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James, Sidney (1913-1976)


Main image of James, Sidney (1913-1976)

In Britain from 1946, Johannesburg-born former ladies' hairdresser Sidney James (real name Cohen) is now best remembered for the incurably lascivious persona he honed to such comic effect in the Carry On series, but in fact he had appeared in almost 80 films before appearing as Sergeant Frank Wilkins in the very funny Carry On Constable (1960).

He had played barmen, as in the notorious No Orchids for Miss Blandish (d. St.John Legh Clowes, 1948) and The Small Back Room (d. Powell & Pressburger, 1948), as Knucksie, taxi drivers (Father's Doing Fine, d. Henry Cass, 1952), cops (Cosh Boy, d. Lewis Gilbert, 1953) and a deeply incompetent crook in The Lavender Hill Mob (d. Charles Crichton, 1951), and even a country gent in The Man in Black (d. Francis Searle, 1949). He also famously played Tony Hancock's sidekick in TV's Hancock's Half-Hour (1956-60), derived from their radio show, but Carry On gradually eclipsed everything in this wildly prolific career.

At best homely of mien, with a filthy laugh, ever with an eye to the main chance, sexual or financial or both, he was perhaps the keystone which held the series together. Mostly playing characters called Sid(ney), memorably as Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond in Carry On Up the Khyber (1968), he had his finest hour as Mark Antony in Carry On Cleo (1964) and as Johnny Finger, the Rumpo Kid in Carry On Cowboy (1965). For his last ten years, he was as much institution as actor.

Only well after his death on stage at the Empire, Sunderland, did the darker side of the legend - the gambling, drinking, the broken marriages and the unhappy affair with costar Barbara Windsor - become widely known. In 2000, the National Theatre staged a play which drew on some of this material: Cleo, Camping, Emmannuelle and Dick.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Belles of St Trinian's, The (1954)Belles of St Trinian's, The (1954)

Anarchic comedy based on Ronald Searle's popular cartoons

Thumbnail image of Carry On At Your Convenience (1971)Carry On At Your Convenience (1971)

Comedy about union unrest at the W.C. Boggs toilet factory

Thumbnail image of Carry On Camping (1969)Carry On Camping (1969)

Comedy in which various deluded people go on a camping holiday

Thumbnail image of Carry On Cleo (1964)Carry On Cleo (1964)

Comedy in which two British slaves end up in Ancient Rome and Egypt

Thumbnail image of Carry On Constable (1960)Carry On Constable (1960)

Fourth in the series, welcoming Sid James to the team

Thumbnail image of Carry On Cowboy (1965)Carry On Cowboy (1965)

Western parody: a hapless Marshall attempts to clean us Stodge City

Thumbnail image of Carry On Doctor (1968)Carry On Doctor (1968)

Frankie Howerd joins the team on its second tour of the wards

Thumbnail image of Carry On... Up the Khyber (1968)Carry On... Up the Khyber (1968)

Highly entertaining Empire spoof from the usual team

Thumbnail image of Cosh Boy (1953)Cosh Boy (1953)

The first British X film: a controversial study of juvenile delinquency

Thumbnail image of Crowded Day, The (1954)Crowded Day, The (1954)

The lives and loves of department store workers during Christmas week

Thumbnail image of Hell Drivers (1957)Hell Drivers (1957)

Uncompromising B movie set in the macho world of ballast truck drivers

Thumbnail image of Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary (1953)Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary (1953)

Diana Dors stars in this frothy farce about a marital mix-up

Thumbnail image of Kid for Two Farthings, A (1955)Kid for Two Farthings, A (1955)

Whimsical fable set in London's Jewish East End

Thumbnail image of Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)

A group of eccentric Londoners plot the perfect crime

Thumbnail image of Magic Box, The (1951)Magic Box, The (1951)

Star-studded biopic of British film pioneer William Friese-Greene

Thumbnail image of Small Back Room, The (1949)Small Back Room, The (1949)

Tense drama about an alcoholic bomb disposal expert

Thumbnail image of Smallest Show on Earth, The (1957)Smallest Show on Earth, The (1957)

Nostalgic comedy about a couple who inherit a failing cinema

Thumbnail image of Titfield Thunderbolt, The (1953)Titfield Thunderbolt, The (1953)

Ealing comedy in which the villagers of Titfield decide to run their own railway

Thumbnail image of Weak and the Wicked, The (1954)Weak and the Wicked, The (1954)

A young woman, framed for fraud, journeys through the prison system

Thumbnail image of Bless This House (1971-76)Bless This House (1971-76)

Hugely popular sitcom vehicle for Carry On star Sid James

Thumbnail image of Hancock's Half Hour (1956-60)Hancock's Half Hour (1956-60)

The original British sitcom - and still one of the best

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Carry OnCarry On

Britain's longest-running big-screen comedy series

Thumbnail image of The Carry On LegacyThe Carry On Legacy

An analysis of what kept Carry On carrying on

Thumbnail image of Who's Who at EalingWho's Who at Ealing

Meet the team at 'the studio with team spirit'

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Hancock, Tony (1924-1968)Hancock, Tony (1924-1968)

Comedian, Actor

Thumbnail image of Windsor, Barbara (1937-)Windsor, Barbara (1937-)