On this day in history : 8th May 1913 – The birth, in South Africa, of British character and comic actor Sid James – best known for his roles in the Carry On films and Hancock’s Half Hour….

Sid James – Fair use

Sid was born Solomon Joel Cohen in Johannesburg…. As a young man he had a variety of jobs, including as a diamond polisher, a coal heaver, dance instructor and hairdresser…. It was whilst working in a hairdressing salon in the Orange Free State that he met his first wife, Berthe Sadie Delmont – known as ‘Toots’ – and they were married on the 12th of August 1936…. Her father bought them a hair salon of their own – but a year later Sid decided he wanted to be an actor…. The couple had one daughter, Elizabeth, in 1937 – but they divorced in 1940….

During World War 2 Sid was a Lieutenant in the entertainment division of the South African Army…. In 1943 he married dancer Meg Sergei – and they had a daughter, Reina, in 1948….

In the December of 1946 Sid and Meg emigrated to the UK and Sid made his first credited film appearances in 1947, in the crime dramas ‘Night Beat’ and ‘Black Memory’…. His first comedy role was in ‘The Lavender Mob’ in 1951…. He and Meg divorced on the 17th of August 1952 and four days later he married Valerie Elizabeth Patsy Assan, an actress using the stage name of Ashton…. They were to have a son, Steve, in 1954, followed later by a daughter, Sue….

Sid began working with Tony Hancock in 1954, first on the radio and later TV…. He played the part of his own namesake ‘Sid’ in Hancock’s Half Hour, which ran for six series, ending in 1960….

Sid James and Tony Hancock in Hancock’s Half Hour – Fair use

He was to take a lead role in ‘Carry On Constable’ in 1960 and a further 18 Carry On films were to follow…. In the 1970s he was to become a familiar face on the small screen with his sitcoms ‘Two In Clover’ (1969-70) and ‘Bless This House’ (1971-76)….

Sid was highly regarded by almost everyone who worked with him, despite his uncouth demeanour he was a gentleman…. However, it was reputed that he did not get on with his Carry On co-star Kenneth Williams…. But he did get on very well with another co-star, Barbara Windsor – the pair had a well-publicised ten year affair….

He was a hard drinking workaholic – perhaps in necessity to service his gambling addiction….and this lifestyle was to take its toll, when in 1967 he suffered a heart attack…. He was soon back at work, on the set of ‘Carry on Doctor’, in which he played a patient and spent most of the film in bed – which was appropriate for his health situation…. He gave up the heavy smoking, lost weight and cut down on the alcohol…. However, on the 26th April 1976, whilst appearing on stage at the Sunderland Empire Theatre, in the farce ‘The Mating Season’ by Northern Irish playwright Sam Cree, he suffered a further heart attack…. Sid died on his way to hospital….

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