No stranger to the London stage, Sheila Hancock worked in repertory theatre during the 1950s and made her West End debut in 1958, replacing Joan Sims in the play Breath of Spring. She then appeared in Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop production of Make Me An Offer in 1959, and her other early West End appearances included the revue One Over the Eight with Kenneth Williams in 1961, and starring in Rattle of a Simple Man in 1962. In 1965, she made her Broadway debut in Entertaining Mr Sloane. In 1978, she played Miss Hannigan in the original London cast of the musical Annie and two years later, she played Mrs Lovett in the original London production of the musical Sweeney Todd.
Sheila Hancock appeared in The Winter's Tale, Titus Andronicus and A Delicate Balance for the Royal Shakespeare Company. At the National Theatre she appeared in The Cherry Orchard and The Duchess of Malfi. Hancock she also directed A Midsummer Night's Dream for the RSC on tour and was the first female director at the National, with The Critic.
In 2006, she played the role of Fraulein Schneider in the West End revival of the musical Cabaret at the Lyric Theatre. She won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role In A Musical. In 2009, she spent over a year playing Mother Superior in Sister Act the Musical at the London Palladium.
The award was be presented to Hancock at the annual Women in Film and Television Awards, being held today at the London Hilton.