Sid James, 1913 – 1976
Sid James is perhaps best known for his many appearances in the successful Carry On series and as long suffering Father in Bless This House.
James initially made his name as Tony Hancock’s co-star in the radio series Hancock’s Half Hour it would be the spring board to a hugely successful career spanning over twenty years until his untimely death aged just 62 in 1976.
Born Solomon Joel Cohen, on 8th May 1913, to Jewish parents, in South Africa, he would later change his name to Sidney Joel Cohen, and then Sidney James. His family lived on Hancock Street in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. Upon moving to Britain later in life, he claimed to have had various previous occupations, including diamond cutter, dance tutor and boxer. However in reality, he had trained and worked as a hairdresser.
It was at a hairdressing salon in Kroonstad, Orange Free State that he met his first wife – Berthe Sadie Delmont, known as Toots. They married on 12th August 1936. Her Father was a wealthy Johannesburg businessman, who bought a salon for James. Within 12 months of owning his own salon James decided he wanted to become an actor. He joined the Johannesburg Repertory Players, through which he got work with the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
During the Second World War, he became a lieutenant in the South African Army in an entertainment unit, and subsequently took up acting as a career. It was during the war (1940) he became divorced from his first wife, mainly as a result of his many relationships with other women; this was a pattern which continued throughout his life. In 1943, he married a dancer, Meg Sergei.
He came to Britain in 1946, financed by his service gratuity. Initially he worked in repertory before being spotted by the nascent British post-war film industry. In 1948 he had his first child, a daughter Reina.
In 1952, it was divorce number two. Within five days on August 21st 1952, James married third and final wife Valerie Elizabeth Patsy Assan (born 1928), an actress who used Ashton as her stage name. During the latter part of their marriage they lived in a house partly designed by James himself, called Delaford Park, situated in Iver, Buckinghamshire, a location close enough to Pinewood Studios to allow him to return home for lunch whilst filming. They had two children together.
It was during his marriage to Valerie he had his well-publicised affair with Carry On co-star Barbara Windsor that lasted more than 10 years.
It was reported in a Biography by author Cliff Goodwin that Sid James was a compulsive gambler who lost tens of thousands of pounds during his lifetime. His gambling addiction was such that he had an agreement with his agent, Michael Sullivan, whereby his wife did not know how much he was being paid, with a portion set aside for gambling.
In 1967, James was intending to play Sergeant Nocker in Follow That Camel, but suffered a massive heart attack and was replaced by the American comic actor Phil Silvers. In the same year in Carry On Doctor James was shown mainly lying in a hospital bed, owing to his real-life health scare. It would be just nine years later whilst performing at the Sunderland Empire Theatre in a revival tour of The Mating Season that Sid James suffered a fatal heart attack whilst on stage. He was taken to hospital but died an hour later.
James made his first appearances in Night Beat and Black Memory (1947), both crime dramas. In 1949 he played the alcoholic hero’s barman in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Small Back Room.
It was in the 1951 film The Lavender Hill mob that Sid James would play his first major comedy role. However it was in 1954 teaming up with Tony Hancock on the radio for Hancock’s Half Hour that made him a household name.
When the series transferred to television his part was greatly increased to the extent that some viewers considered it to be a double act. Sid James was soon getting as many laughs as Hancock’s lodger.
In the final series, the show was renamed simply “Hancock” and James was not included in the cast.
Other television roles included Citizen James, George and The Dragon, Taxi !, Two In Clover and Bless This House.
He was also a regular panellist on Jokers Wild.
Sid James appeared in nineteen Carry On films, receiving top billing in seventeen of them. He also appeared in a good many films click the link for a full list of his work http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0416228/