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Joyce Carey's Geni Profile

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Joyce Lawrence

Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Guy Lawrence and Dame Lilian Braithwaite, DBE

Managed by: Michael Lawrence Rhodes
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Joyce Carey

<Archive obituary>

<Daily Telegraph March 2, 1993>


JOYCE CAREY, who has died aged 94, was one of Britain's most reliable and sought-after actresses.

She possessed, on the one hand, a natural grace and dignity for women of high degree and on the other a broad sense of comedy for the lower orders – such as the "refained" barmaid she played so memorably in "Brief Encounter."

Miss Carey also brought an exquisite touch to such mock-serious roles as Gwendolen Fairfax in "The Importance of Being Earnest."

An intimate friend of Noel Coward's, she was probably seen at her best in his plays. At one time or another she played in "Tonight at 8.30", "Blithe Spirit", "Present Laughter", "This Happy Breed", "Quadrille", "South Sea Bubble", and "Nude with Violin".

And in the cinema, besides "Brief Encounter", she was cast to good effect in "Blithe Spirit" and "In Which We Serve".

As late as 1988 she delighted a Sunday-night audience at the Royalty Theatre in a rare Coward comedy, "Semi-Monde".

Her friendship with "the Master" could be traced to her 1925 appearance in the comedy "Easy Virtue" in New York – which she also played in London the next year.

Although one of the best loved, and busiest players on the West End and Broadway stages, Joyce Carey somehow never became a star – as her mother, Dame Lilian Braithwaite, undoubtedly did. Their likeness in voice and manner was much remarked, yet the daughter failed to reach the front rank – or if she did, did not choose to stay there.

She preferred to be what Ellen Terry liked to call "a useful actress". As a result she was almost constantly in work for more than 70 years – sometimes in leading roles, mainly in support, and always quietly and humanly effective as a foolish aunt or disgruntled widow.

Joyce Carey was born on March 30, 1898, and educated at Westgate-on-Sea and London. With such an illustrious actress for a mother – and a father, Gerald Lawrence, noted for his classical and romantic roles – it was not difficult for her to secure a theatrical footing.

After studying under Kate Rorke she made her debut as Princess Katherine in an all-woman version of "Henry V". Her first professional performance was in a revival of "Mr Wu" in 1916, and she went on to play a series of ingénue roles for George Alexander at the St James's.

Miss Carey scored a hit as the heroine of Gertrude Jennings's "The Young Person in Pink", but – with a wisdom rare in actresses – did not exploit these early commercial successes and went instead to Stratford-on-Avon to play Ann Page, Perdita, Titania, Miranda and Juliet.

She was careful after that to take Shakespearean parts whenever they were offered, between plays with titles like "The Charm School" or "The Romantic Young Lady". In 1927 she went to New York for a long run of "The Road to Rome" and stayed there, busy as ever, until 1934. She then returned to the West End in "Sweet Aloes", a new piece by Jay Mallory – an unknown author who turned out to be Miss Carey herself. It lasted for more than a year – a sensational run for those days.

In 1938 she wrote another play, "A Thing Apart", which was scheduled for production. But the times were out of joint and it was never acted.

Miss Carey inevitably appeared in some indifferent plays. Her acting, however, was never indifferent, and she was valued not only for her versatility but also for her teamwork.

While her talent seemed to be mainly for comedy, she could spring surprises on her admirers – none more memorable than at the Duchess in 1969, when she played the petrified Miss Beringer in Peter Cotes's revival of Rodney Ackland's "The Old Ladies" with Flora Robson and Joan Miller.

Miss Carey's frightened spinster ran away with all the notices because she projected the woman's sense of terror, with the subtlest means, eyes agleam with panic, voice rising tremulously, her whole being so filled with unspoken fear that theatregoers wondered if this actress had not missed her tragic calling. The sheer charm of her demure personality brought success in almost everything she did.

Socially grand or broadly comic, emotionally tense or drying glasses behind a bar, she seemed as much at home putting on genteel airs in a pub as in reproaching Shaw's Henry Higgins for being so fidgety – when she played Mrs Higgins to Peter O'Toole's Professor at the Shaftesbury.

Among her films were "The Way to the Stars" and "Cry the Beloved Country". Her last stage appearance, at the age of 90, was at the Royalty in a Sunday night production of "A Tale of Two Cities".

On television she made a stalwart grandmother in "The Cedar Tree", an afternoon saga of country-house life.

In her tenth decade she achieved her apotheosis as the redoubtable Miss Barwick, refusing to let a property developer destroy her crumbling terrace house, in "Number 27", a play written by Michael Palin and directed by Tristram Powell.

Reviewing this BBC1 "Sunday Premiere" production in the Daily Telegraph, Hugo Davenport described Miss Carey's performance as "nothing short of magnificent…

"She perfectly captured on screen that frail, translucent, almost other-worldly innocence sometimes found in the very old, alongside a clarity of mind unimpaired by the depredations of time."

She was appointed OBE in 1982.


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Joyce Carey's Timeline

March 30, 1898
February 28, 1993
Age 94