Sunday 22 October 2017

Life after the Carry Ons ... Sid James

This is part of an occasional series of blogs in which I will look at the careers of each of the main Carry On team players once they left the series. Some would go on to appear in many other productions over the years while others would sadly not be so fortunate. Today I am looking at the later career of Sidney James.

Sid was one of the mainstays of not just the Carry On films, but of British comedy for a generation. His film career in Britain dated back to 1946 and from the late 1950s onwards, thanks to his association with Tony Hancock, Sid became a bankable and dependable star of many films and television series. In late 1959 he joined the team for his first film in the series, playing Sergeant Frank Wilkins in Carry On Constable. Over the next fourteen years he would lead the pack in nineteen Carry On feature films, several television specials and an eighteen month sell out run in Carry On London at the Victoria Palace.

Sid had an incredible work ethic, he was at his happiest when rushing from job to lucrative job. The speed at which the Carry Ons were filmed always suited him as it meant he could fit many other roles in around them. By the mid-1970s he was at the peak of his powers, a massive success on television, on stage and in films. So why was 1974's Carry On Dick his last performance in a Carry On film? Sadly we all know the answer to that one. On 26 April 1976 Sid sadly died of a massive heart attack during a performance of the farce The Mating Game at the Sunderland Empire. His death at the relatively young age of 62 marked the end of an era.

So what work did Sid complete during that short period from the filming of Dick in the spring of '74 and his sad death only two years later?

I don't believe the role of Dick Turpin/Rev Flasher was ever meant to be Sid's Carry On swansong. Only one more Carry On film was made during his lifetime as he had passed away just before England went into production in May 1976. The role of lusty butcher Fred Ramsden in Carry On Behind was written by Dave Freeman with Sid in mind. However Sidney was off touring with one of his many popular stage farces and could not commit to the six weeks' annual fun at Pinewood Studios. While Windsor Davies does an admirable job in the role, Behind does miss Sid's presence. 


Sid did make Carry On appearances following the completion of Carry On Dick. During the filming of Dick and right up until early 1975, Sid was joining Barbara, Bernard, Peter, Jack and Kenneth Connor to play to packed houses in the revue Carry On London. The punishing twice nightly schedule was further impacted by daily filming at Pinewood for many of the cast. Sid also appeared in four episodes of the ATV series Carry On Laughing, filmed in late 1974 and early 1975 for broadcast in 1975. All Sid's episodes fitted into the first series and brought him into contact with longtime leading ladies Joan Sims and Hattie Jacques for the very last time.
Sid was also busy in another small screen series, albeit a much more successful one than Carry On Laughing. He continued to make a series of Bless This House for Thames Television each year up until his death in 1976. Indeed the final episodes of the last series were broadcast after Sid had passed away. The sitcom was still hugely popular with the public and doing well in the ratings, with a further series of episodes planned for 1977. Sadly that series would not come to fruition due to the loss of its star. 

Away from film and television, Sid was also packing in a relentless and pretty gruelling touring schedule. His main theatre work was the Sam Cree farce The Mating Game, directed by Jack Douglas' brother Bill Roberton and co-starring his fellow South African Olga Lowe. The production toured all over the country, a big success at many provincial theatres. Sid also took productions abroad, proving equally successful in countries like Australia.


Sadly this frantic work schedule eventually caught up with Sid James. Amid reports that he was about to cut down on working commitments, James took his final bow on stage in Sunderland in April 1976. Thankfully his legacy lives on and his popularity, together with that of his countless films and television appearances, means there is scarcely a day goes by without the sound of that familiar Sid laugh or the sight of that wonderfully expressive crinkly face. He was a truth original

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