Sid James was a film and television
James was born Sidney Joel Cohen in Johannesburg,
South Africa. During World War II, he was enlisted
in an entertainment unit, and subsequently took up
acting as a career. He came to Britain in 1946 on the
back of his service gratuity. Initially he worked in
repertory before being spotted by the nascent British
post-war film industry, making his first appearance
in 1947 in the film Night Beat.
His first major comedy was The Lavender Hill Mob:
with Alfie Bass he made up the bullion robbery gang
headed by Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway. In the
same year he also appeared in Lady Godiva Rides Again
and The Galloping Major. In 1956, he co-starred in
the science-fiction film Quatermass 2.
In 1954 he began working with Tony Hancock in BBC
radio's Hancock's Half Hour playing a character with
his own name, who was a criminal who would usually
manage to con Tony. When this was turned into a television
series his part was greatly increased to the extent
that some viewers considered it to be a double act.
James was soon getting as many laughs as his partner.
In the final series, the show was renamed simply Hancock
and Sid was not included in the cast. The show was
one of the most popular comedy series in Britain on
both television and radio.
When Hancock had Sid dropped from the show, Sid returned
to films to become a leading member of the Carry On
team, originally to replace Ted Ray who had appeared
in Carry On Teacher in 1959. It was intended that Ray
would become a recurring Carry On star, but he had
been dropped after just one film due to a complex contractual
embarrassment (he was contracted to the ABC film studio
who had never used him). James ultimately made 19 Carry
On... films all together.
He later enjoyed success at the head of casts of
TV situation comedies, notably George and the Dragon,
Taxi and Bless This House. He suffered a heart attack
on the opening night of The Mating Season at the Sunderland
Empire and died on the way to hospital at the age of
Later it was rumoured that a ghost of Sid was in
the dressing room he occupied on the night of his death.
After one experience during a gig there, the comedian
Les Dawson refused to play the venue again.