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Original at Cor! Magazine
Now at British Comedy Online
6 May 1913 - 26 April 1976
Born: Sidney Joel Cohen, 6 May 1913, Johannesburg, South Africa
Died: 26 April 1976, Sunderland
Sid James arrived in England in 1947 and cornered the market in cockney barrow boys, cigarette-puffing wide-boys and streetwise con men on the British cinema screen. Almost an eternally present figure in B movies of the era - in 1952 alone he made ten film appearances - Sid had the battered features, world weary attitude and experienced eyes which spoke volumes, making him the perfect evil gangster or war embittered villain on the edge.
His impressive list of film credits include the brilliantly disturbing Cosh Boy with James Kenny, the stylish big screen treatment of Valentine Dyall's radio hit The Man in Black and the interesting contemporary underworld take on Shakespeare, Joe Macbeth. However, once Sid had cropped up as legendary, fast-talking American film director Ed Waggermeyer opposite Tony Hancock in Orders Are Orders, and subsequently been selected for Hancock's Half Hour, his career took a direct comic turn. He had injected hard-edged comic mannerisms into his crooks before, notably in the Ealing masterpiece, The Lavender Hill Mob in 1951, but now his crafty shadowy figure delighted in sending up Hancock's naive bumbler at every turn. The embodiment of hard drinking, hard working, hard living and hard gambling man's man, he played against criminal type in his first Carry On film, Carry On Constable, in 1960.
Although his Police Inspector Frank Wilkins still had a restrained eye for the ladies and a laddish attitude that refused to buckle under the incompetence of Kenneth Connor and Leslie Phillips. By his second Carry On, Regardless, the Sid we know and love was to the fore - examining nurses in their undies, delighting in a night at the boxing and generally wandering through life with a smoke and whiskey filled chuckle. That unforgettable laugh would become the ultimate signifier for classic comedy with historical monarchy in Henry, black hearted outlawing in Cowboy or bemused shop stewarding in At Your Convenience, never blocking the fact that Sid was always reassuringly the same.
The Hancock partnership had broken down by 1960 but Galton and Simpson wrote a series especially for Sid - Citizen James. Other popular television series including Taxi, George and the Dragon and Two In Clover, with Victor Spinetti, but it was the domestic situation comedy Bless This House that proved the biggest success. From it's beginning in 1971, Sid's generation gap reactions to his children, Robin Stewart and Sally Geeson, and bemused amazement at his wife, Diana Coupland, was a winner. He left Carry On in a flurry, with a double-edged role in the 1974 film Carry On Dick, headlining the stage show Carry On London and appearing in four episodes of ATV's Carry On Laughing series in January 1975. He died on stage during a performance of Sam Cree's The Mating Game. For many of us, he will always be the main man.
- Sid James by Cliff Goodwin (Century, 1995)
- The Carry On Companion by Robert Ross (B.T. Batsford, 1996)
© Biography by Robert Ross
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