Obituary: Reginald Grenfell

Reginald Pascoe Grenfell, mining executive: born 1903; married 1929 Joyce Phipps (died 1979); died London 31 March 1993.

AS SILENT PARTNER to the comic genius of Joyce Grenfell, Reginald Grenfell - whom she was married to for 50 years, and loved without exception - was not quite the shadow he might have seemed.

Staying with Marmaduke Hussey (husband of Reginald's niece, Susan), Joyce would 'scribble away at her sketches', and read them out loud. 'No, don't like that,' barked Reggie, in a voice which has been described as that of a kindly sergeant-major; or 'Yes, that's good.' Maureen Lipman, whose revival of Joyce Grenfell's monologues and verse did so much to enliven Reginald Grenfell's later years, recalled that he could 'make you feel you were brilliant. Tall and avuncular, he was a man of few words, but they were well chosen. He had massive sincerity, and an apple- cheeked bonhomie.' To James Roose- Evans, writer of the Re: Joyce revival and editor of Grenfell's letters and diaries, Reginald Grenfell was almost a caricature of an English gentleman in a tweed suit, who 'hid behind stock phrases', rewarding Lipman's 'impersonation' of Joyce Grenfell with a 'Well done, old gel', as though he were a character from one of his wife's acutely observed monologues.

Grenfell was the elder son of Arthur Grenfell and his first wife, Victoria, the eldest child of the fourth Earl Grey, who died when Reginald was five. He met Joyce Phipps when she was 17, and they married in 1929. The early years of their marriage were fraught with financial worries, and each often had to resort to their respective families for help. They were unable to have children, and friends were important to them, and included Edith Evans, Celia Johnson and her husband Peter Fleming, and Noel Coward (although Joyce remained ambivalent about Coward, having an inherent distrust of the theatre and 'queers'). In 1936 they settled in a cottage on the Cliveden estate, in the shadow of Joyce's aunt Nancy Astor, where royal balls and summonses to impromptu fancy dress parties were vicariously enjoyed by the couple, country cousins who yet harboured an incisive wit in Mrs Grenfell. In 1939, Joyce was working as radio critic for the Observer, and Reginald was commuting to London when the advent of the drama critic Herbert Farjeon into Joyce's life suddenly propelled her into theatre proper.

As Joyce became increasingly involved in what she queasily saw as 'show business', Reginald stayed in the background - 'almost out of the room', as Maureen Lipman recalls. Having trained as a chartered accountant, Grenfell worked most of his life for mining companies in the City, joining Oliver Lyttelton (later Viscount Chandos) at British Non-Ferrous Metals in 1939. He failed his war medical because of varicose veins but, determined to follow the heroic example of his Grenfell cousins' sacrifice in the Great War, had the condition seen to and joined the King's Royal Rifle Corps, later working in the War Office. After the war, he became a director of Messina (Transvaal), a South African copper company.

But Reggie Grenfell's main role in life was as an adjunct to his wife's talent. 'He had no problem basking in someone else's limelight,' Lipman observes. Not only did Grenfell look after his wife's financial and business affairs, but his encouragement provided the sort of support for her which recalled, as Roose-Evans noted, the French nickname for the Queen Mother when she was Queen - le soutien-gorge.

'He was a New Man before they had been thought of,' Lipman notes. 'He really did love women.' He was not religious - 'goodness came easily to him; some of us have to fight for it' - and he did not subscribe to his wife's belief in Christian Science: it was he who insisted that Joyce, in her final illness, overcome her religious principles and consult a doctor about the cancer that eventually killed her in 1979.

After her death, Grenfell was necessarily lonely, made more so by the passing of Virginia Graham, Joyce's best friend. However, he kept up appearances, tending his wife's memory and assembling her letters - from Coward, Britten or Betjeman - in carefully notated boxes. Maureen Lipman recalls his always being 'proper' when she came to research Re: Joyce, ever the gentleman. Once, James Roose-Evans remembers Reginald mistook his call on the intercom for that of Lipman's and was surprised to hear Mr Grenfell call out, 'Come on up, darling]'; a comic episode his wife would surely have enjoyed.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn