Irene Handl

Tony Hancock | Sid James | Stage Fright

British Actress

    Dumpy, delightful British character actresswith brown, curly hair and plump, puffin-like features. A specialist in London landladies with mewling voices, she could makequite insignificant phrases seem funny.

    Herplaintive tones and unique way of browbeating her fellow-players quickly stampedher out as a comedy player of distinction,although it wasn't until late in her careerthat people began to put a name to the facethey knew so well.

    The daughter of anAustrian banker, she described her youngerself as a plain-faced rebel who moved fromschool to school. 'No teacher wanted me.'

Irene Handl
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    Her French mother died when Irene wasyoung, and she cared for her father untilsuddenly deciding to try for the stage in herearly thirties, and enrolling at an actingschool run by the sister of Dame SybilThorndike. She made her London stagedebut in February 1937. The play closed ina fortnight but her next stage role ensuredher continuous employment on stage,screen, radio and television for the next40 years. This was Beer, the maid in Georgeand Margaret, the only sane figure in themidst of a panicking family who are awaitingimportant guests (who are never seen). Sherepeated the role in the successful 1940 film version, by which time she was already onher way to being established as a regularcontributor of funny cameos to Britishcomedies and dramas in the war years.

    Inpost-war years she continued to play filmroles, becoming more shapeless with eachdecade, as well as becoming an easily-identified radio voice on such shows as HelloPlaymates and Hancock's Half Hour. WithTony Hancock, she moved into television, but it was 1970 before she got aseries of her own, For the Love of Ada inharness with one-time quizmaster WilfredPickles, as two septuagenarians gettingmarried. By this time she had published herfirst novel, The Sioux, which became a bestseller. It was followed by another.

    Also inthe 1960s, she had her biggest theatrical hitin many years in the tide role of Goodnight,Mrs Puffin, which she took on a world-widetour after a two-year London run. It wasmuch to her disappointment that it wasnever filmed.

    Cooks, gossips, busybodiesand aggressive domestics of all shapes andranks were her stock in trade. She played Madam Arcati the medium in a stage versionof Blithe Spirit, and revelled in the role of David Warner's Marxist mum in Morgan a Suitable Case for Treatment. She was just asgood at being kind and nice as she was atbeing absolutely awful.

    Dying a few weeksbefore her 86th birthday, Irene Handl hadnever managed to get married, as much asource of surprise to her, apparently, asanyone else. 'It's one thing I just don'tunderstand', she said. 'I can't understandwhy I didn't; It's extraordinary.' Perhaps Irene Handl, author, broadcaster, actressand personality, was just too busy.

stage fright

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