"Nobody could ever think of me as a star, " Sid James once said. " I just act myself." But Sid James acting himself made him a star. His craggy face, wicked leer, gravel voice and the dirtiest laugh in show business made him unique in British comedy
Sid James died, as he had lived, making an audience laugh. The 62 year old star of the Carry Ons and Bless This House collapsed during the opening night performance of the stage comedy, "The Mating Season", at the Sunderland Empire. His friends and colleagues voiced the loss that will be felt by millions.
Producer Peter Rogers, for whom Sid acted in 21 of the Carry On movies amongst others said "Sid became synonymous with the Carry Ons - it is a chip of the machinery gone. I had known him for 25 years as friend and professional - we shall all miss him very much. He was not going to be in the next Carry On simply because he wasn't available, but he was always planned for them when we could get him."
Carry On director Gerald Thomas recalled Sid's great comedy timing and his generosity as an actor: "He never resorted to any tricks at all, and he never upstaged anyone. "He was a kid at heart. In Carry On Cowboy, I'd find him behind the scenery twirling a six-gun and trying to practice a fast draw. And he always liked to gamble. He would run a sweepstake every day based on how many minutes of film we'd shoot."
Diana Coupland, who played Sid's wife in Thames TV's long running series, Bless this House, said: "We worked together for six years and were just like a family. Nobody can replace him - he was a marvelous man and a marvelous actor."
"Sid was my best friend and in show business they are hard to find," said Barbara Windsor, one of Sid's co-stars in the Carry On series. "We were great mates. He was always the perfect gentleman. Off screen, he was a very quiet man with lovely manners and very protective with women. He wouldn't allow any foul language and he always stood up and opened doors for women. I loved him dearly."
Sid James has show business in his blood. He was born Sidney Balmoral (sic) James in Johannesburg in 1913, the son of a music hall couple. By the age of 10, he was on stage with them. As a young man, he worked as a stevedore, truck driver, coal heaver, middleweight boxer (he fought miners for thirty shillings a time), roller skater, dancing instructor and electrician. His main trade, he said, was that of a diamond polisher, which he last worked at in 1939.
During the war, he served with an entertainment unit and anti-tank regiment in the Middle East. In 1946, his demob pay brought him to England.
When he arrived, he thought his face would be a disadvantage. Variously described as "a tortured tangerine", and "a wrinkled prune", he himself said; "I've got the mug of a diabolical fiddler - it's like a scrambled egg." But that face was to be his fortune in films, theatre and television.
He found fame as the stooge to Tony Hancock in the radio series, Hancock's Half Hour, which ran for five years from 1956 and was followed by the BBC Hancock television series. Other TV series in which he starred were Citizen James and Taxi, and his biggest success as the father in Bless This House which was later made into a movie.
Sid James was married to actress Valerie Ashton, and they have two children, Stephen, 22, and Susan, 18. He also had a daughter Reina, by his first marriage to dancer Meg Williams.