Friday, 17 April 2015

A Look-in at Bless This House

Everyone of a certain age is sure to remember Look-in. Throughout the seventies and eighties, this television-based magazine aimed at children was a fixture on newsagent shelves throughout the country. Also known as The Junior TV Times, Look-in focused on the television output of the ITV network and featured interviews with the stars of the day, as well as taking a fascinating peak behind the scenes.

For the majority of people who remember reading Look-in as a child, myself included, the most fondly recalled features are sure to be the comic strips. Right from the magazine's debut in January 1971, each issue featured a number of comic strips based on some of the biggest television hits on the ITV network. Sitcoms were, of course, a natural fit for the comic strip treatment. Over the years, Look-in ran strips based on the likes of On the Buses, Doctor at Large and Please Sir!

Unlike today, where finding a quality comedy series on ITV is akin to stumbling upon the proverbial haystack needle, the early seventies was awash with commercial comedy gold. Thames Television, in particular, seemed to posses the Midas touch, with the likes of Love Thy Neighbour, Man About the House and Father,Dear Father raking in the viewers. Retaining the comedy crown in imperious fashion, however, was a certain Mr Sidney James with Bless This House.

As the end of 1973 approached, Bless This House was the nation's most beloved sitcom, with three series already in the bag. Its huge popularity made it a shoe-in to receive the comic strip treatment. Sure enough, the December 1973 edition of Look-in featured the very first installment of the Bless This House comic strip series.

Bless This House would remain a fixture of Look-in until September 1975, when it was replaced by a strip based on the sci-fi hit Space:1999. Although a sixth and final TV series of Bless This House would be broadcast in 1976, the lack of any new episodes in 1975 may have contributed to the comic strip version taking its final bow in Look-in.

Here is how the very first Bless This House comic strip looked in the December 1973 edition of Look-in.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Sid on Song

Like many of his comedy contemporaries of the time, Sid committed his voice to vinyl on a number of occasions. From the slapstick humour of my personal favourite The Ooter Song to the rousing Kids, Sid's musical diversions were always memorable.

Double Bunk

The title track of the film of the same name, Double Bunk sees Sid at his lustiest and Liz Fraser at her chirpiest. The climax of the song features arguably the dirtiest Sid laugh ever recorded!

The Ooter Song

This  marvellous slice of nonsense was actually the B side of Double Bunk but is every inch the equal of its more illustrious counterpart, perhaps even superior.


This is a wonderfully rousing rendition of one of the best-loved songs from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. Sid was part of the cast assembled for a special studio production, released by His Master's Voice and EMI in 1961. 

Our House

Taken from the Carry On London revue show first staged at the Victoria Palace in 1973, Our House is a marked change of pace from the other songs featured here. It sums up Sid's warm, everyman personae perfectly.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Missing Sid?

If not for a legal contract dispute, the Carry On films may never have been blessed by the presence of Sid James.

It is almost impossible now to imagine the Carry On series of films without the presence of Sid James. However, at one point in time, this unlikely scenario was very nearly a reality.

The role of world-weary Police Sergeant Frank Wilkins in Carry On Constable was originally earmarked for former radio comic Ted Ray, who had proved such a success in the predecessor to Constable, Carry On Teacher, in 1959. As the series of films began to develop and become ever-more popular, producer Peter Rogers wanted an actor who could become the lynch-pin for the Carry Ons, someone who was adept at playing calm authority figures, around which others usually functioned in chaos.

Ted Ray seemed the logical choice to fulfil this role. However, in one of those twists of fate which seem to litter the path of film history, Rogers was unable to secure Ray’s services. Although they never used him, Associated British Pictures had Ted Ray under contract and threatened Anglo Amalgamated, who distributed the Carry On series, with legal action if they persisted in employing him. With his first choice unavailable, Peter Rogers then looked to Scottish comedian Chic Murray, with an eye on broadening audience appeal. This idea never came to fruition and so it came to pass that the pivotal role in Carry On Constable would be offered to, and accepted by, Mr Sidney James.

Sid makes his first Carry On appearance as Frank Wilkins in Carry On Constable 

Sid slotted with customary ease into the already established team of Kenneth Williams, Kenneth Connor, Charles Hawtrey, Leslie Phillips and Hattie Jacques; just as importantly he also proved a hit with audiences. Peter Rogers had found his lynch-pin and, with 18 more Carry On film appearances in his future, Sid’s path to comedy immortality was set. 

Monday, 21 April 2014

More Carry On Pathe

As promised, here are some more fascinating newsreels from the expansive archives of British Pathe featuring Sid and other members of  the Carry On team, alongside other great comedy stars of the fifties and sixties.

Secombe Christens the Pudding (1958)

Filmed at the long-since demolished Cadby Hall in London, which was once home to the famous Lyons catering company, Harry Secombe and Hattie Jacques perform a lovely spontaneous comedy routine as they mix a huge Christmas pudding.  

The Trout Inn (1963)

A beautiful 17th century riverside pub in Wolvercote near Oxford, The Trout was, at one time, famed for having a fully-fledged butcher's shop inside the restaurant, which gave diners the opportunity to choose their own cuts of meat. This interesting little film focuses on two rather famous customers - Peter Butterworth and Harry Worth.

Gala All Stars (1964)

Surviving footage of an 'off-duty' Charles Hawtrey is quite rare. This Pathe newsreel from 1964 sees the eccentric Carry On star visiting Battersea Fun Fair in aid of the Variety Club of Great Britain. Look out for a lovely little piece of comedy business between Hawtrey and Jon Pertwee.

Also featured are stars such as Bruce Forsyth, Cilla Black, Harry H Corbett, Liz Fraser, Ian Hendry and Ronald Fraser.

Tommy Steele Wedding (1960)

The wedding of Tommy Steele was one of the biggest society events of 1960 and, as such, attracted a very high calibre of guests. Sid James and his wife Valerie can be seen arriving at the nuptials, as can the lovely Hattie Jacques with her husband at the time, John le Mesurier.

There is no better example of the different attitudes that existed during this era than the subtle but very unkind comment made by the narrator concerning Hattie's weight.


Children's Matinee (1963)

Founded in 1951, the Children's Film Foundation produced a plethora of short features for younger viewers for over 30 years. This captivating newsreel sees a pre-Carry On Bernard Bresslaw entertaining a cinema full of children with a lovely little routine. This is a true gem.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Carry On Pathe - Fascinating Real Life Footage of Sid and the Carry On team

Thanks to British Pathe and their vast archive of  fascinating newsreels and captivating documentaries, we are able to gain a unique insight into a British way of life that has, sadly, long ceased to exist.

Included in that archive are a number of pieces which include Sid James and his friends from the Carry On team, who were, at the time, amongst the biggest stars in the country.

Laughter and Life

Contrary to popular belief, clip shows are not a product of modern-day programme makers looking desperately to fill a gap in the schedules. This utterly fascinating documentary sees the great Sid James take a look at the power of laughter, exemplified by clips featuring the likes of George Formby, Charlie Drake and Will Hay. He also interviews Roberston 'Bunny' Hare, a comedy star who is sadly forgotten today.


Xmas for All 1963

Although there is no sound, this footage of Sid, Frankie Howerd, Barbara Windsor and Jon Pertwee amongst others, at St Mary's Hospital, Plaistow, remains completely captivating.

Stars Go Racing

Any footage of celebrities attending horse race meetings during the 60s was not complete without a certain Sid James. Taken at Sandown Park in 1962, this reel does not disappoint with Sid showing off his tic-tac prowess. Liz Fraser, Leslie Phillips and Citizen James star Sydney Tafler also appear, in addition to Davey Kaye, Alfie Bass and Stanley Baker.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Sid at Christmas

Here are just a few seasonal Sid stills to get you in the festive spirit!

Sid as Scrooge gets to grips with the Ugly Sisters of Terry Scott and Peter Butterworth.

It seems like Sid was born to play the part of Ebeneezer Scrooge.

Keen fans will notice that the wig Sid is wearing here is vastly different to the one
he wore in the broadcast episode of Carry On Christmas.

Sid and Barbara grace the cover of the 1973 Christmas TV Times.

I would like to take this opportunity of wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Carry on Stuffing!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Sid's Co-Stars - Liz Fraser

More Than Just a Dizzy Blonde

With a career spanning nearly sixty years and having worked with some of the biggest names in British comedy history, Liz Fraser still remains, remarkably, a most underrated comedy actress. Despite being instantly recognisable whenever she appears on screen, her name is rarely mentioned when talk turns to the great female comedy stars of the last fifty years. With her autobiography Liz Fraser...and Other Characters now available, that situation will hopefully change.

Perfect Comedic Foil
Born Elizabeth Winch in 1930, London girl Liz made her debut in the 1955 comedy film Touch and Go starring Jack Hawkins. Her blonde hair, pretty looks and slinky figure made her a perfect comedic foil for some of the great comedy talents of the day and she soon found herself playing a number of different roles in Hancock's Half Hour on television. These parts were normally just variants of a particular type - that of the brassy blonde with a big mouth - but Liz Fraser brought a warmth to them that made the characters likeable. After the notoriously fickle Tony Hancock began to systematically dismantle the component parts of his success - even Sid James and writers Ray Galton and Alan Simpson weren't immune - Liz found herself with a major role in Galton and Simpson's new television project for Sid, Citizen James. Despite a seventeen year age gap between the two in real life, Liz played the part of Sid's long-suffering girlfriend (also called Liz), forever putting up with his nefarious schemes and bailing him out of trouble with the police. The two stars sparked off each other nicely and it was a real shame when, after Galton and Simpson dropped out after one series, Liz was written out.

Perhaps it is the fact that Liz Fraser has never had a long-running role in a television series which has stopped her getting the recognition she truly deserves. June Whitfield, a character actress of similar longevity to Liz, is now revered as a national institution but she did spend many years as co-star to Terry Scott in Happy Ever After and Terry and June.

Carry On Liz
Despite roles in such comedy classics as I'm Alright Jack, Two Way Stretch and Double Bunk, Liz Fraser is undoubtedly best remembered for her appearances in the Carry On series. Making her debut in Carry On Regardless in 1961, Liz was perhaps the prototype for the dizzy blonde character portrayed later by Barbara Windsor, although Fraser was always much more subtle. Her next series appearance came in colour in the final Carry On to be scripted by Norman Hudis, Carry On Cruising. As with Regardless, Liz Fraser's role in Cruising was mainly straight, playing foil to Dilys Laye. In 1963, Liz played the role of Kenneth Connor's girlfriend Sally in Carry On Cabby. Unfortunately, due to an innocent remark made by Liz being taken the wrong way by producer Peter Rogers, Liz was then dropped from the Carry On series and would not appear in the franchise again until Carry On Behind in 1975.

Liz Fraser is much more than just your average dizzy screen blonde and you can now read about her entire career in her autobiography Liz Fraser...and Other Characters.