Sid's Place Welcomes...Steve James

April 26 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the death of the beloved Sid James. In honour, this week will be Celebrating Sid Week here on Sid's Place, with a number of special posts paying tribute to the great man.


An Interview with Steve James


Steve James is one of the most admired record producers/engineers in the music industry. In a career spanning over forty years, he has worked with some of the biggest names in music, including Paul Young, Peter Skellern, Toyah, Ginger Baker and Neil Innes. He recorded Monty Python's Always Look on the Bright Side of Life and has even worked on The Teletubbies!

Steve also happens to be the son of Sid James.


This image has been licensed from and is copyright of Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy


A Croissant and a Chat

It is just after midnight as I make the video call to Steve James. He comes into view with the plush surroundings of a very nice-looking recording studio in the background. It is the beginning of another working day for Steve. It may be midnight for me but for Steve it is 9am. The recording studio is based in Sydney, Australia, which has been home to Steve and his family for many years.

He is due to give a master-class to a group of eager students, in addition to working with one of Australia's biggest bands, Mental as Anything. Despite his busy schedule, Steve has very kindly agreed to have a chat with me about his dad. Before we truly get under way though, he shows me one of the most important tools of his trade, the morning croissant! There's nothing like starting the day right!

Here are some of the highlights of what was a very enjoyable conversation.


Sid's Place What was it like growing up with a famous father then, Steve?

Steve James I went to some very good schools and had pretty much everything I could have wanted as a child. The only thing was I couldn't really have friends round to the house. It wasn't my friends that were the problem but rather the parents. As soon as they spotted Dad, they'd go "Oh, look, it's Sid!" and he'd have to put the show on, you know. He'd have this special smile that he did, the showbiz smile! He wasn't always like that of course, he was just a human being. Looking back though, I'm a very lucky man to have grown up in that situation.

SP So your dad was very different away from the cameras then?

SJ He was a very good father. Old-fashioned really and quite strict, particularly about manners. If I was walking along the inside of the pavement and my mother was on the outside, he'd move me around, as the gentleman should always walk on the outside. My father was always impeccable with his manners. Women who knew him and talk about him today still say what a gentleman he was. He was always very polite to the ladies and that's one of the reasons he was loved so much, he was just a good bloke!

SP Did you still see a lot of your dad even though he was so busy with work?

SJ Yes, I still saw a lot of him. My sister and I went through wonderful times really. Particularly the summer seasons, they were good. We'd travel round the country; Skegness, Bournemouth, Great Yarmouth, Blackpool, Torquay. I got to know them all. It would be about six weeks in each resort.

SP That's great when you're a kid, isn't it?

SJ Oh, it was wonderful! We would go to France a lot. With my dad being from South Africa, he would think nothing of driving that far. It was no biggie for him. I now know what that's like myself living in Australia. We drive thousands of kilometres just to get anywhere. We would all get in the big Ford Zodiac. My dad took the car wherever we went. I just had a fantastic time as a child.

Sid relaxes in the Pavilion Gardens, Torquay during a summer season  in 1969. Image copyright of  Lebrecht Music & Arts Photo Library/Alamy
SP Did you ever get the opportunity to visit the set when your dad was working on a film?

SJ Oh yes, many times. I remember Carry On Cowboy in particular. Carry On Camping too. The thing about Camping was I got to be at the party they have in the field at the end of the film, with the hippies. Dad got to dress as a hippy, which I thought was brilliant as I was a hippy myself at that point or about to become one anyway. The weird thing is I got to work later on with a guy called Roger Rettig, who was a guitar player in the band featured in the film. I worked with him when he was in a band called Fatso.

On the Carry On Cowboy set, I got to ride the white horse and play with the guns. One of the wonderful things I remember as a kid was that sometimes Dad would come home with his costume on. I'd be lying in bed and suddenly he would walk in dressed as a copper! He'd try to freak me out but he could never freak me out really! A few times he would come to say goodnight dressed in whatever garb he was working in at the time. We would always have fun.

SP Do you ever still watch any of your dad's work now?

SJ (laughing) He's on all the bloody time, Stuart! Even over here in Australia, the Carry Ons are always on the telly. The boys will come to me and say "Grandpa's on the telly!" I saw Carry On Cruising the other day. I don't watch the whole movie as you don't need to with a Carry On. Every bit is like a sketch and they are all sewn together. All of them were very funny.

I remember the scripts, written by Talbot Rothwell, coming through the post. The football or the horses or the dogs would be on the telly and Dad would take these big thick scripts, pop his glasses on and sit there with a pen crossing through things and scribbling various notes down. He was very clever with the written word and loved reading. With the scripts he would check that the timing was right because, as you know, timing was his thing. He was also very generous with lines and would offer them to someone else if they weren't right for him.

SP Which of your dad's co-stars do you think he was closest to?

SJ Bernard Bresslaw. They were good friends and got on very well. Joan Sims too, they always had a good laugh. I remember we had some great parties at home. Tommy Cooper would come round and Eric Morecambe - he was a lovely man. John Le Mesurier was a good friend of Dad's too. Hattie as well of course, she was a lovely lady. Those are the people I remember well. Out of all of them, I think Bernard was his best mate. You could tell that they liked each other.

SP  Sid had wonderful on-screen chemistry with all of those, didn't he? Particularly, I think, with Joan Sims. Those two together were just wonderful.

SJ They did some great pictures together. You could tell they were just two mates having a ball and cracking up. She was a wonderful lady. I really liked her.


40 Years On

As we reached the conclusion of our chat, talk inevitably turned to the 40th anniversary of Sid's death.

SJ When Dad went in 1976, I had started working with the Python guys and it was just starting to take off for me. It's such a shame that Dad never got to see my career take off. But, c'est la vie, that's a book that you just can't write.


I'd like to extend a huge thank you to Steve James for taking the time out of his busy schedule to chat with me and share so many warm memories about his father. I am eternally grateful.

If you want to know more about Steve's work in the music industry, you can visit his website at www.steve-james.com


This image has been licensed from and is copyright of Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy





Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this interview as I am a huge Sid James fan. Forty years on and he is still remembered..

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    1. Thanks for your kind comment Melina. Glad you enjoyed it!

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  2. Just stumbled on your blog. What a treasure trove! Love Sid so much.

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