Thursday, 28 April 2016

Sid's Place Welcomes...Steve James

April 26 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the death of the beloved Sid James. In honour, this week will be Celebrating Sid Week here on Sid's Place, with a number of special posts paying tribute to the great man.

An Interview with Steve James

Steve James is one of the most admired record producers/engineers in the music industry. In a career spanning over forty years, he has worked with some of the biggest names in music, including Paul Young, Peter Skellern, Toyah, Ginger Baker and Neil Innes. He recorded Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life and has even worked on The Teletubbies!

Steve also happens to be the son of Sid James.

This image has been licensed from and is copyright of Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

A Croissant and a Chat

It is just after midnight as I make the video call to Steve James. He comes into view with the plush surroundings of a very nice-looking recording studio in the background. It is the beginning of another working day for Steve. It may be midnight for me but for Steve it is 9am. The recording studio is based in Sydney, Australia, which has been home to Steve and his family for many years.

He is due to give a master-class to a group of eager students, in addition to working with one of Australia's biggest bands, Mental as Anything. Despite his busy schedule, Steve has very kindly agreed to have a chat with me about his dad. Before we truly get under way though, he shows me one of the most important tools of his trade, the morning croissant! There's nothing like starting the day right!

Here are some of the highlights of what was a very enjoyable conversation.

Sid's Place What was it like growing up with a famous father then, Steve?

Steve James I went to some very good schools and had pretty much everything I could have wanted as a child. The only thing was I couldn't really have friends round to the house. It wasn't my friends that were the problem but rather the parents. As soon as they spotted Dad, they'd go "Oh, look, it's Sid!" and he'd have to put the show on, you know. He'd have this special smile that he did, the showbiz smile! He wasn't always like that of course, he was just a human being. Looking back though, I'm a very lucky man to have grown up in that situation.

SP So your dad was very different away from the cameras then?

SJ He was a very good father. Old-fashioned really and quite strict, particularly about manners. If I was walking along the inside of the pavement and my mother was on the outside, he'd move me around, as the gentleman should always walk on the outside. My father was always impeccable with his manners. Women who knew him and talk about him today still say what a gentleman he was. He was always very polite to the ladies and that's one of the reasons he was loved so much, he was just a good bloke!

SP Did you still see a lot of your dad even though he was so busy with work?

SJ Yes, I still saw a lot of him. My sister and I went through wonderful times really. Particularly the summer seasons, they were good. We'd travel round the country; Skegness, Bournemouth, Great Yarmouth, Blackpool, Torquay. I got to know them all. It would be about six weeks in each resort.

SP That's great when you're a kid, isn't it?

SJ Oh, it was wonderful! We would go to France a lot. With my dad being from South Africa, he would think nothing of driving that far. It was no biggie for him. I now know what that's like myself living in Australia. We drive thousands of kilometres just to get anywhere. We would all get in the big Ford Zodiac. My dad took the car wherever we went. I just had a fantastic time as a child.

Sid relaxes in the Pavilion Gardens, Torquay during a summer season  in 1969. Image copyright of  Lebrecht Music & Arts Photo Library/Alamy
SP Did you ever get the opportunity to visit the set when your dad was working on a film?

SJ Oh yes, many times. I remember Carry On Cowboy in particular. Carry On Camping too. The thing about Camping was I got to be at the party they have in the field at the end of the film, with the hippies. Dad got to dress as a hippy, which I thought was brilliant as I was a hippy myself at that point or about to become one anyway. The weird thing is I got to work later on with a guy called Roger Rettig, who was a guitar player in the band featured in the film. I worked with him when he was in a band called Fatso.

On the Carry On Cowboy set, I got to ride the white horse and play with the guns. One of the wonderful things I remember as a kid was that sometimes Dad would come home with his costume on. I'd be lying in bed and suddenly he would walk in dressed as a copper! He'd try to freak me out but he could never freak me out really! A few times he would come to say goodnight dressed in whatever garb he was working in at the time. We would always have fun.

SP Do you ever still watch any of your dad's work now?

SJ (laughing) He's on all the bloody time, Stuart! Even over here in Australia, the Carry Ons are always on the telly. The boys will come to me and say "Grandpa's on the telly!" I saw Carry On Cruising the other day. I don't watch the whole movie as you don't need to with a Carry On. Every bit is like a sketch and they are all sewn together. All of them were very funny.

I remember the scripts, written by Talbot Rothwell, coming through the post. The football or the horses or the dogs would be on the telly and Dad would take these big thick scripts, pop his glasses on and sit there with a pen crossing through things and scribbling various notes down. He was very clever with the written word and loved reading. With the scripts he would check that the timing was right because, as you know, timing was his thing. He was also very generous with lines and would offer them to someone else if they weren't right for him.

SP Which of your dad's co-stars do you think he was closest to?

SJ Bernard Bresslaw. They were good friends and got on very well. Joan Sims too, they always had a good laugh. I remember we had some great parties at home. Tommy Cooper would come round and Eric Morecambe - he was a lovely man. John Le Mesurier was a good friend of Dad's too. Hattie as well of course, she was a lovely lady. Those are the people I remember well. Out of all of them, I think Bernard was his best mate. You could tell that they liked each other.

SP  Sid had wonderful on-screen chemistry with all of those, didn't he? Particularly, I think, with Joan Sims. Those two together were just wonderful.

SJ They did some great pictures together. You could tell they were just two mates having a ball and cracking up. She was a wonderful lady. I really liked her.

40 Years On

As we reached the conclusion of our chat, talk inevitably turned to the 40th anniversary of Sid's death.

SJ When Dad went in 1976, I had started working with the Python guys and it was just starting to take off for me. It's such a shame that Dad never got to see my career take off. But, c'est la vie, that's a book that you just can't write.

I'd like to extend a huge thank you to Steve James for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat with me and share so many warm memories about his father. I am eternally grateful.

If you want to know more about Steve's work in the music industry, you can visit his website at

This image has been licensed from and is copyright of Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

Monday, 25 April 2016

Top 10 Sid James Carry On Performances

April 26 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the death of the beloved Sid James. In honour, this week will be Celebrating Sid Week here on Sid's Place, with a number of special posts paying tribute to the great man.

Despite tasting success in both film and television, not to mention on the stage, Sid James will forever be linked with the Carry Ons. Right from the outset, with his debut turn as Sergeant Frank Wilkins in the 1960 entry Carry On Constable, Sid slotted into the burgeoning Carry On team perfectly. He very quickly became the series lynch-pin and was always sorely missed whenever his name did not appear on the cast list.

In each of his 19 Carry On film appearances, Sid James was never less than memorable. Here are my personal choices for his top 10 greatest Carry On performances.

10. Sergeant Frank Wilkins in Carry On Constable (1960)

Sid James makes his series debut in Carry On Constable

This may have been Sid's debut performance in the Carry On series but you would never have guessed it. He slotted in to the established ensemble with such ease, it was almost as if he had been there from the start. Sid's performance as the kindly but firm Sergeant Wilkins is, in turn, both gentle and authoritative and typifies his early Carry On characterisations.  He strikes up an immediate on-screen rapport with his former Hancock's Half Hour co-star Hattie Jacques and bounces wonderfully off Kenneth Connor's overly superstitious and wonderfully named Constable Constable.

9. Sid Carter in Carry On Matron (1972)

Sid James & Jackie Piper in Carry On Matron

Despite the fact that he had been a part of the Carry On team for twelve years by this point, this was the first time that Sid had really been given the opportunity in the series to play the slightly dodgy but loveable crook that he had become so adept at in Hancock's Half Hour and a stream of fifties films. Matron also contains one of the most wonderful scenes in the Carry On canon, as Sid's gang, consisting of himself, Bernard Bresslaw and Bill Maynard, try to plan their next big job and memorably get sidetracked into a discussion about London bus routes. 

8. Vic Flange in Carry On Abroad (1972)


Arguably the last of the truly great films in the series and a perennial contender for the title of greatest ever Carry On. Sid is on rip-roaring form here and throws out terrific one-liners with an infectious zeal. His wonderful on-screen chemistry with Joan Sims has never been more evident than here, particularly in the magnificent scene towards the film's climax, where a drunken Sid crashes through the glass of the balcony door and Joan collapses in hysterics. Priceless. 

7. Sir Rodney Ffing in Don't Lose Your Head (1966)

Sid gets to flex his acting muscle in Don't Lose Your Head, as both the dandy fop Sir Rodney Ffing and the swashbuckling hero The Black Fingernail. Donning a variety of disguises, we are treated to multiple Sids for the price of one. Although Sid James famously never liked performing in drag, he was never less than brilliant whenever he was called to put on the dress. In Don't Lose Your Head, that happened twice.

6. Sid Boggle in Carry On Camping (1969)

For many people, this is the definite Sid James performance. The character of Sid Boggle possesses all of the traits that are associated with the on-screen Sid image;.he likes to chase the dolly-birds, has a caustic wit, enjoys the booze and has an ever-present dirty laugh. Sid gets lots of screen time opposite his real-life good friend Bernard Bresslaw and also enjoys some marvellous banter with that master scene-stealer Peter Butterworth. 

5. Charlie Hawkins in Carry On Cabby (1963)

A young Prince Charles visits Sid on the set of Carry On Cabby

Carry On Cabby is one of my personal favourite films in the series. It was said to be the favourite of Hattie Jacques too. Hattie gives her finest ever performance in Cabby and on-screen husband Sid matches her every step of the way. This is a more restrained Carry On Sid performance and contains some real heart and emotion. His scenes with Hattie are a pure joy to watch, as two fine actors perfectly encapsulate the fragility of a failing marriage. 

4. The Rumpo Kid in Carry On Cowboy (1965)

Sid's widow Valerie has often stated that Carry On Cowboy was her husband's personal favourite Carry On. It's easy to see why too. After all, what man wouldn't relish the opportunity to dress up and play cowboys and Indians? With his famously craggy features, Sid looks every inch the weather-beaten, trail-weary cowboy and he grasps the chance to be the black-hatted, villainous gunslinger with both hands. Despite the fact The Rumpo Kid is an undoubted bad guy, as an audience we can't help but root for him, as we know it's our beloved Sid underneath.

3. Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond in Carry On Up the Khyber (1968)

Arguably the most famous Carry On of them all. Every one of the main team is on absolutely top form here and Sid is no exception. Up the Khyber is perhaps the finest example of the winning formula of Sid James versus Kenneth Williams. The top two stars of the Carry On stable go head to head with memorable results. Sid brings an almost regal air of authority to the role of the Governor, a perfect counter-point to Williams' nostril-flaring Khasi. 

2. Mark Antony in Carry On Cleo (1963)

This one so very nearly made it to the top spot. It is a testament to the acting talent of the great man that he managed to be the perfect Mark Antony, while at the same time being the same Sid we all know and love. Sid's Mark Antony displays cunning, brutishness and lust in equal measure, yet it is his quite brilliant but simple exclamation of "Blimus!" which will forever stay in the memory.

1. King Henry VIII in Carry On Henry (1971)

This is the Carry On role that Sid was simply destined to play. As the undisputed King of Carry On, this is a match made in comedy heaven. As I wrote in the post Sid and Joan, "Sid's monarch romps through the proceedings with admirable gusto, hunting buxom lasses on horseback and happily gorging on roast peacock (all cock and no pea!), before reacting with royal rage at the presence of the dreaded garlic".

What are your favourite Sid James Carry On performances? I would love to hear your views. 


Thursday, 22 October 2015

Rarely Seen Sid - Look at Life: The Market Place

Throughout the sixties, the Rank Organisation produced a series of short documentary films, which were made exclusively for screening in Odeon and Gaumont cinemas. Entitled Look at Life, these often fascinating ten-minute featurettes were shown just before the main feature film. Over 500 entries in the Look at Life series were made, covering subjects as diverse as motorcycles, hot air balloon rides, fishing, space exploration and the rise of the coffee bar.

The first batch of Look at Life documentaries was produced in 1959, at a time when a certain Mr Sidney James had become hot property. Thanks to the rip-roaring success of Hancock's Half Hour on both the radio and television, Sid was now a household name. Despite the slightly crooked personae of his Hancock character, Sid was adored by the British public. The ever-present twinkle in the eyes betrayed his love for life, while his delightfully warm, crinkled features and lusty laugh endeared him to both men and women.

Another great quality that Sid possessed was that marvellously earthy, whisky-drenched voice. Sid James sounded like a man who had lived life to the full, enjoyed the experience and then come back for more. When combined with the image of loveable scoundrel which had been bestowed upon him by virtue of his screen roles, that earthy voice made Sid the perfect choice to narrate a Look at Life episode focusing on London markets.

The Market Place is a fascinating glimpse into the culture and daily life of ordinary folk in Britain as the fifties were drawing to a close. Sid James does a marvellous job as narrator, his natural delivery perfectly encapsulating the friendly atmosphere of a typical London market in the fifties.


Monday, 17 August 2015

Taxi for Mr James!

Watch the sole surviving episode of Taxi! at Sid's Place.

In 1963, if you were lucky enough to come across Sid James in real life, you could be forgiven for thinking that he had given up the acting profession altogether. You see, it is highly likely you would have spotted him driving a cab around the streets of the city. This was not to earn a little bit of extra money on the side; his acting career was still going as strong as ever! 1963 just happened to be the year that Sid landed roles in the classic Carry On Cabby and the now almost forgotten BBC television drama series Taxi!

Created by Ted Willis, the man behind the legendary Dixon of Dock Green, Taxi! saw Sid cast as Sid Stone, a cab driver who always seems to get tangled up in the problems of others, usually through no fault of his own. Sid shares ownership of his cab, at least in the first series, with the wonderfully named Fred Cuddell (pronounced Cuddle), played by Bill Owen, and acts as a mentor to the young Terry Mills (Ray Brooks).

Rather than being a straight comedy, Taxi! was a drama series with comedic elements. It gave Sid James the chance to show off his considerable acting ability, although he still managed to be the familiar Sid that we all know and love.

Sid Jjames in the BBC drama series Taxi

Running for two series and 26 episodes, only one instalment of Taxi! is currently known to survive and you can now watch it here. Entitled The Villain, the episode is from series one. Look out for Sid's future Carry On co-star Alan Curtis (Carry On Henry and Carry On Abroad) as the titular 'villain'. This a rare treat for us Sid fans and I dearly wish that one day more 'lost' episodes will surface.


With many thanks to Dave Hall. 

Friday, 22 May 2015

Sid Does It His Way

Just a short post this weekend but the contents should lighten the heart of all Sid James fans.

Not long before he sadly passed away in 1976, Sid made a home cassette recording of himself speaking the lyrics to the Frank Sinatra classic My Way. Listening to Sid's magnificent spoken rendition of the timeless classic, delivered in that tremendously emotive earthy voice, brings a tingle to the spine and, I am not ashamed to admit, a tear to my eye. Simply wonderful.


Sid, you most definitely did it your way and for that we are truly thankful.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Sid and Joan

It is quite fitting that two actors who worked so closely together for many years enjoyed birthdays just one day apart. Sid James would have been a sprightly 102 years old today (May 8th), while his frequent co-star Joan Sims was introduced to the world on May 9th 1930.

Of the many female co-stars with whom Sid worked on multiple occasions, it is his on-screen partnership with the wonderful Joan Sims that is perhaps the most celebrated, particularly as far as the Carry On films are concerned. Although the name of Barbara Windsor would likely be the first to spring to mind for many people in relation to Sid, for this writer it is the combination of Sid and Joan that provided the greatest on-screen magic.

Despite there being a seventeen year age gap between the two in real life, Sid James and Joan Sims made the perfect on-screen couple. Sid's screen image was that of the archetypal loveable rogue, a man of the people who enjoyed the finer things in life; namely birds, booze and betting! As such, when cast opposite him. Joan Sims would usually play the put-upon wife or girlfriend, tolerating these earthy foibles for want of a quiet life. Happily though, it was usually Joan who came out on top in the end, her strong-willed Queen Marie from Carry On Henry being the perfect example.

The career paths of Sid and Joan intertwined as early as the fifties, with both cropping up in such standard British comedy fare as Will Any Gentlemen...? (1953) and Dry Rot (1956). However, their screen time together in the latter was minimal, while in the first they were never on set at the same time. It was not until both had become firmly entrenched in the Carry On ensemble that their undoubted on-screen chemistry began to bubble.

Of the nineteen Carry On films to feature Sid, Joan Sims appeared in seventeen, with Cruising and Cabby being the odd ones out. Here are some of their greatest moments together...

The Rumpo Kid and Belle in Carry On Cowboy (1965)

Although this was their fourth Carry On together, Carry On Cowboy was actually the first time they had actually been cast opposite one another. Pure magic is created the instant Sid's black-hatted villain The Rumpo Kid claps eyes on sultry saloon owner Belle Armitage. Joan looks simply stunning, while Sid perfectly epitomizes the grizzled, trail-weary cowboy. It is a match made in comedy heaven and leads to one of the most celebrated and oft-quoted lines in Carry On history, as Sid mentions in a beautifully understated manner, "I'm from Texas ma'am. We all got big ones down there."

Sir Sidney and Lady Ruff-Diamond in Carry On Up the Khyber (1968)

British comedy at its very finest, Carry On Up the Khyber saw the series reach its absolute peak and many would argue that this romp through the British Empire is the greatest Carry On ever made. With the King and Queen of Carry On both on irresistible form, it is hard to refute that claim.

Nobody could pull off faux upper-class quite like Joan Sims, her Lady Ruff-Diamond betraying working class roots each time she lapses into a cockney vernacular. Meanwhile, Sid manages to inject his Governor with a calm, almost regal assurance, whilst never straying too far from the Sid we know and love.

Sid and Joan are at their battling best here, constantly bickering and throwing carefully aimed barbs in each other's direction. It's like a boxing match between two comedy heavyweights destined to go the distance.

King Henry VIII and Queen Marie in Carry On Henry (1971)

The majestic performance of Sid James as the larger than life Henry VIII was arguably the finest of his career. Chewing the royal scenery with absolute relish, Sid's monarch romps through the proceedings with admirable gusto, hunting buxom lasses on horseback and happily gorging on roast peacock (all cock and no pea!), before reacting with a royal rage at the presence of the dreaded garlic.

Indeed, it is a testament to the talent of Joan Sims that she more than holds her own opposite Sid in this kind of form. Strong of will and possessing an indomitable spirit, Queen Marie is determined to make her marriage to the philandering Henry work, even if that does mean trying to persuade him of the virtues of the aforementioned garlic.


Vic and Cora Flange in Carry On Abroad (1972)

In many ways, Carry On Abroad was the last hurrah for the Carry Ons, It was certainly the last of the series to feature such a large cast of regulars, including a final goodbye to Charles Hawtrey. Abroad is also the last of the truly great Carry Ons. Things were never quite the same afterwards.

It is quite obvious that Sid James and Joan Sims had a great affection for one another as friends. Their real-life friendship adds an extra spark to their performances in Carry On Abroad and it is an absolute joy to witness two comedy greats having such a wonderful time.

There are so many Sid/Joan moments to savour here - Sid's droll introduction of "This is the wife. Don't laugh!", his suggestive offering of a sausage roll and, of course, the now legendary scene where Sid crashes through the glass of the balcony door. "They put the bloody glass in!" Cue infectious Joan Sims hysterics.

Although Barbara Windsor may have grabbed the headlines, it is Sid's on-screen partnerships with the leading ladies of Carry On, Hattie Jacques and Joan Sims, which deserve recognition. In particular, his rapport with Joanie was magical..