Sid James: Wikis


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Sid James
Born Solomon Joel Cohen
8 May 1913(1913-05-08)
Hillbrow, Gauteng, Johannesburg, South Africa
Died 26 April 1976 (aged 62)
Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, England
Occupation Actor, comedian
Years active 1947–1976
Spouse(s) Berthe Sadie Delmont (1936–40) (divorced)
Meg Williams (1943–52) (divorced)
Valerie Assan (1952–76) (his death)

Sid James (born Solomon Joel Cohen; 8 May 1913 – 26 April 1976) was a South African, British-based actor and comedian. He made his name as Tony Hancock's co-star in Hancock's Half Hour and also starred in the popular Carry On films. He was known for his trademark "dirty laugh" and lascivious persona.


Early life

James was born Solomon Joel Cohen on 8 May 1913 to Jewish parents in South Africa, later changing his name to Sidney Joel Cohen, and then Sidney James.[1] His family lived on Hancock Street in Hillbrow, Gauteng, Johannesburg. 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.

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.

The Carry On years

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 because of contract problems (he was contracted to ABC films who had never used him). James ultimately made 19 Carry On films, receiving top-billing in 17, making him one of the most featured performers of the regular 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 in six cases bore the name Sid or Sidney. James appeared as Sidney Fiddler, Sid Carter, Sid Plummer, Sidney Bliss, Sidney Boggle and Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond in the Carry On films.

James also played characters named Sid in appearances outside of the Carry On films, Sid Abbot in Bless This House on television and its spin-off film, as well as Sid Jones, Sid Turner, Sid Marks, Sid Stone, and Sid 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.

There were Carry On films in which James played characters who were not called Sid or Sidney, namely, Carry On Henry (a parody of Henry VIII) and Carry On Dick (a spoof of legendary highwayman Dick Turpin), in both of which he played the title roles, and Carry On Cleo, in which he played Mark Antony. Most notably, in Carry On Cowboy, he adopted an American accent for his part as The Rumpo Kid:

The cast make valiant attempts to maintain American accents, with the most convincing belonging to—surprisingly—Sid James, who made no attempt to disguise his accent in any other film, either before or after this one.
Adrian Rigelsford, Carry On Laughing — a celebration[2]


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 during the opening night of The Mating Season at the Sunderland Empire Theatre. The technical manager (Melvyn James) 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 taken to hospital by ambulance, but died about an hour later. James, then 62, 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 an engagement there, the comedian Les Dawson refused to play the venue again. He never revealed why and would not talk on the subject.[3][4]

Personal life

James and his first wife 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). Five years later they had a daughter, Reina, before getting divorced on 17 August 1952. On 21 August 1952 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, Buckinghamshire, 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, which was documented in the 1998 stage-play Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick and its 2000 television adaptation Cor, Blimey!.

James was an inveterate gambler, but also a largely unsuccessful one; he lost tens of thousands of pounds over his lifetime. His gambling addiction was such that he had an agreement with his agent, Michael Sullivan, whereby his wife did not know how much he was being paid, with a portion set aside for gambling.[5]

James's obsession with Barbara Windsor was such that it led to his returning home one day to find that all of the furniture had been rearranged, and on another that her husband of the time, Ronnie Knight, had put an axe in his floor.[5]

It was believed that James had a bitter off-screen rivalry with fellow cast member Kenneth Williams due to the polarity of their personalities. James was a womaniser who overindulged in various vices including alcohol, while Williams was a homosexual repelled by James's brashness. Thus in many Carry On films where they were cast side by side, right up until James's death in 1976, they played characters who had conflicting views or roles. Notable examples of this contrast are:

  • Carry On Cleo (1964; Sidney James: Mark Anthony; Kenneth Williams: Julius Caesar)
  • Carry On Cowboy (1965; James: The Rumpo Kid; Williams: Judge Burke)
  • Carry On Don't Lose Your Head (1966; James: Sir Rodney Ffing/The Black Fingernail: Williams: Citizen Camembert)
  • Carry On Doctor (1967; James: Patient in the patients' revolt against Dr. Tinkle; Williams: Dr. Tinkle)
  • Carry On Up The Khyber (1968; James: Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond; Williams: Khasi of Khalabar, mounts a rebellion against British Rule)
  • Carry On Again Doctor (1969; James: Foreign purveyor of slimming potion; Williams: Dr. Tinkle, who tries to steal it for profit)
  • Carry On Henry (1971; James: King Henry VIII; Williams: Thomas Cromwell, involved in a plot to kidnap Henry)
  • Carry On Dick (1974; James: 'Big' Dick Turpin; Williams: Desmond Fancey, One of the Bow Street Runners)

The off-screen rivalry may have bolstered the quality of their on-screen dynamic.



  1. ^ "The Classic Carry On Film Collection". DeAgostini. 2003. 
  2. ^ Rigelsford, Adrian (1996). "Chronology". Carry On Laughing — a celebration. London: Virgin. p. 151. ISBN 1852275545. 
  3. ^ "Theatre Stage An Old Haunt For Sid?" (newspaper). The Shields Gazette. Retrieved 2008-03-15. 
  4. ^ "Ghostly tale". Sunderland Echo. 2008-07-28. Retrieved 2009-05-03. 
  5. ^ a b Goodwin, Cliff. Sid James: A Biography. Virgin Books. ISBN 978-0753505540. 

Further reading

External links

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