For the Love of Sid

On the night of April 26, 1976, Sid James suffered a fatal heart attack while appearing on stage at the Sunderland Empire. He was 62 years old. Still fiercely busy as he approached his thirtieth year in the business, Sid planned to retire when he reached 65. Whether the events of that fateful night 39 years ago could have been averted had Sid trimmed back his work commitments, we will never know. What is certain is that Sid touched the hearts of many. He remains my ultimate comedy hero.

I was just six years old when the tragic news of Sid's passing stunned the nation. As such, I have no real recollection of the events at the time. My main memories from 1976 revolve around the incredible summer, which had the country sweltering and, ultimately, withering under the intense gaze of a permanently blazing sun. There has never been another summer quite like it since, just as there has never been another Sid.

When comedian Rik Mayall passed away unexpectedly last year, there was a huge outpouring of grief from a shocked nation, which I can only equate to the levels which met Sid's death in 1976. However, while both men often played exaggerated versions of themselves, they were loved by the public for very different reasons. Rik was a force of nature much admired for his outrageous self-confidence. In complete contrast, Sid was much more like the normal man in the street. It was easy to imagine downing a couple of pints with him in the local, while enjoying a quick game of three card brag.

There was a certain warmth about Sid James. No matter whether he was playing a booze-loving, 'bird' chaser or a villainous, black-hatted cowboy, it was impossible not to like him. Maybe it was that wonderful craggy face, once memorably described as resembling a bag of knitting, which endeared him so. That infectious and marvellously dirty laugh, not unlike the sound of the last of the water disappearing down a plughole, no doubt also contributed to his innate likeability. However, perhaps the secret as to why Mr Sidney James was so loved is that he was simply 'Sid' in whatever he did.

As his career progressed, Sid the character became very much entwined with Sid the man. Indeed, it is very much a testament to Sid's supreme skills as an actor that the public found it so difficult to distinguish between the two. I, for one, cannot think of another actor, comedic or dramatic, who always looked so relaxed in front of the camera. This aura of calm, however, belied an intense professionalism and strong work ethic which never left Sid throughout his prolific career. In an era when the British film industry was perhaps at its peak, with features rolling off the production line at a phenomenal rate, 'One-Take' James was the ultimate reliable asset to have on the cast list. There was no artistic temperament here! He simply wanted to get the work done and move on to the next job.

Warm and refreshingly down-to-earth, Sid James will always occupy the top spot on my list of personal comedy heroes. Who knows, in another time and another place, maybe I could have enjoyed that pint with him down the boozer.


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