A warm tribute to the life and career of Sid James, star of the Carry On films, Bless this House, George and the Dragon and a wealth of other classic film/TV comedy. Sid's Place features news, reviews, interviews, classic quotes, credits, clips and many wonderful photographs.
There isn't a lot that Robert Ross doesn't know about Sid James, the Carry Ons or indeed British comedy in general. The author of books such as The Carry On Companion, The Carry On Story, The Complete Sid James and Sid James: Cockney Rebel, Robert has an encyclopaedic knowledge of, and a great passion for, his subject.
This week, I had the great pleasure of chatting at length with Robert about Sid and all things Carry On. His responses to just some of my questions are below.
Sid's Place: First of all Robert, thank you so much for taking time out to speak with me. I really appreciate it. Were you a fan of the Carry Ons when you were young?
Robert Ross: Absolutely. I was probably about 3 years old when my mum sat me down to watch Carry On Cabby on TV. Obviously I was too young to know who the actors were but I remember I warmed to Sid James and Hattie Jacques. I think I fell in love with Sid's face - those craggy features, it was almost like having a comfort blanket! Of course, these were the days before video and DVD so it was more of an event to see these films on television and I would wait with anticipation for the next Carry On to be shown. When I was about 8 years old, my two favourite Carry Ons were Carry On Screaming and Carry On Up The Jungle.
SP: You've stated before that Sid James is your comedy hero and you've written two books about him. Do you think that Sid remains underrated as an actor?
RR: I think all the team were underrated really. People like Michael Caine and Humphrey Bogart always played a type and Sid played a type - that of himself. Playing yourself at 8:30 in a morning is not easy, there's a skill involved in that. I've always liked Sid's philosophy as regards to acting - he enjoyed it but to him, it was just work, a means to an end, a way to pay the bills. He found success doing comedy so he carried on doing it. It's amazing really that nearly 40 years after his death he is still so loved. He was just a down-to-earth bloke and had a warmth about him. You could see yourself sitting down for a pint with Sid.
SP: Apart from Sid, who else stood out for you in the Carry On team?
RR: Peter Butterworth. What I loved about him was that he was often billed about eighth or ninth on the cast list but always stole the scenes he was in. He was a real scene stealer! There's a part in Screaming where he and Harry H Corbett have just knocked on the door of the Bide-A-Wee Rest Home. Even though Harry has all the lines, you can't take your eyes off Peter - his face is wonderful, there's all sorts of business going on with his mouth! Also I admired Charles Hawtrey. He was wonderful and just had that face.
SP: Even though I never met Carry On producer Peter Rogers, he always seemed to me to be quite a serious man. Is that true of him, would you say?
RR: Peter was quite a difficult person to get to know because he was quite shy really. He was a business man at the end of the day. I've always said that director Gerald Thomas was the heart of the Carry Ons and Peter was the head. He was a money man, which is what a producer should be. Without Peter, all of this wonderful Carry On comedy would never have existed.
SP: You've been writing about comedy for a long time now. Can you recall the very first interview you ever conducted?
RR: The first person I interviewed was a gentleman by the name of Jack Gardner. He was assistant editor on many of the Carry On films. His son was also called Robert. I remember going to his house which was called Trebor (Robert spelt backwards) and I was absolutely terrified. He was a lovely man though, a real old pro. He sat me down with a cup of tea and I interviewed him using an old-fashioned tape recorder. I still have that original tape now. When Carry On Columbus was made in 1992, I corresponded with a lot of the stars and I was then invited on to the set by Gerald Thomas - I couldn't quite believe I was there!
SP: You've written a number of books now but do you have a particular favourite?
RR: My normal stock answer to that is 'the last one!' I do have a fondness for The Carry On Companion though as that was my first one and was my love letter to the Carry Ons. I remember when the publishers told me they were going to go with it. I went berserk and just danced around the room! I've got a smile on my face now just thinking about it.
SP: Robert, thanks for your time. It's been great speaking to you.