Tuesday, 26 April 2016
Today marks forty years since the death of everyone's favourite South African Cockney, Sidney James. The man was, quite simply, a legend. And he still is. Many people comment that Sid's personality was so strong that he still has a strong presence today and I think that's very true.
It's a well-known and often told story of how Sid came to leave us in April 1976. Dying on stage in Sunderland in a production of The Mating Game, the world was robbed of one of its finest and most underrated actors. Adept at comedy and a master of the innuendo, Sid was also a superb and very subtle straight actor as his early career in films clearly demonstrates.
These days his legacy is the Carry On series. Although the films were very much a team effort, Sid more often than not grabbed top billing. He was probably the most recognisable of all the Carry On stars and although I'll freely admit I prefer the likes of Kenneth Williams and Joan Sims, there is no denying Sid's charisma and fantastic screen presence. Who can forget his wonderful performances in the likes of Up The Khyber, Camping and Cleo?
I also have a soft spot for his role in the Thames Television sitcom Bless This House, which ran for five years during the 1970s. The role of Sidney Abbott was, I like to think, most closely aligned to the man himself. Loving husband and father, a family man who liked a drink, a smoke and a flutter on the horses now and then. This series helped move Sid away from the rather lecherous image the Carry Ons had created for him. Sid was a big star on the small screen for decades and other wonderful series included Taxi, George and the Dragon and Two in Clover.
Sid first rose to fame as the straight man to Tony Hancock, first on BBC Radio and then to an equal amount of acclaim on television. Sid and Tony formed a legendary double act and this association made him a star. Sadly the pairing didn't last and the parting of the ways affected Sid deeply. While Hancock was a unique and celebrated performer, he had his demons and treated Sid very badly indeed.
Sid's story is a miraculous one. Through a combination of grit, determination, hard work and fantastic talent Sid became indispensable to the British entertainment industry for three decades. Working his way up from bit parts in forgettable films to the leading man status he held onto for the rest of his career was no mean feat. In recent years he has attracted headlines for a range of other reasons but I'd much rather focus on the great skill of the man himself.
He has made us laugh for decades and his popularity shows no signs of diminishing, even forty years after his passing. Long may his legacy of laughter last! I'll certainly be raising a glass to good old Sid tonight.