'Voice of an angel' comic dies

Joan Turner was 86

Joan Turner, the versatile comedian who was dubbed the ‘female Harry Secombe’ in the Sixties, has died at the age of 86.

In her heyday, she topped the bill of the Royal Command Performance – over the Beatles – but her battles with drink and gambling addictions meant she spent much of her later years living as a virtual bag lady in Los Angeles.

The Belfast-born entertainer started her career at a London music hall when still 14, and forged a successful career as a stage comedian, singer and impersonator. She was billed as ‘the voice of an angel — the wit of the Devil’ but her late-night cabaret appearances were often followed by very public drink-fuelled brawls.

In 1977, burdened by gambling debts, she was declared bankrupt, but the next year she landed a role in the West End version of Oliver! which she held for two years before being sacked for throwing empty wine bottles out of her dressing room window.

Her first TV appearance was on The Frankie Howerd Show in 1953, and made appearances included The Bill, Grange Hill and Brookside, where she played Auntie Lou, until she was again sacked after four episodes because of her drinking.

She allegedly had affairs with a string of stars, including Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock and Terry-Thomas, although in most cases they were too drunk to consummate their relationship.

In 2001, the Sunday Mirror reported that she was living ‘among the winos, drug addicts and down-and-outs in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles... dressed in charity shop clothes and surrounded by her worldly possessions - with barely a penny to her name’.

She returned to the UK the following year, to spend her last years in sheltered accommodation in Surrey. She died on Sunday, leaving three daughters.

Published: 5 Mar 2009

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