Starting her career in the 1940s, Jacques first gained attention through her radio appearances with Tommy Handley on ITMA and later with Tony Hancock on Hancock's Half Hour. From 1958 to 1974 she appeared in fourteen Carry On films, often playing the Matron. She had a long professional partnership with Eric Sykes, with whom she co-starred in his long running television series, Sykes. She also starred in two Norman Wisdom films, The Square Peg and Follow a Star.
Jacques was married to John Le Mesurier from 1949 until their divorce in 1965.
Hattie Jacques was born Josephine Edwina Jaques in Sandgate, Kent, in 1922, the daughter of Robin and Mary Jaques. Her father was an RAF pilot who was killed in an aeroplane crash 18 months after her birth. Her mother was an amateur actress.
Educated at the Godolphin and Latymer School, she served as a nurse in the Red Cross during the Second World War, and worked as a welder in a factory in North London. Around this time an American soldier, Major Charles Kearney, proposed to her; Jacques later claimed he had been killed in action. However, while doing research for his Jacques biography published in 2007, the author Andy Merriman discovered that Kearney had a wife and children in the United States when he proposed and in 1984 was living in Massachusetts.
At the age of 20, she made her theatrical début at the Players' Theatre in London. Almost immediately, she became a regular performer with the company, appearing in music hall revues and playing the Fairy Queen in their Victorian-style pantomimes. It has been reported she sometimes "sang Marie Lloyd songs and ended her act by leaping into the air and doing the splits".
After achieving success in radio, television and film, she returned to the Players' regularly as a performer, writer and director. It was during her time at the Players' that she acquired the nickname 'Hattie' – appearing in a minstrel show called 'Coal Black Mammies for Dixie', she took to the stage blacked up and was likened to the American actress Hattie McDaniel (of Gone with the Wind fame). Thereafter the name stuck.
In 1947 she was seen at the Players' by Ted Kavanagh, the scriptwriter of It's That Man Again (ITMA), and was invited to join the cast of the radio comedy series (1948–1949) playing the greedy schoolgirl Sophie Tuckshop.
In 1956, she was asked to join the radio series Hancock's Half Hour, with regulars Tony Hancock, Sid James, Bill Kerr and Kenneth Williams. She also appeared in several episodes of Hancock's television series.
She was also appearing in films by this time, and her early films included Scrooge (1951) and a couple of Norman Wisdom comedies, The Square Peg and Follow a Star. In 1958, she joined the Carry On team in Carry On Sergeant and achieved more widespread recognition.
She appeared in fourteen films in the long-running series and portrayed the no-nonsense Matron in five of the films – Carry On Nurse, Carry On Doctor, Carry On Camping, Carry On Again Doctor and Carry On Matron.
She was known by the team as a warm, kind-hearted and endearing lady and was close friends with many of her co-stars, including Kenneth Williams and Joan Sims, whom Hattie provided with a great deal of advice and practical help. In return, Sims regarded Hattie as her "greatest friend".
She first met Eric Sykes at the Players' Theatre in London. Dazzled by her performance, Sykes came backstage to be introduced. It was to be the beginning of a life-long friendship and partnership.
In 1960 she joined Eric Sykes on his long-running BBC comedy series Sykes, in which they played a brother and sister who got into all sorts of comic scrapes. The joke was that they were meant to be twins, but were physically very unalike, Jacques being short and plump, while Sykes was thin and gangly. The show ran from 1960 to 1965 and was revived from 1972 to 1979. In later years, they teamed up for national and international stage tours of the show, although this put something of a strain on their professional relationship.
Hattie Jacques was married to the actor John Le Mesurier from 1949 to 1965. They had two sons, Robin (born 1953) and Kim (born 1956). At the time of their divorce, the media were given the impression that the fault was on Le Mesurier's side. It was later revealed that Jacques had been having an affair with a younger man called John Schofield. The 2007 book Hattie: the Authorised Biography says he was a cockney used-car dealer and that Schofield moved into the master bedroom while Le Mesurier retreated to the attic. When Jacques was filming in Rome, Schofield came out to stay and ran off with an Italian heiress. To console herself Jacques began eating "comfort food" and her weight ballooned to nearly 280 lb (127 kg). Le Mesurier went along with the charade of its being his fault so as not to damage Jacques's career. She remained on good terms with Le Mesurier and encouraged him to marry his third wife, Joan.
In her later years, Jacques was plagued by breathing difficulties, arthritis, high blood pressure and swollen, ulcerated legs caused by chain smoking, and as a result was unable to get insurance for films. She carried on working by taking to the road in a stage version of Sykes, which allowed her to continue supporting her favourite charities, as well as keeping up her busy social life. She died of a heart attack on 6 October 1980, at the age of 58. She was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium, where her ashes were also scattered.