Sid James (born Solomon Joel Cohen, 8 May 1913 – 26 April 1976) was a South African, British-based actor and comedian. He made his name as Tony Hancock's co-star in Hancock's Half Hour and also starred in the popular Carry On films. He was known for his trademark "dirty laugh" and lascivious persona. Bruce Forsyth summed up his talent thus: "He was a natural at being natural."
James was born Solomon Joel Cohen on 8 May 1913 to Jewish parents in South Africa, later changing his name to Sidney Joel Cohen, and then Sidney James. His family lived on Hancock Street in Hillbrow, Gauteng, Johannesburg. Upon moving to Britain later in life, he claimed various previous occupations, including diamond cutter, dance tutor and boxer. In reality, he had trained and worked as a hairdresser.
It was at a hairdressing salon in Kroonstad, Orange Free State that he met his first wife. He married Berthe Sadie Delmont, known as Toots, on 12 August 1936 and her father Joseph Delmont, a wealthy Johannesburg businessman, bought a salon for James. Within a year James announced that he wanted to become an actor and joined Johannesburg Repertory Players. Through this he got work with the South African Broadcasting Corporation.
During the Second World War, he became a lieutenant in the South African Army in an entertainment unit, and subsequently took up acting as a career. He came to Britain in 1946 on the back of his service gratuity. Initially he worked in repertory before being spotted by the nascent British post-war film industry.
Early films and radio
James made his first appearances in Night Beat and Black Memory (1947), both crime dramas. In 1949 he played the alcoholic hero's barman in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's The Small Back Room.
His first major comedy role was in The Lavender Hill Mob (1951): with Alfie Bass he made up the bullion robbery gang headed by Alec Guinness and Stanley Holloway. In the same year he also appeared in Lady Godiva Rides Again and The Galloping Major; in 1956 he had a non-comic supporting role as a journalist in the science-fiction film Quatermass 2. He also had a supporting part as a TV advertisement producer in Charlie Chaplin's A King in New York (1957).
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