CARRY ON FILMING:
SID JAMES AND THE EALING STUDIOS FILMS
By Paul Howard Lang
Ealing has many links to famous actors and actresses. Charlie Chaplin went to school in Hanwell in the 1890s. Sean Connery (Bond) lived in Acton in the 1960s. Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore) went to school in Ealing in the 1950s. David Suchet (Poirot) lived in Acton in the 1980s.
Sid James was another big star, his heyday being the 1960s-1970s.
To mark the anniversary of Sid James’ death on 26th April 1976 this blog post will focus on his lesser well known Ealing Studios films. He is more commonly known for his role in ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’ and the ‘Carry On’ films.
Ironically he was born on Hancock Street in Johannesburg, South Africa. His real name was Sidney Joel Cohen. His parents were from London and were music hall performers.
As regards to his Ealing Studios films, he appears in nine of these, all in the 1950’s, namely from 1951 to 1957. In some cases he starred in two Ealing Studios films in the same year, notably in 1953, 1954 and 1955.
Above: Ordnance Survey Map of Southall, 1935. Southall
Studios in Gladstone Road indicated with red arrow
Even lesser well known than the Ealing Studios films, but still of local interest are the films he made for the Southall Film Studios, in the early 1950s. I have traced three of these, notably ‘The Galloping Major’ 1951; ‘Time Gentlemen Please’ 1952, and ‘The Wedding of Lilli Marlene’ 1953. These are all made by Group 3 at Southall and all pay homage to the Ealing Film Studios style. In ‘The Galloping Major’ Sid plays the part of ‘Bottomley’.
The film deals with horse race gambling. Stars include Charles Hawtrey, Joyce Grenfell, Jimmy Hanley, Janette Scott and Basil Radford. The film was produced by Monja Danischewsky. In ‘Time Gentlemen Please’ Sid plays the part of Eric Hace. The comedy stars Hermione Baddeley, Thora Hird and Sydney Tafler.
Above: Canteen staff of Southall Film Studios shown with studios to
In ‘The Wedding of Lilli Marlene’ Sid plays Fennimore Hunt. This drama stars Irene Handl, Lisa Daniely, Arthur Crabtree and Hugh McDermott. Although Sid James often appears briefly, often in cameo roles, he always brings a comic touch to brighten up an otherwise serious plot.
Above Left: Current view of former Southall Film Studios, Gladstone Road
Above Right: Current view of former entrance to Southall Studios
(both photographs by Louise Eldridge)
The very first film, although not an Ealing Studios one, that Sid James appeared in was ‘Black Memory’ released in July 1947, however his debut for Ealing Studio came in 1951 with ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’. Sid plays the part of Lackery Wood, he teams up with Alfie Bass who plays Shorty Fisher, a pair of small time crooks. This comedy film was a great success for Ealing Film Studios. Although Lackery and Fisher only appear for a relatively short time in two scenes, they definitely add a comic touch to the film and Sid had undoubtedly now joined the ‘Ealing’ stable.
Above: Ealing Film Studios
The next Ealing Studios film Sid played was ‘I Believe in You’ in 1952, a far more serious film then ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’ about parole officers and their charges. The film has a semi-documentary approach. Sid plays the part of Sergeant Body, he adds a touch of lightness to an otherwise serious plot.
Returning to the more traditional comedy formula, Sid James’ next Ealing Studios film was ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’, released in 1953. Sid plays the part of Harry Hawkins and is seen driving a nostalgic old 1904 steam road roller. The famous sequence being the confrontation pitted between the train and the steam roller, in which neither are willing to back down. This duel of machines sees Sid defeated, however when the barmaid says she will marry him if he helps them, this makes him swop sides and help the train faction. I think that this is one of his best roles in all of the Ealing Studios films; this fully shows his acting capability and cements his fame.
Above Top: Sid James (first right) in 'The Lavender Hill Mob' (1951)
Above: Sid James in 'The Titfield Thunderbolt' (1953)
Also in 1953 Sid appeared in ‘The Square Ring’, a more serious film about boxing, but again Sid brings a lightness and comic touch to the film to soften an otherwise quite bleak story. Moving to 1954 ‘The Rainbow Jacket’ is again tackling a serious subject, dealing this time with horse-racing and an aspiring jockey. Sid James plays the part of Harry who owns a none- too lucrative snack bar at the race course. Although Sid has only a small cameo role, his familiar face and very presence definitely alleviates the tension and improves the quality of the film.
Above: Poster for film 'The Square Ring' (1953)
In the same year, 1954, released on 8th June, Sid James played the role of Bert Parkinson in ‘Father Brown’, a mystery comedy. Although Sid’s screen presence is only fleeting his facial expressions speak volumes and he conveys that which few other actors could, within a relatively short time frame.
His next Ealing film was ‘Out of the Clouds’ 1955, set in the then called London Airport (now Heathrow). Sid plays the part of a gambler called Henry, and similarly appears only briefly, but manages to portray that gambling, get rich quick, live for the moment type perfectly.
Again in 1955 came ‘John and Julie’, a film taping into the patriotism and exuberance engendered by the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. This film really shows the nationalistic frenzy and support for the monarchy that swept the country in 1953. Probably being a clear reaction against the austerity years of the war, and the hope that the future would bring a happier era. Sid plays Mr Pritchett, John’s father. Although he at first is very much against the coronation, during the actual event we see him flag waving and he has obviously been swept up with the tide of patriotism that overcame the country during this big event. This is a charming, but possibly not so well known film as some of the more classic Ealing comedy films.
Above: Poster for film'John and Julie' (1955)
The last film he made for Ealing was ‘The Shiralee’ in 1957. One is surprised but also delighted to see Sid James appearing as Luke Sweeney in this film set in Australia. Again Sid adds a touch of light humour to this otherwise serious plot.
Sidney James has another connection with Ealing in that he lived at 35 Gunnersbury Avenue where an unofficial plaque of the British Comedy Society is now displayed on his former residence.
Above Top: 35 Gunnersbury Avenue, Ealing, 2016
Above: British Comedy Society Plaque on Sid James’
Ealing house, 2016,
(both photographs by Jonathan Oates)
He lived at this address from 1956 until 1963. As well as the James’s, three women lived at this address, presumably nursemaids, as in 1958 the James’s had a boy of four and a half years old called Stephen and a twelve month old girl called Susan. The women in question were Ann Pielow who was there from 1957-8, Pamela Avison in 1959 and Christine Mitchelmore in 1962. Presumably the James’s moved to Ealing to be near to Ealing Studios where some of the Hancock programmes were recorded on radio and later TV, this would be convenient for travelling purposes.
Above: Sid James and Tony Hancock, 1950s
However by 1960 Sid had fallen out with Hancock so the Ealing location was less important. Prior to living at Ealing, from 1953-5 the James’s had lived at 28, Roland House, South Kensington and from 1955 at flat 2, Lymington Road, Hampstead. Their second child was born in 1957 so perhaps this was another reason to move, in order to find a larger property for the new-born.
When Sid’s ‘Carry On’ career took off in the early 1960s they moved to Iver in Buckinghamshire to be near to the Pinewood Studios. Unfortunately the house he lived in Delaford House in Iver no longer exists; new buildings have now replaced this. While filming at Pinewood he used to go back to his house for lunch apparently. There is a pub in Iver Heath called The Black Horse that shows Sid in his highwayman costume, this relates to his last Carry On film ‘Carry on Dick’ (1974).
Above: Sid James in Carry on Dick (1974)
Let us consider Sid James the man for a moment, in a Gazette article Sid admitted that basically he was a family man, although he liked being a radio and screen star he also enjoyed his privacy. In the Gazette interview he stated that ‘There’s one thing that riles me, it’s the dead beats of show business. During my own time I do my best to discourage theatrical people calling round and getting friendly’. He went on to say ‘Val (Valerie his wife) and I are very friendly with Tony Hancock and his wife and with Peter Haigh and Jill Evans, but we draw the line after that’. ‘You have to adopt that attitude if you want to lead a fairly reasonable family life. If you didn’t you’d get callers at all hours of the night and stay up drinking till goodness knows when’.
This shows that Sid realised the importance of separating his personal life from his screen persona. Sid went on to say that he did not want his son Stephen to go on the stage. Only if he showed exceptional talent in this field would he consider this, he thought that there were far too many mediocre actors around. Another gazette article shows that he was fined for dangerous driving. He was a complex man, family oriented, yet keen for fame and glory, grumpy, yet basically warm hearted.
Above: Sid James feature in Acton Gazette, 1958
Sid James collapsed on stage and died in Sunderland on 26th April 1976 aged 62. Famous for his laugh and craggy face, he brightened all our lives with his humour and irrepressible sense of fun.
EALING STUDIO FILMS
- Lavender Hill Mob 1951
- I Believe In You 1952
- The Titfield Thunderbolt 1953
- The Square Ring 1953
- The Rainbow Jacket 1954
- Father Brown 1954
- Out Of the Clouds 1955
- John & Julie 1955
- The Shiralee 1957
SOUTHALL FILM STUDIOS
- The Galloping Major 1951
- Time Gentlemen Please 1952
- The Wedding of Lilli Marlene 1953