Tuesday 18 August 2015

Sid's Sitcom Successes: Bless This House

I have been writing about some of our favourite Carry On stars on the small screen, and more specifically focussing on some of their well known sitcom roles. I have previously looked at Hattie Jacques' contribution to Sykes and Joan Sims' part in the success of On The Up. Today I'm going to write about Sid James.

The trouble is that Sid starred in so many situation comedies over the years that it's impossible to condense them all down into one blog. There will be more to come, however today I am going to start with his last and probably best remembered series, Bless This House.

Bless This House ran for six series on ITV from early 1971 right up until Sid's sad death in 1976. So popular was the series that a seventh lot of thirteen episodes was already in the pipeline before the current series had come to an end. Broadcast on Monday nights, it was regularly the most popular show in the time slot and even spawned a feature film, produced and directed by Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas and co-starring the likes of Terry Scott, Peter Butterworth and June Whitfield.

The sitcom format of Bless This House was nothing particularly original, however the main casting was. By the early 1970s, Sid the character actor had become Sid the star and Sid was primarily the star of the bawdy Carry On films. Sid's persona was one of a lecherous wide boy, forever chasing younger, glamorous women. As Sidney Abbott, he was allowed to play away from all those on screen antics and settle down with his television family. For the first time, the younger generation (in the form of Robin Stewart and Sally Geeson as his teenage children)  are running rings around him and are often more worldly wise than their dad.

Sid plays it respectable as the suburban father, occasionally henpecked by his wife Jean (Diana Coupland) and stressed out by his life as a salesman. Yes, he still likes the odd drink and a smoke down the pub with his best mate Trevor, but it's still far removed from his big screen womanising personality. The role of Sidney Abbott fitted James like a glove - it was probably the one role that most closely represented the man himself. Interestingly, as Bless This House became increasingly popular, the family man pipe and cardigan image began to appear in the Carry Ons - Sid Plummer may have spent the entire film chasing Chloe Moore but at heart he was a family man in At Your Convenience. 

Bless This House was very much of its time. It was light, frothy and farcical. It also replicated what was no doubt happening across Britain at the time. The older, post-war generation were now struggling to understand their teenage children who were very obviously benefiting from the liberal 1960s. Sid's character runs the gamut of free love, birth control and adventurous fashions, struggling to take it all in and keep up. Interestingly, Jean, although from the same generation as her husband, has no such trouble with the changing face and quickening pace of the 1970s youth. 

At the heart of Bless This House was a wonderfully warm, funny and believable husband and wife double act between Sid and Diana Coupland. Diana was a brilliant foil for Sid, always coming out on top. You could tell they got on and enjoyed working together. Sid also had terrific chemistry with Robin Stewart and Sally Geeson and his friendship with Anthony Jackson as Trevor was on the money too. Throw in a semi-regular role for Carry On favourite Patsy Rowlands and you have one hell of a show! Incidentally, apparently Sid recommended Patsy for the role as his neighbour Betty in Bless This House as he had enjoyed working with her in the Carry On series.

The series also had some excellent writers, including Harry Driver, Vince Powell, Dave Freeman, Carla Lane and Myra Taylor. Driver was a regular contributor to Coronation Street while Dave Freeman worked with the likes of Benny Hill and later wrote Carry On Behind. Lane worked on Bless This House years before her hit comedies Butterflies and Bread. 

So there you have it. Bless This House is a wonderful example of the classic 1970s sitcom that British television used to do so well. It is also a fitting legacy for the tremendous Sidney James. It brought out a side of Sid audiences may have found unfamiliar at the time but it showed once again just what a gifted comedy actor our Sidney was.

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