||This article needs additional citations for verification. (February 2012)|
James in the 1960s
|Birth name||Solomon Joel Cohen|
8 May 1913|
Union of South Africa
|Died||26 April 1976
Sunderland, England, UK
|Spouse||Berthe Sadie Delmont (m. 1936–1940) divorced
Meg Williams (m. 1943–1952)
divorced; 1 child
Valerie Assan (m. 1952–1976)
his death; 2 children
Sid James (born Solomon Joel Cohen; 8 May 1913 – 26 April 1976) was a South African born English-based actor and comedian. He made his name as Tony Hancock's co-star in Hancock's Half Hour and also starred in the popular Carry On films. He was known for his trademark "dirty laugh" and lascivious persona. Bruce Forsyth described him as "a natural at being natural."
Early life 
James was born Solomon Joel Cohen, on 8 May 1913, to Jewish parents, in South Africa, later changing his name to Sidney Joel Cohen, and then Sidney James. His family lived on Hancock Street in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. Upon moving to Britain later in life, he claimed various previous occupations, including diamond cutter, dance tutor and boxer. In reality, he had trained and worked as a hairdresser.
It was at a hairdressing salon in Kroonstad, Orange Free State that he met his first wife. He married Berthe Sadie Delmont, known as Toots, on 12 August 1936, and her father Joseph Delmont, a wealthy Johannesburg businessman, bought a salon for James. Within a year James announced that he wanted to become an actor and joined Johannesburg Repertory Players. Through this he got work with the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
During the Second World War, he became a lieutenant in the South African Army in an entertainment unit, and subsequently took up acting as a career. He came to Britain in 1946, financed by his service gratuity. Initially he worked in repertory before being spotted by the nascent British post-war film industry.
Early films and radio 
James made his first appearances in Night Beat and Black Memory (1947), both crime dramas. In 1949 he played the alcoholic hero's barman in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Small Back Room.
His first major comedy role was in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951): 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 had a non-comic supporting role as a journalist in the science-fiction film Quatermass 2. He also had a supporting part as a TV advertisement producer in Charlie Chaplin's A King in New York (1957) and played Master Henry in Outlaw Money an episode of The Adventures of Robin Hood. He also played in Hell Drivers.
Meanwhile, in 1954, he began working with Tony Hancock in BBC radio's Hancock's Half Hour, playing a character with his own name (but having the invented middle name Balmoral), who was a petty criminal who would usually manage to con Hancock. 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. Sid James was soon getting as many laughs as his partner. In the final series, the show was renamed simply Hancock and James was not included in the cast. The show was one of the most popular comedy series in Britain on both television and radio.
Carry On years 
James became a leading member of the Carry On films 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 because of contract problems (he was contracted to ABC films who had never used him). James ultimately made 19 Carry On films, receiving top-billing in 17, making him one of the most featured performers of the regular cast.
The characters he portrayed in the films were usually very similar to the wise-cracking, sly, lecherous Cockney he was famed for playing on television, and in six cases bore the name Sid or Sidney: Sidney Fiddler, Sid Carter, Sid Plummer, Sidney Bliss, Sidney Boggle and Sir Sidney Ruff-Diamond.
James also played characters named Sid in appearances outside of the Carry On films, Sid Abbot in Bless This House on television and its spin-off film, as well as Sid Jones, Sid Turner, Sid Marks, Sid Stone, and Sid Gibson in addition to four characters called just 'Sid'. His Sidney Balmoral James from Hancock's Half Hour also appeared in his own Citizen James series. His trademark "dirty laugh" was often used and became, along with a world-weary "Cor, blimey!", his catchphrase. His laugh can be heard here.
There were Carry On films in which James played characters who were not called Sid or Sidney, namely, Carry On Henry (a parody of Henry VIII) and Carry On Dick (a spoof of legendary highwayman Dick Turpin), in both of which he played the title roles, and Carry On Cleo, in which he played Mark Antony. Most notably, in Carry On Cowboy, he adopted an American accent for his part as The Rumpo Kid:
The cast make valiant attempts to maintain American accents, with the most convincing belonging to—surprisingly—Sid James, who made no attempt to disguise his accent in any other film, either before or after this one.—Adrian Rigelsford, Carry On Laughing — a celebration
Heart attacks and death 
In 1967, James was intending to play Sergeant Nocker in Follow That Camel, but suffered a massive heart attack and was replaced by the American comic actor Phil Silvers. In the same year in Carry On Doctor James was shown mainly lying in a hospital bed, owing to his real-life health scare.
Meanwhile his success in TV situation comedies continued, now heading the cast, notably in Citizen James, Taxi!, George and the Dragon, Two in Clover, and Bless This House. On 26 April 1976, while on a revival tour of The Mating Season, a 1969 farce by the Irish playwright Sam Cree, James suffered a heart attack on stage at the Sunderland Empire Theatre. The technical manager (Melvyn James) called for the curtain to close and requested a doctor, while the audience (unaware of what was happening) laughed, believing the events to be part of the show. He was taken to hospital by ambulance, but died about an hour later. James, aged 62, was cremated and his ashes were scattered at Golders Green Crematorium.
Later it was rumoured that James' ghost haunted the dressing room he occupied on the night of his death. After one experience during an engagement there, comedian Les Dawson refused to play the venue again. He never revealed why and would not talk about the subject.
Personal life 
James married three times. He and his first wife divorced in 1940, mainly as a result of James's many relationships with other women; it was a pattern which continued throughout his life. In 1943, he married a dancer, Meg Sergei, née Williams (born 1913). Five years later they had a daughter, Reina, before divorcing on 17 August 1952.
On 21 August 1952, James married Valerie Elizabeth Patsy Assan (born 1928), an actress who used Ashton as her stage name. During the latter part of their marriage they lived in a house partly designed by James himself, called Delaford Park, situated in Iver, Buckinghamshire, a location close enough to Pinewood Studios to allow him to return home for lunch whilst filming. During his marriage to Valerie he had a well-publicised affair with Carry On co-star Barbara Windsor lasting more than 10 years. The affair was dramatised in the 1998 stage-play Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick and its 2000 television adaptation Cor, Blimey!. James's obsession with Windsor was such that it was said he returned to his home one day to find that all of the furniture had been rearranged[clarification needed] and, on another occasion, that Windsor's then husband, Ronnie Knight, had put an axe in James's floor. Close friends of the time, including Vince Powell and William G. Stewart, have dismissed the suggestions.
James was an inveterate and largely unsuccessful gambler, losing tens of thousands of pounds over his lifetime. His gambling addiction was such that he had an agreement with his agent, Michael Sullivan, whereby his wife did not know how much he was being paid, with a portion set aside for gambling.
- Forsyth, speaking on the TV programme Heroes of Comedy, 2001
- "The Classic Carry On Film Collection". DeAgostini. 2003.
- also reported in a BBC Radio4 tribute (to be broadcast in celebration of the centenary of his birth) as short-term jobs before he 'settled down' as a trainee in his mother's hairdressing salon
- Rigelsford, Adrian (1996). "Chronology". Carry On Laughing — a celebration. London: Virgin. p. 151. ISBN 1-85227-554-5.
- "Theatre Stage An Old Haunt For Sid?" (newspaper). The Shields Gazette. Retrieved 2008-03-15.
- "Ghostly tale". Sunderland Echo. 2008-07-28. Retrieved 2009-05-03.
- "Barbara Windsor: My secret flings with George Best and a Bee Gee". Daily Mail. 8 October 2010.
- "The Sid and Babs carry on". BBC News. 22 April 2000.
- Goodwin, Cliff. Sid James: A Biography. Virgin Books. ISBN 978-0-7535-0554-0.
- Heroes of Comedy, Thames Television, 2002