
1970–1971 All Gas and Gaiters Mrs. Grace Pugh-Critchley
1971 Please Sir! Miss Doris Ewell
1975 The Les Dawson Show various
1975 Crown Court Susan Halls
1975 Upstairs, Downstairs:
"Noblesse Oblige"
Mrs. Waddilove
1976 Yus, My Dear Mrs. Hartington
1976 Well Anyway The Countess
1976 Wodehouse Playhouse:
Strychnine in the Soup
Lady Bassett
1977 Jubilee:
Silver Lining
1978 The Ghosts of Motley Hall Alexandra
1978 Rising Damp
"Pink Carnations"
1978 Mixed Blessings Aunt Dorothy
1978 Doris and Doreen Dorothy Binns
1979 Fawlty Towers:
"Communication Problems"
Mrs. Richards
1979 Ripping Yarns
"Roger of the Raj"
Lady Bartlesham
1980 How's Your Father? Unknown
1981 The Great Muppet Caper Dorcas
1981 Barriers Miss Morton
1981 Janet and Company Unknown
1982 Play for Today:
Intensive Care
Miss Tunstall
1982 Anyone for Denis? Rear Admiral
1983 All for Love Mrs. Davidson
1983 Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime The House of Lurking Death Rachel Logan
1984 The Fainthearted Feminist Mother
1984–1988 Me and My Girl Nell Cresset
1985 Alice in Wonderland The Queen of Hearts (voice)
1986 Full House Mrs. Hatfield
1987 Prick Up Your Ears John Lahr's mother-in-law
1987 East of Ipswich Miss Wilbraham
1988 Thompson Unknown
1988–1992 After Henry Eleanor Prescott
1989 Alexei Sayle's Stuff
"Tinkering With Teeth"
Wilma Gatling
1992 Land of Hope and Gloria Nancy Princeton


Year Title Role
1954 Personal Call Mrs. Lamb
1962–1977 The Men from the Ministry Various
1971–1972 All Gas and Gaiters Mrs. Grace Pugh-Critchley
1973–1981 What Ho! Jeeves Aunt Agatha
1976–1979 Jim the Great Queen Esmeralda
1985–1989 After Henry Eleanor Prescott


  1. ^ a b "Joan Sanderson".
  2. ^ "Joan Sanderson – Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos – AllMovie". AllMovie.
  3. ^ "Production of See How They Run".
  4. ^ "Theatre " 15 May 1981 " The Spectator Archive".
  5. ^ "A Short Biography of Joan Sanderson".
  6. ^ "Fawlty Towers, Communication Problems". British Classic Comedy. 25 April 2020. Retrieved 20 July 2020.
  7. ^ BBC. "After Henry".
  8. ^ Please Sir! The Official History, Barry David Barry (2020) ISBN 9781789824735
  9. ^ Travelling to Work: Diaries 1988–1998, Michael Palin (2015), p. 240 ISBN 9781466888913

External linksEdit