Joyce Blair

Half of the song-and-dance team Joyce and Lionel Blair who made her own successful acting career


Joyce Ogus (Joyce Blair), actress, dancer and singer: born London 4 November 1932; three times married (one son, one daughter); died Los Angeles 19 August 2006.

When Joyce Blair first heard applause for her singing and dancing, she was in a dressing gown and slippers; according to her brother Lionel, who was three years her senior, "When our parents' friends came round, little Joycie and Li would be dragged out of bed to entertain." The siblings were soon entertaining regularly at local wedding parties and bar mitzvahs.

Lionel was 15 and Joyce 12 when their father, Myer Ogus, a Russian barber who changed the family name to Blair, died. To help support their mother, Deborah, they both sought acting work, Lionel appearing in Shakespeare's Macbeth at Regent's Park and Joyce in J.M. Barrie's Quality Street at the Embassy, Swiss Cottage. In 1945, they won an amateur talent competition in Stoke Newington, and the theatre retained their services for the week. They went on to perform together in summer shows, pantomimes, cabaret and at the Windmill Theatre.

Joyce Blair's career in musical comedy generally fell into two categories: small roles in hits (the original London productions of South Pacific in 1951 and Guys and Dolls in 1953) and big roles in flops. She more than held her own with Patricia Routledge and Bernard Cribbins in Little Mary Sunshine (1962), a send-up of vintage backwoods operettas of the Rose Marie ilk. This off-Broadway hit received 10 curtain calls on its opening night in the West End, yet ran for only five weeks.

In Dames at Sea (1969), another London transfer of a successful off- Broadway show, she made a personal success as the temperamental Mona Kent ("the Lady Macbeth of 42nd Street"'), but this send-up of Warner Bros' Dick Powell/Ruby Keeler movies also had a short run. Even less successful was Romance! (1971), a British musical. She gave a sexy performance as a bored wife having an extra-marital affair with her butler, but the show, which The Stage summed up as "mediocre old-time drawing room comedy mixed with insipid little revue songs and patter", lasted no more than a week.

"An evening which can all too easily develop into Fiddler on the North Circular" was the Punch critic Sheridan Morley's summing-up of the Jule Styne/ Don Black musical Bar Mitzvah Boy (1978). Joyce Blair was excellent as Rita Green, the eponymous boy's coiffure-crazed mother, who looked on her son's Big Day as "not so much a religious ceremony, more a hairdressing contest". Jack Rosenthal's gem of a television play might have made a charming chamber musical, but elephantiasis crept into the adaptation, resulting in a disappointingly brief stay in the West End. She showed a vibrant talent for revue in The Punch Revue (1955) and All Square (1963).

Although she acted in the films Oh . . . Rosalinda!! (1955), Yield to the Night (1956), Jazzboat (1959), The Wild Affair (1964) and the tersely named Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? (1969), Joyce Blair was best known for her television work. In 1958 ATV launched New Look, a talent series which offered early opportunities to such TV neophytes as Roy Castle, Bruce Forsyth and the comedy team Joe Baker and Jack Douglas. In addition to countless small-screen dancing appearances with her brother, she acted in the drama series Ghost Squad, The Saint, Robin Hood and Z Cars, and such comedy programmes as The Dick Emery Show, Up Pompeii and The Rag Trade.

In 1977, the winning team of Joyce and Lionel Blair was dissolved. The split-up was acrimonious, and led to long years of estrangement. Joyce was living in Los Angeles when she learned that Sammy Davis Jnr was dying of cancer. Joyce and Lionel's combined efforts to offer support to their great mutual friend finally led to a welcome reconciliation.

Dick Vosburgh

Your obituary left out a fun bit of her long career when she had a connection, albeit somewhat remote, to the Profumo scandal, writes Ellis Rich.

In 1963, under the pseudonym "Miss X", she recorded a single on the Ember Records label entitled "Christine", a then slightly risqué song about Christine Keeler, who featured so much in the John Profumo/Stephen Ward case. The single entered the charts and, in August 1963, Joyce found herself on the iconic TV show Ready Steady Go, sharing the bill with Pat Boone, Billy Fury, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, Burl Ives and Chris Barber.

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