Date of Birth: 5 May 1924, Bethnal Green, East London, UK
Birth Name: Joycelyn Chinery
Nicknames: Joy Beverley
Joy Beverley was the eldest of the Beverley Sisters, a singing trio that found fame in the pre-rock and roll era with novelty songs such as I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus and Little Drummer Boy.
The girls, Joy and her younger twin sisters Teddie and Babs, were famous for the identical clothes in which they always performed and their carefully rollered blonde hair-dos. Millions of Britons grew up with their close-harmony rendition of songs including Ferry Boat Inn; Sisters (written by Irving Berlin); How Much is That Doggie in the Window?; and Little Donkey. For more than a decade they broke box office records as the highest paid female entertainers in Britain; they became the first British girl group to break into the American Top 10 and entered the Guinness Book of Records in 2002 as the world’s longest surviving vocal group without a change in line-up.
As well as pop hits, for seven years during the 1940s and 1950s they had their own BBC television series , and they frequently topped the bill at the London Palladium, alongside such stars as Danny Kaye, Bob Hope and Max Bygraves, taking part in several Royal Command performances.
In later life the sisters were sometimes described as the Spice Girls of their day, and the parallels were not just musical. When, in July 1958, Joy married the Wolverhampton Wanderers star and England captain Billy Wright, it caused almost as much hysteria as the nuptials of Posh and Becks, although the venue, a register office in Poole, Dorset, was rather more modest than the medieval castle chosen by their modern counterparts.
The wedding was meant to have been secret, but news leaked out and thousands of people converged on the town. “Police, taken unawares, were unable to deal with the traffic, despite a call for reinforcements,” reported The Daily Telegraph. “People stood on walls, climbed fences and trees and sat on roofs of cars. They sang, 'For they are jolly good fellows’ and brandished football rattles. Two girls fainted. Several others, including one of the bride’s sisters, Teddie Beverley, lost shoes in the jostling crowd.”
Like the Spice Girls, too, the Beverley Sisters sometimes gingered up their performances with more risqué fare. Songs with titles such as We Like To Do Things Like That; It’s Illegal, It’s Immoral, Or It Makes You Fat, and British pop’s first covert paean to contraception, We Have To Be So Careful All The Time (which was banned by the BBC), helped to maintain their appeal into the 1960s.
Although Joy and her sisters went into unofficial retirement in favour of full-time motherhood in the late 1960s, they returned to performing when their children had grown up. In the 1980s they emerged as icons on the gay cabaret scene after appearing for a season of all-gay nights at Peter Stringfellow’s Hippodrome in London, where their cheerfully bitchy anthem Sisters (“Lord help the mister / Who comes between me and my sister / And Lord help the sister / Who comes between me and my man”) brought the house down. They continued to perform into the new millennium, singing for the Queen at her Golden Jubilee Concert in 2002 and taking part in the the 60th anniversary celebrations for D-Day in 2004 and for VE Day the following year.
Joy Beverley was born Joycelyn Chinery on May 5 1924, Bethnal Green, East London, UK.
Three years to the day before her younger sisters, Babs and Teddie. Their parents, George and Victoria, performed in musical halls as “Coram and Mills”, and the family lived in a two-up, two-down in the Homerton district, near Hackney, where the girls shared the same bed until they were teenagers.
During the war, the girls were evacuated together to Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, where they amused themselves by singing close harmony. Spotted by a man recruiting for the “Ovaltinies”, the harmony-singing advert for Ovaltine on Radio Luxembourg, they soon caught the eye of Glenn Miller and went on to record with his orchestra at the BBC’s secret wartime studio in Bedford. Having signed their first contract, with Columbia Records, in 1951, by 1952 they were starring at the London Palladium. The following year they had their first Top 10 hit with I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, which reached No 6 in the charts.
In 1953 the sisters made their debut in the US, performing on NBC with the Glenn Miller Band (Miller himself being presumed dead in 1944, having disappeared after heading out over the English Channel on a small aeroplane bound for Paris). Three years later they broke into the US charts with their version of Greensleeves. In the late 1950s they made a coast-to-coast appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, their host pronouncing them “sassy, but classy”.
At the time Joy married Billy Wright in 1958, the Beverley Sisters were reportedly earning £1,000 a week. Billy, by contrast, was never paid more than £24 a week by Wolverhampton Wanderers , and in more than 100 matches for England he never walked away with more than £60. As Joy recalled, the life of a footballer’s wife in the 1950s was very different from what it became in the high-rolling 1980s and 1990s: “'We were boringly well behaved, and loyal. In marriage you have to keep telling yourself that your husband is very important. That is not fashionable now, is it? I am disappointed at the way some women behave.”
The disparity between their earning power seemed to have no effect on their relationship, however, and they remained happily married until Billy Wright’s death in 1994.
The Beverley Sisters enjoyed their late-blossoming status as gay icons, although Joy complained to an interviewer that their cabaret audiences wore “more make-up in an evening than we wear in a year”.
In later life the sisters lived in Totteridge, in three near-identical next-door houses. When in 2006 they were awarded MBEs in the New Year Honours, they turned up at Buckingham Palace in identical white suits with pink hats and scarves.