Irene Handl was born in 1901 in London. Her father was Austrian and her mother French. She made her London stage debut in 1937. Her films included “On the Night of the Fire” in 1939, “Millions Like Us”, “Brief Encounter”,”Upstairs and Downstairs”, Two-Way Stretch” and “The Rebel”. She was featured in over 100 movies. Irene Handel was also a published novelist. She died in 1987 at the age of 85.
Irene Handl, the comedy actress who made a speciality out of warm-hearted Cockneys, died yesterday. She was 85. She was getting on for 40 before she started acting but quickly made her mark and had a long and fruitful career on the stage, in films and on television. Small, dumpy and invariably cheerful, she took naturally to comedy and will be remembered for her portrayals of maids and charladies and dotty aunts. She was also a successful novelist – a late starter here as well, her first book not appearing until she was in her sixties. Irene Handl was born in Maida Vale, London, on December 27, 1901. Thedaughter of a Viennese banker and aFrench mother, she was educated at a variety of schools and travelled widely in her youth. After hermother’s death she stayed at home to look after her father. When she decided, at an advanced age for such things, to try for a career on the stage, she trained at the Embassy School under Eileen Thorndike (sister of Dame Sybil). She had an immediate success playing the maid in the West End comedy “George and Margaret”, which opened in 1937.
In time she played most of the classic comedy roles, from Mrs Malaprop to Lady Brakcnell and her own favourite, the medium Madame Arcati in Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit”. But her biggest stage success was in her more familiar guise as the lovable Cockney char in “Goodnight Mrs Puffin”, which ran for three years in the 1960s. By then she had become a national figure through the cinema. She hadmade her first film in 1938 and after a long apprenticeship in small parts she came to the fore in comedies of the 1950s and 1960s like “The Belles of St Trinians”, “Brothers in Law”, “I’m All Right Jack”, “The Rebel” (with Tony Hancock) and “Heavens Above”. Her best film parts were the disapproving wife of Peter Sellers’s Communist shop steward in “I’m All Right Jack” and the Marxist mother of David Warner in “Morgan, A Suitable Case for Treatment”. In 1965 she surprised and delighted the publishing world with her first novel, “The Sioux”, the portrait of an aristocratic French family, written with originality and insight and revealing a less comfortable side to her personality than had been suggested by her stage Cockneys. She had begun the first draft of the book when she was 14. For 40 years it lay untouched in a linen cupboard and was finally pulled out during a long run of “Goodnight Mrs Puffin” – when she decided that writing might be a good way of recharging her creative batteries. A sequel, “The Gold Tip Pfitzer”, appeared to similar acclaim in 1973.
The climax of a busy career on television was the comedy series “For the Love of Ada”, in which she and Wilfred Pickles played an elderly couple finding romance late in life. It rans for three years from 1970 and spawned a film, though its comedy did not transfer happily to the large screen. Her other television work included the children’s comedies “Metal Mickey” and “Supergran”. Irene Handl continued to make films, do television shows and even
appear in Christmas pantomimes until she was well into her eighties.
Unmarried, she usually had a chihuahua dog for a close companion, and she had an unlikely passion for the records of Elvis Presley.
The above “Times” obituary can also be accessed online here.