Obituaries: Joy Nichols

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The Independent Online
Joy Nichols, actress, born Sydney Australia 17 February 1927, died 23 June 1992.

ONLY those old enough to remember the late 1940s can assess the impact of listening to Joy Nichols in Take It From Here - half an hour of cheerful radio entertainment which lightened the austerity of food and fuel rationing.

The signature-tune 'Take It From Here', sung by 'The Keynotes', heralded a sense of anticipation to radio listeners in post- war Britain. We were invited to 'Join in the fun now' and most of the nation did. The fun came from the voices of Joy Nichols and her partners Dick Bentley and Jimmy Edwards as they broadcast to the British public.

Joy Nichols was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1927. She made her first broadcast at the age of seven in a radio version of Dickens's A Christmas Carol. In addition to stage work, she broadcast for both the Australian Broadcasting Commission and commercial radio, commereing Lever Colgate's The Youth Show, in which she had her own four-minute spot every week, ranging from broad comedy to intense drama.

Presenting Joy Nichols was her own radio series, and early in 1946 she played the second lead in a Columbia film about a pioneer aviator, which was released mid- 1947 in the UK as Southern Cross, and in Australian as Smithie.

In 1946 she and her brother George set sail for England. Harry Pringle, supervisor of light entertainment for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, had been a variety producer for BBC Television in 1936, and referring to themselves as 'Mr Pringle's Proteges', they contacted the BBC.

Early in November 1946 they made a successful broadcast from Blackpool in Henry Hall's Guest Night, a popular radio show of that time. An engineer remembers their audition for television in Studio A in Alexandra Palace - 'a girl with a mop of red hair smoking an imitation cigar, while doing an impersonation of Abbott and Costello'.

In spite of the unsuitable material, Joy Nichols's talent seemed to impress producers, as television engagements followed. But she was only seen by the few television-set-owners in the 30 miles around London. The popular medium was radio, which had sustained the British public throughout the recent war. A wartime series entitled Navy Mixture - 'Blended to suit the taste of the Royal Navy' - had started in February 1943, and the last series began in July 1947 with Joy Nichols as presenter. Also in the cast was a young Jimmy Edwards, who had recently appeared at the Windmill Theatre in London, but lacked Nichols's broadcasting experience. Rumour has it that the initial encounter was not a happy one, but they soon became firm friends.

A young scriptwriter, Frank Muir, had written material for Jimmy Edwards and Charles Maxwell, the producer of Navy Mixture. Maxwell suggested another radio series using Edwards, Nichols and a fellow Australian broadcaster, Dick Bentley - the script to be written by Frank Muir and Denis Norden. The result was Take It From Here, and the first of six scheduled programmes was broadcast on 23 March 1948. Initially, audience figures were low but they improved as the series progressed and the run was extended.

With the death of its star Tommy Handley in January 1949, the great wartime programme ITMA (It's That Man Again) left three empty spaces a week in the schedules. Take It From Here filled the Saturday lunchtime slot and listening figures took off. Radio critics began to regard TIFH (also known by its initials) as the successor to ITMA. It was more sophisticated than previous radio shows and the public loved Nichols not only for her songs, but for the character of Miss Arundel, whose one-track mind inevitably speculated on the activities of her boyfriend Gilbert, ending with a throaty giggle.

The double entendres were risque for the time, but never offensive, and the show had a huge audience from every walk of life. When TIFH was moved to Sunday afternoon, it became the high-spot of the broadcasting week. Suburban families gathered round their radio sets, and a group of women students at St Hugh's College, Oxford, pooled their rations for the teatime treat. Such was TIFH's popularity that the show won the Daily Mail's National Radio Award of 1949 and again in 1951. Nichols made her debut at the London Palladium billed as 'First Lady of Radio'. In November 1949 she appeared in the Royal Command Variety Performance. The third series of TIFH began in October 1949. During 1950 to 1951 she appeared in a stage production of Take It From Us in London and Blackpool.

While broadcasting regularly in further series of TIFH, Nichols topped provincial bills for Moss Empires (a variety circuit) in 1952, returning to London to appear in her second Royal Command Variety Performance. By January 1951 she was complaining of overwork and expressed a wish to return to Australia. She had married a fellow artist, Wally Petersen of the Petersen Brothers, and left TIFH in April 1952 to have a baby. Sally Rogers took her place temporarily but when Nichols finally left the show she was replaced by two women, Alma Cogan to sing the songs and June Whitfield, now a television star, who is remembered as 'Eth' in the Glums sketches which started in November 1953.

In October 1952 Nichols opened at the Palladium with Max Bygraves in a revue called Wonderful Time and appeared in the BBC's first Royal Radio Command Performance. She was back at Alexandra Palace the next spring for the Coronation Tribute representing Australia in 'Dominion's Salute', leaving England soon after to fulfil commitments in Australia, where broadcasts of TIFH had enhanced her fame.

In 1955 she returned to the London musical stage in The Pajama Game with Edward Hockridge, Max Wall and Arthur Lowe at the Coliseum. Following her success in this Broadway musical she appeared on Broadway itself in Fiorello, a musical about a mayor of New York which opened in November 1959.

Like many of her profession, she fell on hard times but obtained small parts on stage, and in films, notably in Charlie Chaplin's King in New York. After her divorce, she lived on both sides of the Atlantic, but never retrieved the popularity of the early Fifties.

It has been said that she made no impact on television, but in December 1947, at Alexandra Palace, Eric Fawcett produced a play by Henry C. James, The Bunyip - probably the first television play written and acted by Australians to be on any television screen. The part of the scientist's girlfriend was played by Joy Nichols.

(Photograph omitted)