Friday, 22 May 2015

Sid Does It His Way

Just a short post this weekend but the contents should lighten the heart of all Sid James fans.

Not long before he sadly passed away in 1976, Sid made a home cassette recording of himself speaking the lyrics to the Frank Sinatra classic My Way. Listening to Sid's magnificent spoken rendition of the timeless classic, delivered in that tremendously emotive earthy voice, brings a tingle to the spine and, I am not ashamed to admit, a tear to my eye. Simply wonderful.


        



Sid, you most definitely did it your way and for that we are truly thankful.



Saturday, 16 May 2015

Sitcom Sid


Friday, 8 May 2015

Sid and Joan

It is quite fitting that two actors who worked so closely together for many years enjoyed birthdays just one day apart. Sid James would have been a sprightly 102 years old today (May 8th), while his frequent co-star Joan Sims was introduced to the world on May 9th 1930.



Of the many female co-stars with whom Sid worked on multiple occasions, it is his on-screen partnership with the wonderful Joan Sims that is perhaps the most celebrated, particularly as far as the Carry On films are concerned. Although the name of Barbara Windsor would likely be the first to spring to mind for many people in relation to Sid, for this writer it is the combination of Sid and Joan that provided the greatest on-screen magic.

Despite there being a seventeen year age gap between the two in real life, Sid James and Joan Sims made the perfect on-screen couple. Sid's screen image was that of the archetypal loveable rogue, a man of the people who enjoyed the finer things in life; namely birds, booze and betting! As such, when cast opposite him. Joan Sims would usually play the put-upon wife or girlfriend, tolerating these earthy foibles for want of a quiet life. Happily though, it was usually Joan who came out on top in the end, her strong-willed Queen Marie from Carry On Henry being the perfect example.

The career paths of Sid and Joan intertwined as early as the fifties, with both cropping up in such standard British comedy fare as Will Any Gentlemen...? (1953) and Dry Rot (1956). However, their screen time together in the latter was minimal, while in the first they were never on set at the same time. It was not until both had become firmly entrenched in the Carry On ensemble that their undoubted on-screen chemistry began to bubble.

Of the nineteen Carry On films to feature Sid, Joan Sims appeared in seventeen, with Cruising and Cabby being the odd ones out. Here are some of their greatest moments together...


The Rumpo Kid and Belle in Carry On Cowboy (1965)




Although this was their fourth Carry On together, Carry On Cowboy was actually the first time they had actually been cast opposite one another. Pure magic is created the instant Sid's black-hatted villain The Rumpo Kid claps eyes on sultry saloon owner Belle Armitage. Joan looks simply stunning, while Sid perfectly epitomizes the grizzled, trail-weary cowboy. It is a match made in comedy heaven and leads to one of the most celebrated and oft-quoted lines in Carry On history, as Sid mentions in a beautifully understated manner, "I'm from Texas ma'am. We all got big ones down there."


Sir Sidney and Lady Ruff-Diamond in Carry On Up the Khyber (1968)



British comedy at its very finest, Carry On Up the Khyber saw the series reach its absolute peak and many would argue that this romp through the British Empire is the greatest Carry On ever made. With the King and Queen of Carry On both on irresistible form, it is hard to refute that claim.

Nobody could pull off faux upper-class quite like Joan Sims, her Lady Ruff-Diamond betraying working class roots each time she lapses into a cockney vernacular. Meanwhile, Sid manages to inject his Governor with a calm, almost regal assurance, whilst never straying too far from the Sid we know and love.

Sid and Joan are at their battling best here, constantly bickering and throwing carefully aimed barbs in each other's direction. It's like a boxing match between two comedy heavyweights destined to go the distance.

King Henry VIII and Queen Marie in Carry On Henry (1971)



The majestic performance of Sid James as the larger than life Henry VIII was arguably the finest of his career. Chewing the royal scenery with absolute relish, Sid's monarch romps through the proceedings with admirable gusto, hunting buxom lasses on horseback and happily gorging on roast peacock (all cock and no pea!), before reacting with a royal rage at the presence of the dreaded garlic.

Indeed, it is a testament to the talent of Joan Sims that she more than holds her own opposite Sid in this kind of form. Strong of will and possessing an indomitable spirit, Queen Marie is determined to make her marriage to the philandering Henry work, even if that does mean trying to persuade him of the virtues of the aforementioned garlic.

      

Vic and Cora Flange in Carry On Abroad (1972)



In many ways, Carry On Abroad was the last hurrah for the Carry Ons, It was certainly the last of the series to feature such a large cast of regulars, including a final goodbye to Charles Hawtrey. Abroad is also the last of the truly great Carry Ons. Things were never quite the same afterwards.

It is quite obvious that Sid James and Joan Sims had a great affection for one another as friends. Their real-life friendship adds an extra spark to their performances in Carry On Abroad and it is an absolute joy to witness two comedy greats having such a wonderful time.

There are so many Sid/Joan moments to savour here - Sid's droll introduction of "This is the wife. Don't laugh!", his suggestive offering of a sausage roll and, of course, the now legendary scene where Sid crashes through the glass of the balcony door. "They put the bloody glass in!" Cue infectious Joan Sims hysterics.

Although Barbara Windsor may have grabbed the headlines, it is Sid's on-screen partnerships with the leading ladies of Carry On, Hattie Jacques and Joan Sims, which deserve recognition. In particular, his rapport with Joanie was magical..       

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Rarely Seen Sid

There was something marvellusly  photogenic about Sid James.With more lines than a London Undergound map, that famous craggy face was the very definition of 'lived-in'. Exuding a genuine warmth and love for life, there was rarely a time when the sparkle was absent from Sid's eyes.


Here are some rarely seen images of Sid from the archives, courtesy of Getty Images.




The fact that Carry On Cabby was made in black and white makes this wonderful colour publicity shot even more special. Not wanting to be outdone by his leggy co-star Christine Rogers, Sid is more than willing to put the James pins on show!




The rip-roaringly successful George and the Dragon remains one of Sid's most fondly remembered television sitcoms. This stunning publicity shot from 1968 sums up the character of George Russell perfectly.  



This was taken in December 1967, just over six months after Sid suffered his first heart attack. That love of life is still clearly evident!



A truly joyous shot of two comedy legends thoroughly relishing each other's company. At the time, Sid and Dame Margaret Rutherford were appearing in the play The Solid Gold Cadillac at London's Saville Theatre. The two old pros had first worked together many years previously in the 1952 film Miss Robin Hood.  



By 1959, Sid was one of the most well-known faces on cinema screens and televisions throughout the land. Complete with seemingly ever-present cigarette, Sid is seen here at London's Dorchester Hotel, at a reception to promote upcoming films for 1960, one of which was a certain Carry On Constable.



God bless you. Sid!

Sunday, 26 April 2015

For the Love of Sid

On the night of April 26, 1976, Sid James suffered a fatal heart attack while appearing on stage at the Sunderland Empire. He was 62 years old. Still fiercely busy as he approached his thirtieth year in the business, Sid planned to retire when he reached 65. Whether the events of that fateful night 39 years ago could have been averted had Sid trimmed back his work commitments, we will never know. What is certain is that Sid touched the hearts of many. He remains my ultimate comedy hero.





I was just six years old when the tragic news of Sid's passing stunned the nation. As such, I have no real recollection of the events at the time. My main memories from 1976 revolve around the incredible summer, which had the country sweltering and, ultimately, withering under the intense gaze of a permanently blazing sun. There has never been another summer quite like it since, just as there has never been another Sid.

When comedian Rik Mayall passed away unexpectedly last year, there was a huge outpouring of grief from a shocked nation, which I can only equate to the levels which met Sid's death in 1976. However, while both men often played exaggerated versions of themselves, they were loved by the public for very different reasons. Rik was a force of nature much admired for his outrageous self-confidence. In complete contrast, Sid was much more like the normal man in the street. It was easy to imagine downing a couple of pints with him in the local, while enjoying a quick game of three card brag.


There was a certain warmth about Sid James. No matter whether he was playing a booze-loving, 'bird' chaser or a villainous, black-hatted cowboy, it was impossible not to like him. Maybe it was that wonderful craggy face, once memorably described as resembling a bag of knitting, which endeared him so. That infectious and marvellously dirty laugh, not unlike the sound of the last of the water disappearing down a plughole, no doubt also contributed to his innate likeability. However, perhaps the secret as to why Mr Sidney James was so loved is that he was simply 'Sid' in whatever he did.

As his career progressed, Sid the character became very much entwined with Sid the man. Indeed, it is very much a testament to Sid's supreme skills as an actor that the public found it so difficult to distinguish between the two. I, for one, cannot think of another actor, comedic or dramatic, who always looked so relaxed in front of the camera. This aura of calm, however, belied an intense professionalism and strong work ethic which never left Sid throughout his prolific career. In an era when the British film industry was perhaps at its peak, with features rolling off the production line at a phenomenal rate, 'One-Take' James was the ultimate reliable asset to have on the cast list. There was no artistic temperament here! He simply wanted to get the work done and move on to the next job.

Warm and refreshingly down-to-earth, Sid James will always occupy the top spot on my list of personal comedy heroes. Who knows, in another time and another place, maybe I could have enjoyed that pint with him down the boozer.



Friday, 24 April 2015

Play It Again, Sid

That Sid James was a rather talented fellow, wasn't he? Not only a great actor, Sid could also sing and dance with the best of them. What is perhaps a little less well known is that he could also play the piano.




Leading auction house Piano Auctions Ltd will soon be featuring the James' family piano, seen here in this wonderful picture, in one of their sales catalogues.

An upright Knight dating from 1955, the piano also comes with matching stool. The auction is due to take place on June 25 2015. For more information, you can visit the Piano Auctions Ltd website, call 01234 831742 or email richard@pianoauctions.co.uk

 

Friday, 17 April 2015

A Look-in at Bless This House

Everyone of a certain age is sure to remember Look-in. Throughout the seventies and eighties, this television-based magazine aimed at children was a fixture on newsagent shelves throughout the country. Also known as The Junior TV Times, Look-in focused on the television output of the ITV network and featured interviews with the stars of the day, as well as taking a fascinating peak behind the scenes.

For the majority of people who remember reading Look-in as a child, myself included, the most fondly recalled features are sure to be the comic strips. Right from the magazine's debut in January 1971, each issue featured a number of comic strips based on some of the biggest television hits on the ITV network. Sitcoms were, of course, a natural fit for the comic strip treatment. Over the years, Look-in ran strips based on the likes of On the Buses, Doctor at Large and Please Sir!

Unlike today, where finding a quality comedy series on ITV is akin to stumbling upon the proverbial haystack needle, the early seventies was awash with commercial comedy gold. Thames Television, in particular, seemed to posses the Midas touch, with the likes of Love Thy Neighbour, Man About the House and Father,Dear Father raking in the viewers. Retaining the comedy crown in imperious fashion, however, was a certain Mr Sidney James with Bless This House.



As the end of 1973 approached, Bless This House was the nation's most beloved sitcom, with three series already in the bag. Its huge popularity made it a shoe-in to receive the comic strip treatment. Sure enough, the December 1973 edition of Look-in featured the very first installment of the Bless This House comic strip series.





Bless This House would remain a fixture of Look-in until September 1975, when it was replaced by a strip based on the sci-fi hit Space:1999. Although a sixth and final TV series of Bless This House would be broadcast in 1976, the lack of any new episodes in 1975 may have contributed to the comic strip version taking its final bow in Look-in.



Here is how the very first Bless This House comic strip looked in the December 1973 edition of Look-in.