She has gone from a single-mother model in the swinging Sixties, to the Gurkha campaigner, changing government policy in the Noughties. In between, she’s played some of television’s most iconic characters, from Purdey in ‘The New Avengers’ to the champagne/cocaine cocktail taking Patsy Stone in ‘Absolutely Fabulous’. Find out more about the posh speaking everywoman.
Joanna made her debut on 1 May 1946, in Kashmir, India. Her overseas birth was due to her father, Major James Rutherford Lumley, being posted over with the Gurkhas.
Educated in Hong Kong, the family went on to settle in Kent where Joanna attended a convent school. With just one A-Level, she tried to break into modelling, doing screen tests to supplement her income (this was one of the boom periods of British cinema and London was awash with acting opportunities).
Her first credited role on TV was as a 'flirty patient' in the soap opera, 'General Hospital' but it was the North of England's favourite soap, 'Coronation Street' that gave her her first regular income from acting. One of her most dramatic moments was rejecting the marriage offer from her boyfriend, Ken Barlow.
In real life, her personal situation was far more interesting than her fictional counterpart. She had a child and refused to name the father (later revealed to be photographer Michael Claydon) and steadfastly refused to apologise for her single mum status at a time when polite society ostracised the unconventional.
In 1968, she went from 'flirty patient' on the small screen to 'The English Girl' on the big, joining the ever growing ranks of sexy girls to appear alongside Bond in 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'. After arousing middle England at the cinema, she did much the same on the small screen with her first iconic role as Purdey in 'The New Avengers', and like Jennifer Aniston, her haircut is as much remembered as her acting.
Her next role sent children scurrying behind the sofa with her creepy sci-fi show, 'Sapphire and Steel' between 1979 and 1982, which was a cult, if not commercial, hit.
Alongside her screen personas, she has also appeared on stage many times, from Desdemona in 'Othello' in 1975 to Ranevskaya in 'The Cherry Orchard' in 2007. In between these many roles, she found time to marry conductor Stephen Barlow.
The serious side to the sexy siren image has emerged many times and is evidenced in various documentaries such as when she was left alone and isolated (apart from the camera crew) in 'Girl Friday' in 1994. The on-screen beauty left behind the make up and won over the hearts of the British public in a programme that is seen as foreshadowing the reality TV genre.
But the reason that the cameras followed her to a desert island was because she had lit up the British Isles with her portrayal of Patsy Stone in 'Absolutely Fabulous', which started in 1992. She played a character kept going only by the huge amounts of caffeine, nicotine, cocaine and alcohol coursing through her atrophying veins. It is a show that both Lumley and her co-star Jennifer Saunders return to time and again with the last series being shown over the New Year of 2011 and 2012.
In the noughties, she tried her hand at other acting and narration roles including 'Posh Nosh' in 2003, for which she was the narrator, 'Sensitive Skin' (2005 to 2007), 'Jam & Jerusalem' between 2006 and 2008, and 'Mistresses' in 2010.
In real life, she is a vegetarian and has also campaigned on various animal rights issues.
She has become a close confidante of the British Royal Family (not bad for a single mum from the Sixties) and used all her friends in high places to cause a change in policy by the British government over the rights of Gurkhas to settle in Britain. On 21 May 2009, home secretary Jacqui Smith announced that Gurkas, who had served four years or more in the British army before 1997, could settle in the UK, making this a victory for Lumley.
Her latest film roles include 'She's Funny That Way' (2014) and 'Death Knight Love Story' (2014), recent TV credits include 'Jonathan Creek' (2013) and 'Joanna Lumley Meets will.i.am' (2014).
Long may her reign continue.