14 February 2011

Icons of our time - Sidney James.

Everyone knows Sid James, he's an institution, a national hero, he has flags at England aways, he has scooter clubs in his name, adorning t-shirts, even modern day street graffiti, he's a face your familiar with, young or old. Likened to comic Arthur Smith, Alan Sugar and even the current Bond Daniel Craig, played on screen by the late Geoffrey Hutchings. With his trademark craggy scowl, more lines on his forehead than a Colombian house party, odd receding slicked back fuzzy hair like dirty cotton wool, bulbous nose and iconic dirty cackle laugh, he's the archetypal cockney.
Think dirty old man, crook, ladies man, smooth operator, family man, the wise cracker. He's been a doctor, a copper, an explorer, a cowboy, a cabby, a vicar, the king of England, he's bathed in milk with Cleopatra, shared the screen with Connery, Chaplin, Guinness and Bogarde. Never far away from a pipe and a pair of tits for that matter, Sid James is one of my heroes, is he stylish? I dunno, watch Two in Clover, is he funny? you decide, is he cool? damn right. The iconic Carry On films are where he made his name, that's undisputed, but he was a genuinely good straight actor too, with early roles in films such as Hell Drivers, The 39 Steps and I Was Monty's Double, a career that span four decades.

Born Soloman Joel Cohen in 1913, he was Jewish South African. Based in Johannesburg, he was already a bit of a rough diamond, claiming to work in various high esteemed jobs, such as a boxer a dance tutor and a diamond cutter, in reality he was a trained hairdresser. He enlisted in the South African army during WW2, where he then took up acting in the entertainment unit, by the end of the war he was on his way to Blighty to seek out a career in showbiz.
Spotted by the British post war film industry he got several acting roles, notably beginning with smaller parts in more serious films, with his first major role coming in 1951's The Lavender Hill Mob with Alec Guinness - which is still a rather cracking film even today, with more clever twists and turns than Tarantino. He soon forged a long term partnership and friendship with Tony Hancock, starting out on the radio before being moved to the small screen where they were then largely referred to as a double act in one of the most popular shows on telly at that time.
I personally love the old bawdy sixties and seventies British comedies, the Carry Ons, Steptoe, On the Buses, I'm not going to lie, you probably won't find me rolling on the floor beside myself with laughter at the gags and double entendres, tits falling out with a sneeze, people taking a tumble and landing in some cleavage, it's not really that funny, sometimes it's silly, but sometimes genius, really, it's just great. I find them funny, I do, but more than anything I just like them, they are of their time, picture postcard as they often say, silly, farcical, naughty yet innocent. I love the Tom Foolery of it all. I've got original posters on my wall, they take me back to easy innocent Saturday afternoons as a child when the Carry On's were on their various re-runs in the 80s, you'd see tits at two in the afternoon uncensored, I didn't really get them then but I liked them, not the tits, the films in general, though I remember not liking the opening credits, they went on and on as if it was actually going off, I just wanted them to start. I love that about old films now, especially the Rank gong man who always makes me double take if the telly's on in the background.

Putting the Great into Great Britain, that's what Sid did best, that's what followed with all the old lecherous leads like Sid of course and the likes of Connor, Scott, Askwith, Douglas, then Varney and his pal Jack in On The Buses, ugly, well weathered old faces, with big teeth, shit hair and cackly laughter constantly chasing skirt, little skirts with buxom breasts - most of the time getting it too, with much younger women, don't tell me that's not great. The general gist of most of those films were indeed these old men trying to get a shag, whilst usually all hell breaks loose around them.... But, there's always a happy ending, that's what I like, if I feel like shit then on goes Carry On Camping, seen it about sixty three times, some of the gags are predictable some still hilarious, I've seen Bab's tits fall out loads of times, even paused it, ha ha, it's all good fun. Heroes.
He then embarked on a career as the leading man in the Carry On series, the star of the show alongside the familiar team - such faces as Terry Scott, Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey and Hattie Jaques, but only reported to be taking around five grand a film, it never made him wealthy. His characters ranged from pretty much anything as the series lampooned it's way through history, yet he still more often than not he bore the name Sid whilst in character. He also worked on television in Citizen James and later Bless this House as the put upon family man Sid Abbott.

Anything but a Toby, Sid's face fittingly ended up on Jugs.
Still cool today, immortalised in plastic.

Great old school artwork on the 60's and 70's posters.
Anthony and Cleopatra with her from Corrie.
With his private life often under scrutiny of the media he, like most of our heroes, he had his troubles, suffering a heart attack in 1967, he married three times, liked a drink and loved a gamble, really loved it, but never won anything, it was such a badly kept secret he had a portion of his wages secretly set aside for it. There were rumours he never got along with fellow Carry On big hitters like Kenneth Williams - the total antidote to Sid's womanising, hard drinking lifestyle, this was often played up with their characters on film constantly clashing.
His obsession and affair with fellow Carry On actress Barbara Windsor led to intimidation from the underworld, with her husband Ronnie Knight having all his furniture rearranged at home as a subtle threat, there were also rumours of him finding an axe in his floor. Like Tommy Cooper and Eric Morecambe Sid tragically died whilst performing live, collapsing on stage during a performance of The Mating Season at The Sunderland Empire. In typical comedy folklore, the crowd thought it was part of the act, and it generated laughter as those immortal words 'is there a doctor in the house?' were shouted from beside the stage, sadly it wasn't. He died shortly afterwards in hospital. Strangely enough the late Les Dawson claimed his ghost visited him in the dressing room and refused to play the venue ever again. His trademark cackle was sampled in the Shamen's ecstasy bound hit Ebeneezer Goode in 1992.
Brilliant 'Look at Life' documentary narrated by Sid.
Short rare
interview from the set of Carry On up the Jungle with Terry Scott and Bernard Bresslaw.
Sid singing The Ooter song, Our House, and Bermondsey.


  1. Read his biography a few years ago,he wasn't a shy lad at all. Saw him recently in a lame old film called "Campbell's Kingdom" with Stanley Baker,set in the Rockies. Some ace old American workwear in it though.

    The Vera shoes below,any stockists ?


  2. There's some great images in one of his books, shame there's nowt on Google.

    Re: Vera, quite a few I think mate, Urban O, OP, No 6 etc, you'll be able to read more on them soon...

  3. First I would like to thank you for a fantastic blog! Second, I'm going to London in a few weeks time and would really appreciate a list of some shops I shouldn't miss out on.


    Robby, Stockholm Sweden.

  4. Thanks Robby!

    All depends what you are after really?
    London based lads would know more than me, but as a tourist I've a bit of a clue, head East to Shoreditch (tube via Liverpool St) to combine a few places. Type in Present, Number Six, Albam, on the search bar on this blog and you'll get a few results. Marylebone - J Simons & Trunk, Lambs Conduit St (Bloomsbury)- folk, O Spencer etc,
    Soho/Covent Garden/Oxford Circus Barbour, Hideout, Stone Island, Liberty et al.

  5. Looks good, thanks!
    Haven't been to London in a couple of years so it will surely be to some use!