10 July, 2008

Sid James

Sid James was a South African actor who made his career in the British film and television industry. James, who was often credited as Sidney James, is best remembered for his roles in the Carry On films, Bless This House and Hancock's Half Hour.

James made his first appearances in Night Beat and Black Memory (1947), both crime dramas. In 1949 he played the alcoholic hero's barman in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Small Back Room.

His first major comedy role was in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951): with Alfie Bass he made up the bullion robbery gang headed by Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway. In the same year he also appeared in Lady Godiva Rides Again and The Galloping Major; in 1956 he had a non-comic supporting role as a journalist in the science-fiction film Quatermass 2. He also had a supporting part as a TV advertisement producer in Charlie Chaplin's A King in New York (1957).

Meanwhile, in 1954, he began working with Tony Hancock in BBC radio's Hancock's Half Hour playing a character with his own name, who was a petty criminal who would usually manage to con Hancock. When this was turned into a television series his part was greatly increased to the extent that some viewers considered it to be a double act. Sid James was soon getting as many laughs as his partner. In the final series, the show was renamed simply Hancock and James was not included in the cast. The show was one of the most popular comedy series in Britain on both television and radio.

James became a leading member of the Carry On team, originally to replace Ted Ray who had appeared in Carry On Teacher in 1959. It was intended that Ray would become a recurring Carry On star, but he had been dropped after just one film due to a contractual. James ultimately made 19 Carry On films, making him one of the most regular-appearing of the cast.

The characters he portrayed in the films were usually very similar to the wise-cracking, sly, lecherous cockney he was famed for playing on television, and often had the name Sid or Sidney.

Sid James was so identified with the similar characters that he played that they were often also called "Sid" or "Sidney". Apart from Sidney Fiddler, Sid Carter, Sid Plummer, Sidney Bliss, Sidney Boggle and Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond in the Carry On films, he played Sid Abbot in Bless This House on television and its spin-off film, as well as Sids Jones, Turner, Marks, Stone, and Gibson in addition to four characters called just 'Sid'. His Sidney Balmoral James from Hancock's Half Hour also appeared in his own Citizen James series. His trademark "dirty laugh" was employed frequently.

He suffered a heart attack on 26 April 1976, the opening night of The Mating Season at the Sunderland Empire Theatre and died on stage he was 62.

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