Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Other Sid to Carry On

 

The writer Sid Colin is a name not often mentioned these days. Although achieving a script writing career which endured for four decades, Colin's work is rarely discussed or even shown these days. Many Carry On fans will never have heard of him but he's more than worthy of a blog all to himself. The Carry Ons are mainly remembered as Talbot Rothwell's stomping ground as he was by far the most prolific writer to contribute to the series, however other men - Norman Hudis, Dave Freeman and yes, Sid Colin, were also part of the story.

Sid Colin's Carry On contribution was brief and fairly unremarkable, however over the course of his career he wrote for many of our favourite Carry On actors. He also struck up a writing partnership with Rothwell which lasted decades. Born in 1920, Sid started out not as a comedy writer but as a guitarist and singer during the Second World War. He was part of a beloved British dance band called Ambrose and the Squadronaires and penned the song "If Only I had Wings" for the RAF. It became an enduring hit within the organisation. After the war he began writing for radio comedy before branching out into film and television.


Let's start off by looking at Sid's brief flirtation with the world of Carry On. In 1964, Colin teamed up with his lifelong friend Talbot Rothwell to provide additional script ideas and dialogue for the gang's James Bond / Third Man spoof, Carry On Spying. Colin receives a credit in the film's titles although rumour has it the only payment he received was out of Talbot's own fee for writing the script. Sid returned to write for the Carry Ons again, six years later. In 1970 he worked with Dave Freeman on the Thames Television special, Carry On Again Christmas, which took on a Treasure Island theme and starred the likes of Terry Scott, Sid James and Charles Hawtrey. Sadly, Sid Colin never contributed to another Carry On. Given his closeness to Rothwell, it surprises me that Peter Rogers didn't ask Sid to contribute scripts for the series after Talbot rather sadly had to withdraw in 1974. 

During his long career, Sid Colin wrote for many of the top comedy talents in this country, including lots of familiar Carry On names. Sid's first work for television came way back in 1949 when he wrote for the series How Do You View? This series was revolutionary at the time, being one of the first television comedy series not to rely on radio roots for success. It starred Terry-Thomas in his instantly recognisable guise as the upper-class, mischievous cad. Regular comedic support came from husband and wife team Peter Butterworth and Janet Brown as well as the legendary Diana Dors. The series was made up of sketches, introduced by Thomas. It ran until 1953.

 

Next up was probably Sid Colin's most memorable creation, the television comedy series The Army Game. This black and white national service comedy series ran on ITV from 1957 until 1961 and many believe it contributed to the idea for the very first Carry On, Sergeant, released in 1958. Certainly the cast of The Army Game featured several well-known Carry On faces in William Hartnell, Charles Hawtrey, Norman Rossington and Bernard Bresslaw. Those first three actors all appeared in Carry On Sergeant in very similar roles. This series marked a return to stardom for Hawtrey, previously best-known for his work with Will Hay. It was also the big break for towering star Bernard Bresslaw, whose character Private Popplewell spanned the entire run and even led to a starring role in a spin off film, I Only Arsked, also written by Colin. 

In 1957 Sid co-wrote a series for Arthur Askey called Living It Up. His fellow writer was Talbot Rothwell. Probably their most famous collaboration came over ten years later when together they scripted the BBC series for which Frankie Howerd is probably still best remembered: Up Pompeii. Talbot wrote the first series in 1969 with Sid coming on board to help with the second the following year. This proved to be a popular association for Colin as it led to him writing the screenplay for the big screen version in 1971. This lavish comedy, made at Elstree Studios, again starred Frankie with a supporting cast including Michael Hodern and Barbara Murray. Bernard Bresslaw, Adrienne Posta, Lance Percival and Madeline Smith were some of the Carry On faces providing support. Sid Colin also co-wrote the two sequels, Up The Chastity Belt (with Galton and Simpson) and Up The Front with Eddie Braben, both released in 1972. Colin wrote again for Howerd in the 1973 BBC comedy Whoops Baghdad, which was along the same lines as Up Pompeii but not as successful.

 

Other notable works included the film version of the popular BBC radio comedy series, The Navy Lark, which Colin co-wrote with Lawrie Wyman in 1959. The film starred the likes of Cecil Parker and Leslie Phillips. In 1964 Sid Colin produced a rather bizarre series called How To Be An Alien which I doubt has ever been seen since. However, when you consider the cast comprised Frank Muir, Denis Norden, Ronnie Barker and June Whitfield, it surely can't have been all that bad? 

Another notable film credit came in 1974 when Sid wrote for producer Betty Box and director Ralph Thomas. He joined an impressive writing team of Harry H Corbett and Ian La Frenais to provide the script for Percy's Progress, the follow up to the successful 1970 comedy about the first male member transplant, Percy. I've never seen these films and view them somewhat dubiously however the cast of Progress is extremely impressive: Elke Sommer, Judy Geeson, Denholm Elliott, Vincent Price, Madeline Smith, Carol Hawkins, Bernard Lee, Barry Humphries, Judy Matheson and James Booth all signed up. 

 

Later credits on the small screen for Sid Colin included episodes of Crown Court and Love Thy Neighbour while his final writing project was contributing uncredited ideas to the Cannon and Ball film The Boys In Blue (which co-starred Jack Douglas and Suzanne Danielle) in 1984. Sadly Sid Colin passed away at the relatively young age of 69 in December 1989. 

I know very little about the man himself or what else his life comprised, so if anyone out there knows more, please do get in touch. I think it's a shame that such a prolific writer, who worked with so many comedy actors we still hold so dear, is shamefully neglected these days.

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