Thursday, 17 September 2015

Sid and Tony

This story is the stuff of legend, certainly in British comedy circles. It's been told frequently on television in all those documentaries but I find it fascinating. Sid James had been a hard working character actor in British film and television for over a decade before he joined Tony Hancock on radio and the rest is history.

Sid and Tony were a wonderful comedy double act. It just worked and sadly, the fact it worked so well led to its untimely demise. Tony Hancock was a man fraught with insecurities. He was incredibly talented and a hero to many. So many of his radio and television shows from the 1950s and early 1960s have become legend and are still loved to this day. The power of Sid's charisma, his persona and his wonderful comic acting proved too much for Tony who obviously felt threatened by the rise of his co-star. 

It saddens me that a friendship as strong as theirs was ruined by a professional rivalry. As far as I can see the rivalry was only on Tony's part as Sid is always described as someone who just came in, did it and went on to the next thing. He didn't want to be a star, he was always one of the boys and a jobbing actor. An interesting change would have taken place when Hancock's Half Hour moved from radio to television. On radio, Hancock was king and Sid struggled at first with the live audience whilst dressed in his normal every day clothes. On television however Sid's years of screen acting came into play and Tony was out of his depth.

Liz Fraser has often commented on the breakdown of Sid and Tony's friendship, having worked closely with them both on television and in film. Her insights are fascinating and I'd trust her version of events more than a lot of other commentators. It must have hurt Sid a great deal to be ditched by his friend. I should imagine the damage to their close friendship caused him more concern than the end of a job. It would be cold comfort to him to watch Tony go on to ditch the likes of Hattie Jacques, Kenneth Williams and finally his wonderful writers, Galton and Simpson. 

At the end of the day, Hancock's loss was our gain. Freed up from the relationship at Railway Cuttings, Sid moved on to star in a long run of successful comedy shows. Galton and Simpson wrote CItizen James for him, then along came Taxi, George and the Dragon, Two in Clover and finally Bless This House. On the big screen, Sid was catapulted to fame as one of the most recognisable and best loved stars of the Carry On films. Would this have happened if he'd stayed with Hancock? Or would he have had the wonderful comedy career without Hancock in the first place?

It's a sad story in the end though, whatever way you slice it. While Sid's star was in the ascendance, Tony Hancock went from flop to flop and his personal life descended into chaos. Despite the special place he held in the nation's affections, Hancock was always chasing his ideal of what he wanted to be. Sadly, he never quite made it. Both Sid and Tony left us well before their time but thankfully we still have recordings of their wonderful shows on television and radio which we will treasure for many more years to come.

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