Petite, lovely and spectacularly costumed, Joan Rhodes commanded consideration with out even lifting a finger. 

However it was when she started performing that audiences could not look away. For glamorous 5ft 7in Joan was additionally a strongwoman. Certainly, she was one of many largest selection stars of the Nineteen Fifties and Nineteen Sixties. 

Billed as ‘The Mighty Model’, her act was constructed round her energy. She may bend a metal bar or a 9in nail and carry any one of many males in her viewers with out a lot as chipping her brightly varnished fingernails. 

She was finest identified for tearing 1,000-page phone directories in half and even quarters ‘if the applause warranted it’.

Joan’s strongwoman act took her everywhere in the world, together with a efficiency for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Windsor Citadel, and he or she appeared on payments with Bob Hope, Fred Astaire and Marlene Dietrich.

It additionally received her a wierd array of admirers, from Elvis Presley to a fanatical fascist.  

Now her exceptional story is advised in An Iron Woman In A Velvet Glove, by pal and biographer Triona Holden, which takes its identify from one other of Joan’s self-styled titles.

Billed as 'The Mighty Mannequin', Joan Rhodes, found international fame as a strongwoman in the Fifties and Sixties. Her life is told in An Iron Girl In A Velvet Glove

Billed as ‘The Mighty Model’, Joan Rhodes, discovered worldwide fame as a strongwoman within the Fifties and Sixties. Her life is advised in An Iron Woman In A Velvet Glove

Born in April 1921 in a London workhouse, there was nothing in Joan's early years to suggest she was destined for showbusiness. But she rose to become an international star

Born in April 1921 in a London workhouse, there was nothing in Joan’s early years to counsel she was destined for showbusiness. However she rose to change into a world star

As the years went by, she graduated to lifting a man in each arm or challenging punters to match her feats of strength, which they were never able to do. Pictured, in 1955

Because the years glided by, she graduated to lifting a person in every arm or difficult punters to match her feats of energy, which they had been by no means in a position to do. Pictured, in 1955

Born in April 1921 in a London workhouse, there was nothing in Joan’s early years to counsel she was destined for showbusiness. 

Her mother and father, Winifred Lowe and Thomas Taylor, had been solely collectively just a few tumultuous years earlier than her mom walked out on her husband and 4 younger kids, the youngest of whom was simply six weeks previous. Overwhelmed at being left to take care of their brood, Thomas left quickly afterwards. 

‘This supreme act of parental betrayal was to hang-out her for the remainder of her life,’ writes Holden. ‘She stated the anger she felt was what was behind her appreciable energy and her later success in life. The science behind this appears sketchy at finest, however she firmly believed it to be the case.  

After a stint in a workhouse, the siblings had been cut up up, with Joan and her youthful sister ‘Blackie’ taken to their paternal grandparents. 

She was raised there till the age of 11 – together with a short stint in a convent faculty earlier than she was expelled after pulling off a nun’s veil – earlier than being handed over to an aunt, Lily, who had simply misplaced her personal new child son. 

Lily and her husband Wally Alcock ran a pub, The Purple Cow in Smithfield. By this level, Joan’s energy was already being recognised. 

‘One in all her chores within the pub was to shift barrels of ale generally known as firkins, and even then she may carry one by herself, which was fairly a feat when you think about a firkin is the equal of 86 pints of beer, practically 8st in weight.’  

One of Joan's most well known tricks was tearing a phone book apart, as seen here in 1950

One in all Joan’s most well-known methods was tearing a cellphone e-book aside, as seen right here in 1950

On her 14th birthday, after being given an eightpence to go for a swim, she ran away.

‘With pennies in her pocket and a starvation for journey, Joan headed into town,’ writes Holden. 

Mendacity about her age, she ended up sleeping tough and dwelling by her wits. She met ‘Massive Jock Allen’, a street-performing strongman, who advised her she may gather the cash as he carried out his act. This was generally known as ‘bottling’. 

‘Bottling could have been a manner into busking, but it surely was not sufficient to ensure a each day slice of bread and margarine, not to mention a mattress for the evening,’ writes Holden. 

‘The crowds had been unpredictable; a little bit of rain or snowfall and there was little level in organising a pitch. There was additionally no manner of understanding if Massive Jock and the others had been going to point out up at any specific day or time. 

‘It could have annoyed Joan to seek out herself as soon as once more on the mercy of individuals and components past her management. Joan realised there was just one technique to make this case sustainable: she needed to study the methods of the commerce.’ 

Joan discovered Jock’s act, beginning with how one can bend a 6in nail. After some time she came upon she may break one. Quickly she may tear a pack of playing cards. However playing cards value cash, which is why Joan turned her efforts to studying how one can rip aside a phonebook. 

Joan Rhodes, who went by several stage names, is seen in her heyday lifting weights in training

Joan Rhodes, who glided by a number of stage names, is seen in her heyday lifting weights in coaching

Because the years glided by, she graduated to lifting a person in every arm or difficult punters to match her feats of energy, which they had been by no means in a position to do. Her abilities earned her nationwide press protection and he or she was booked by casting brokers as an additional in movies. 

It was within the dilapidated streets of Fifties Soho that she first laid eyes on Quentin Crisp, who lower a hanging determine in his Cuban heels, black swimsuit and vibrant orange hair. Later in life he turned well-known for his sharp wit and the pair remained mates for many years till his loss of life.

After gaining confidence as a life mannequin, posing for Lucien Freud and Henry Moore, amongst others, Joan, who glided by the stage identify Josie Terena had a stint as one of many world well-known Windmill Women, though she by no means acknowledged this in later life.  

In 1948, on the age of 26, Joan spent six months touring Spain as a part of a dance troupe. This marked her transition from road performer to totally fledged artiste. 

On her return, she answered an commercial in The Stage, which learn: ‘Freaks needed for a brand new present – would you consider it?’ The 12-month manufacturing was put collectively by theatre impresario Peter Collins. 

Joan landed the job and branded herself ‘the Mighty Model’. Different acts included Elroy the Armless Surprise, ‘The Battle of the Giants’ and ‘a really unhappy lion’ named Mushie.

Joan, dubbed the 'Mighty Mannequin', carries reporter Arthur Treffeisen after stepping from a Pan American World Airways Clipper on arrival from London in March 1955

Joan, dubbed the ‘Mighty Model’, carries reporter Arthur Treffeisen after stepping from a Pan American World Airways Clipper on arrival from London in March 1955

On her return, she started her fruitful, decade-long partnership with revered theatre agent and ‘fairy godfather’ Solly Black, who took Joan below his wing and helped construct her profession – and maintain her funds so as. 

She satisfied him to work along with her in a assembly at a Soho billiards membership. He was curious about representing her, however provided that she revealed the ‘trick’ in her act’, she defined. 

‘”A slip of a woman such as you – you are hardly half my measurement,”‘ she would later recall him saying. ‘”How will you carry giants and tear cellphone books and stuff like that? If it is a conjuring trick, it is a very intelligent one, however you may’t anticipate us to e-book an act with out explaining the way it’s carried out”. 

‘I stated: “You assume it is a pretend?” He laughed. “Come on, we all know it is a pretend”. So I lifted him up into the air and carried him around the billiards tables with my arms stretched over my head. 

‘It was a really dignified membership and for a second there was a shocked silence. Then everyone began roaring with laughter and I knew I had received.’

With Solly by her aspect, Joan landed gigs at practically each selection theatre in Britain within the Fifties and Sixties. 

Joan, pictured aged 26, captivated audiences around the world with her demonstrations

Joan, pictured aged 26, captivated audiences world wide along with her demonstrations 

‘To provide an thought of how busy she was, her 1955 diary was stuffed to the brim with prolonged engagements overseas: she labored in Brussels, Cannes, Copenhagen and Reykjavik, in addition to doing shorter cabaret appearances in Paris and Lisbon and persevering with to carry out within the British theatres and golf equipment had been she had already been performing through the years.’ 

The highlight introduced with it appreciable consideration – each needed and undesirable. 

Amongst her most odorous followers was fascist James Larratt Battersby, who described himself as ‘Hilter’s missionary’ and believed the Fuhrer was ‘the brand new Christ’. 

He watched Joan in a present in 1953 in Stockport, Larger Manchester, and have become fixated on the concept that they had been meant to have a baby who could be the ‘strongest individual on earth’.

A spotlight of her profession got here in December 1958, when she was invited to carry out on the Royal Family Social Membership’s Grand Christmas Ball at Windsor Citadel, in entrance of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Queen Mom. 

‘Joan’s act was properly acquired,’ writes Holden. ‘It was reported that the queen had spoken to Joan and expressed her concern in regards to the energy wanted to bend bars and nails. The queen requested her if it damage her arms.’ 

Strongwoman Joan bends an iron bar 'with ease' in this photoshoot in London in March 1958

Strongwoman Joan bends an iron bar ‘with ease’ on this photoshoot in London in March 1958

On stage, when invited up as a visitor, Prince Philip was reportedly heard to say it was ‘powerful going’, whereas the Queen Mom applauded her ‘gracefulness’.

Different well-known followers included King Farouk of Egypt, who despatched her flowers each evening in Rome, the boxer Freddie Mills and Elvis Presley, who requested to satisfy Joan whereas she was performing in Paris. 

When curiosity in selection started to wane, she turned to cabaret and toured the world, showing on payments alongside Bob Hope and Marlene Dietrich, who turned a pricey pal till her loss of life in 1992. 

A lifelong fan of cinema, Joan dreamed of Hollywood success that by no means materialised, though she appeared in a number of movies. In what would have been one of many largest moments in her profession, Joan was forged as Jill Masterson in Goldfinger, however was pressured to drag out as a result of she was already booked for a gig in Portugal. 

Joan, pictured painting at her home in Hampstead, north London, at the height of her fame

Joan, pictured portray at her residence in Hampstead, north London, on the top of her fame

Roles in 1976’s The Pink Panther Strikes Once more and 1980’s The Elephant Man adopted.  

She had extra success on tv, the place she appeared in the whole lot from interval dramas and comedies to sport reveals over quite a few a long time. 

Alongside along with her two lovers, Bert and Ulrico (Joan was additionally married briefly in the course of the Second World Conflict), some of the essential folks in her life was Crisp. 

‘I didn’t know if he was a person or a lady,’ she recalled of their first assembly. ‘He went right into a espresso store and was surrounded by college students. After they’d left he stated, “Might I purchase you a pale gray espresso?” and I stated, “No, a robust cup of tea.”’ It was the beginning of a friendship that endured for half a century. 

 Crisp, the actor, raconteur and self-styled ‘stately homo of England’ who was so memorably portrayed by John Harm within the 1975 TV play The Bare Civil Servant, remained in contact with Joan till his loss of life. 

Few folks had been allowed to satisfy the true Crisp, born plain Dennis Pratt, however Joan was an exception, and when he left for America within the late Seventies, they saved in contact.  

Sadly, Joan’s makes an attempt to determine herself as a ‘mature’ display screen star fizzled out.

She died of breast most cancers on Might 30, 2010, aged 90.

An Iron Woman in a Velvet Glove : The Lifetime of Joan Rhodes by Triona Holden is revealed by The Historical past Press, £16.99