Archive of Sandra Wells, Ventriloquist and Pantomime Artist

Scope and Content

This archive contains a quantity of cuttings, photographs, programmes and audio recording all relating to the career of Sandra Wells in pantomime and Variety.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sandra Wells was born Ruth Lilian Clarke in Torquay in 1906. She was a versatile performer whose career on the variety stage encompassed music dance, ventriloquism and pantomime. She learnt her craft at the Theatre Royal Margate, and on tour with the last travelling folding theatre in the country, owned by Inmann's. Upon going solo she became the successful flamenco dancer Janita. After marrying Mark Bennett, director of the Bennett Brothers Variety Show in 1934 (they divorced in 1940) she adopted the stage name Joy Wilby. As Joy Wilby she began her career performing a touring song and dance act and during the second world war she performed with ENSA, playing xylophone and saxophone to the troops in England and, after D-Day to bases in Germany. After the war she adopted the stage name Sandra Wells and as such she became one of the very few successful female ventriloquists, developing an original act with her doll Horace Higgs and her two glove puppets Ernie and Elsie. In the 1950s and 1960s she specialised in pantomime as a pantomime cat, appearing amongst others with Richard Hearne, Bud Flanigan and Tommy Trinder. Her second husband, the violinist William Mclean, died in 1989 and Sandra Wells died on the 6th February, 1992.


This archive has been arranged into nine series, those being:

  • THM/242/1- Photographs
  • THM/242/2- Press Cuttings
  • THM/242/3- Programmes
  • THM/242/4- Sheet Music
  • THM/242/5- Audio Recording
  • THM/242/6- Games and tricks explained and handwritten by Sandra Wells
  • THM/242/7- Books and booklets
  • THM/242/8- Performance papers
  • THM/242/9- Stage props
  • THM/242/10- Personal papers

Access Information

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here:

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

Purchased from Sonia Murray, daughter of Sandra Wells, in July 1992.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here:


No further material will be added to this collection.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Theatre and Performance Department. Material relating to Sandra Wells may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photograph files.

Two vent figures (museum numbers S.2678-2010 and S.2679-2010) were also acquired from Sandra Wells, which were used for the double act Ernie and Elsie, performed by Sandra Wells. Further information about these two dolls can be found on

Please ask for details.