Sid James

Sid James

Infobox actor
bgcolour = silver
name = Sid James

imagesize =
caption =
birthname = Joel Solomon Cohen
birthdate = birth date|1913|5|8|df=y
location = Hillbrow, Johannesburg, South Africa
deathdate = death date and age|1976|4|26|1913|5|8|df=y
deathplace = Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, England
othername =
homepage =

Sid James (born Joel Solomon Cohen; 8 May 1913 – 26 April 1976) 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".

Early life

James was born Joel Solomon Cohen, to Jewish parents, later changing his name to Sidney Joel Cohen and then Sid James. [cite news|url=|title=The Classic Carry On Film Collection|first=|last=|publisher=DeAgostini|date=2003] His family lived on Hancock Street in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, South Africa. He worked as a diamond cutter, hairdresser, dance tutor and reputedly a part-time boxer in fairgrounds, before becoming a professional actor.

It was at a hairdressing salon in Kroonstad, Orange Free State that he met his first wife. He married Berthe Sadie Delmont, known as Toots, on 12 August 1936 and her father Joseph Delmont, a wealthy Johannesburg businessman, bought a salon for James. Within a year, however, James announced that he wanted to become an actor and joined Johannesburg Repertory Players. Through this he got work with the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

He and Delmont divorced in 1940 mainly as a result of James's many relationships with other women; it was a pattern that continued throughout his life. In 1943, he married a dancer, Meg Sergei, née Williams (born 1913). They divorced on 17 August 1952. On 21 August that year he wed Valerie Elizabeth Patsy Assan (born 1928), an actress who used Ashton as her stage name. During the later part of their marriage they lived in a house partly designed by James himself called Delaford Park situated in Iver, Buckinghmshire., a location close enough to Pinewood Studios to allow him to return home for lunch whilst filming. During his marriage to Valerie he had a well publicised affair with his "Carry On" co-star, Barbara Windsor.

During the Second World War, he became a lieutenant in the South African Army in an entertainment unit, and subsequently took up acting as a career. He came to Britain in 1946 on the back of his service gratuity. Initially he worked in repertory before being spotted by the nascent British post-war film industry.

Early films and radio

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 (but having the invented middle name Balmoral), 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.

"Carry On"

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 issues (he was contracted to ABC films who had never used him). 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.

The exceptions were in "Carry On Henry" - a parody of Henry VIII - and "Carry On Dick" - a parody of legendary highwayman Dick Turpin, in which he played the titular roles.

id and 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.


In 1967, James was intending to play Sergeant Nocker in "Carry On Follow That Camel", but suffered a massive heart attack and was replaced by the American comic actor Phil Silvers. In the same year in "Carry On Doctor" James was shown mainly lying in a hospital bed, owing to his real-life health scare.

Meanwhile his success in TV situation comedies continued, now heading the cast, notably in "Taxi!", "George and the Dragon", "Two In Clover", and "Bless This House". 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. The announcer called for the curtain to close and requested a doctor, whilst the audience (unaware of what was happening) laughed, believing the events to be part of the show. He was 62. He was cremated and his ashes scattered at Golders Green Crematorium.

Later it was rumoured that Sid James's ghost haunted the dressing room he occupied on the night of his death. After one experience during a gig there, the comedian Les Dawson refused to play the venue again. He never revealed why and would not talk on the subject. [cite web |url= |title=Theatre Stage An Old Haunt For Sid? |accessdate=2008-03-15 |format=newspaper |work=The Shields Gazette ]

Sid James's fate is touched upon in Bryan Talbot's book "Alice in Sunderland" (2007).


In 1995, Virgin Books published Cliff Goodwin's "Sid James: A Biography". [ [ "Sid James: A Biography] ]

It goes into detail about James's gambling addiction and the agreement he had with his agent, Michael Sullivan, whereby his wife did not know how much he was being paid, with a portion set aside for gambling. An inveterate gambler, James was also a largely unsuccessful one and lost tens of thousands of pounds over his lifetime.

The biography also tells of James's obsession with Barbara Windsor, and how it led to his returning home one day to find that her husband of the time, Ronnie Knight, had put an axe in his floor.


Early Filmography

*"Black Memory" (1947)
*"The October Man" (1947)
*"It Always Rains on Sunday" (1947)
*"Night Beat" (1947)
*"No Orchids for Miss Blandish" (1948)
*"Once a Jolly Swagman" (1949)
*"The Small Back Room" (1949)
*"Man in Black" (1949)
*"Paper Orchid" (1949)
*"Give Us This Day" (1949)
*"The Lady Craved Excitement" (1950)
*"Last Holiday" (1950)
*"Talk of a Million" (1951)
*"The Galloping Major" (1951)
*"The Lavender Hill Mob" (1951)
*"The Magic Box" (1951) (cameo)
*"Lady Godiva Rides Again" (1951)
*"Cosh Boy" (1952)
*"I Believe in You (1952)
*"Emergency Call" (1952)
*"Miss Robin Hood" (1952)
*"The Tall Headlines" (1952)
*"Gift Horse" (1952)
*"Time Gentlemen, Please!" (1952)
*"Father's Doing Fine" (1952)
*"Venetian Bird" (1952)
*"The Wedding of Lilli Marlene" (1953)
*"The Titfield Thunderbolt" (1953)
*"The Flanagan Boy" (1953)
*"The Square Ring" (1953)
*"The Yellow Balloon" (1953)
*"Will Any Gentlemen...?" (1953)
*"Park Plaza 605" (1953)
*"Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary?" (1953)
*"Escape by Night" (1953)
*"The Weak and the Wicked" (1954)
*"For Better, for Worse" (1954)
*"The Rainbow Jacket" (1954)
*"Seagulls Over Sorrento" (1954)
*"The Crowded Day" (1954)
*"Orders Are Orders" (1954)
*"Aunt Clara" (1954)
*"The House Across the Lake" (1954)
*"Father Brown" (1954)
*"The Belles of St. Trinian's" (1954)
*"A Kid for Two Farthings" (1955)
*"The Deep Blue Sea" (1955)
*"It's a Great Day" (1955)
*"A Yank in Ermine" (1955)
*"Out of the Clouds" (1955)
*"The Glass Cage" (1955)
*"John and Julie" (1955)
*"Joe MacBeth" (1955)
*"The Extra Day" (1956)

Later Filmography

*"Wicked as they Come" (1956)
*"Ramsbottom Rides Again" (1956)
*"Dry Rot" (1956)
*"Trapeze" (1956)
*"The Iron Petticoat" (1956)
*"The Smallest Show on Earth" (1957)
*"Quatermass 2" (1957)
*"Interpol" (1957)
*"Hell Drivers" (1957)
*"The Story of Esther Costello" (1957)
*"Campbell's Kingdom" (1957)
*"A King in New York" (1957)
*"The Shiralee" (1957)
*"The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw" (1958)
*"The Silent Enemy" (1958)
*"Another Time, Another Place" (1958)
*"I Was Monty's Double" (1958)
*"Next to No Time" (1958)
*"The Man Inside" (1958)
*"Desert Mice" (1959)
*"Make Mine a Million" (1959)
*"Too Many Crooks" (1959)
*"The 39 Steps" (1959)
*"Idle on Parade" (1959)
*"Upstairs and Downstairs" (1959)
*"Tommy and Toreador" (1959)
*"Carry On Constable" (1960)
*"Watch your Stern" (1960)
*"And the Same to You" (1960)
*"The Pure Hell of St Trinian's" (1960)
*"Carry On Regardless" (1961)
*"Double Bunk" (1961)
*"A Weekend with Lulu" (1961)
*"The Green Helmet" (1961)
*"Raising the Wind" (1961)
*"What a Carve Up!" (1961)
*"What a Whopper" (1961)
*"We Joined the Navy" (1962)
*"Carry On Cruising" (1962)
*"Carry On Cabby" (1963)

*"Carry On Cleo" (1964)
*"The Beauty Jungle" (1964)
*"The Big Job" (1965)
*"Three Hats for Lisa " (1965)
*"Carry On Cowboy" (1965)
*"Don't Lose Your Head" (1966)
*"Where the Bullets Fly" (1966)
*"Carry On Doctor" (1967)
*"Carry On... Up the Khyber" (1968)
*"Carry On Camping" (1969)
*"Carry On Again Doctor" (1969)
*"Carry On Up the Jungle" (1970)
*"Carry On Loving" (1970)
*"Carry On Henry" (1971)
*"Carry On at Your Convenience" (1971)
*"Tokoloshe " (1971)
*"Carry On Matron" (1972)
*"Carry On Abroad" (1972)
*"Bless This House" (1972)
*"Carry On Girls" (1973)
*"Carry On Dick" (1974)


* "Dictionary of National Biography"

External links

* [ Carry On Films at The Whippit Inn]
* [ Carry On Line: Official Website of the Carry On films]
* [ Sid James Fan site]
* [ Sid James at Aveleyman]

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