Joan Rice: From Lyons 'Nippy' to Film Star

Over the last few years, I have been researching the life of the British actress Joan Rice (1930-1997). Derby born Joan was brought up in a Nottingham convent and worked for a while as a ‘Nippy’ waitress at the Lyons Corner House in the Strand, London. After winning a ‘Miss Lyons’ beauty contest in 1949 she was plucked from obscurity and eventually became Walt Disney’s personal choice for the role of Maid Marian in his English Technicolor masterpiece, The Story of Robin Hood (1952). Joan went on to prove Walt Disney correct in his choice and portrayed, what is agreed by many critics, the best Maid Marian of all time.
The information and pictures from her life that I have pieced together and posted on here, have gradually found their way on various websites around the world, which is quite gratifying. Perhaps now she will get some of the credit she deserves. But, there still remain some details about her life that I would like to uncover. So recently I contacted the Lyons website at to see if they had any records of Joan’s employment as a Nippy waitress. This was the informative email I received:

“Hello Clement,
I regret to say that we do not have any records of employment of former employees. The website you have viewed is privately funded and receives no sponsorship whatsoever.

However, I can confirm that Joan Rice was a former waitress (Nippy) employed at the Strand Corner House. She was Miss Lyons in 1949 the selection judges being John McCallum and Ann Crawford as well as Isidore Gluckstein (President of the Company) and W.I. Brown (Company Director). The judging was view by the Norwegian Beauty Queen, Lillemor Helver the 'Princess of Oslo'.
The 24 finalists wore different coloured swimsuits and then changed to identical white Jantsen costumes for the final judging at the Company's outdoor swimming pool at their sports ground at Sudbury. The two runners up were Terry Beare from the Richmond Teashop and Beatrice Morgan of the Catering Office.

Joan Rice learned to act in a convent school, where the nuns produced half-a-dozen plays each year.

Joan was put under contract in 1950 and her agents secured a role for her in Blackmailed followed by the screen version of the farce, One Wild Oat. She also starred in, Robin Hood, Gift Horse, His Majesty's O'Keefe, The Steel Key, A Day to Remember, The Crowded Day, One Good Turn, Police Dog, Women Without Men, The Long Knife, Operation Bullshine, Payroll and The Horror of Frankenstein. I hope this is of some help."
Peter Bird

I would like to thank Peter for sending me this fascinating information and recommend a visit to his Lyons website at
To read more about Joan, please click on the label marked Joan Rice.


Clement of the Glen said...

Joan Rice (1930-1997)

From Lyons Nippy to Film Star

Neil said...

More fasinating news about Joan Rice - filling in a little bit more details each time. So Joan was just 19 when she became Miss Nippy and 21 when she started filming The Story of Robin Hood and only 22 when she took on that long journey to Fiji via Hollywood to appear in His Majesty O Keefe. She must have thought the world was at her feet and it probably was. It has been mentioned before that her contract with Rank was terminated shortly after she married and it does seem that things went downhill after that event. I didnt know though that she had acted whilst in the convent school and had been trained there - it was obviously good coaching she got!!! As is sometimes said of actors and actresses 'The camera liked her' and it definitely did. She graced the big screen in those Technicolor films. The two films I mention were and still are shown worldwide and she starred opposite two big named actors and held her own. She remains a fascinating actress who is immortalised as a result of those films and also this Blog Site. Well done.

Clement of the Glen said...

Thank you Neil.

Although Ken Annakin and Richard Todd both dismiss her acting ability, we now have evidence that she was treading the boards from a very early age.

I would be intersted to know which Nottingham Convent she attended, and wonder if she ever went back there once she had graced the silver screen.

Herns son said...

i agree with you clement , i think Joan was fantastic, wonderful expressive face you will see this when you study any of her the fims , Elton Hayes became a key role in Robin Hood and he was never criticized for his acting and he was really just a music man, i loved his performance in Robin Hood , Joan Rice certainly deseves more praise than she got from Richard Todd etc.

Anonymous said...

Herns Son makes a very good point in that Elton Hayes had a pivotal role in the film but he was a musician really and yet he drwas no criticism - the opposite to Joan Rice. I has not thought of that before but it is very valid. Most of us know that Joan Rice both looked and was excellent as Maid Marian. The Technicolor camera absolutely loved her and she adorned the sets and was able to portray a perfect character part. This film would have been nowhere near as good without her.

Neil said...

Pressed the wrong button and have posted as Anonymous. Should be Neil

Clement of the Glen said...

Thanks for all your comments guys!

I can only agree with you. Joan lit-up the silver screen!

One of Joan's relatives mentioned the fact that after her film career, she toured the country acting in plays. So it would be intersting to find out which plays she starred in.

Mike Parfitt said...

My mother (died in 2000 aged 84)was a supervisor at Lyons cornerhouse around the early 50s. She used to tell me that she remembers a young girl working there who had won "Miss Lyons" beauty contest and went on to become a screen actress... but according to mum the girl was Joan Collins.

Clement Glen said...

Thanks for getting in touch Mike. It would be interesting to know if Joan Collins also worked at Lyons aswell.