Sid And Babs Were The Perfect Comic Couple
Despite being an inveterate womaniser, gambler and drinker, comedian Sid James - born Solomon Joel Cohen - stole the hearts of the nation (and a fair few leading ladies, including Barbara Windsor). In a new biography, author Robert Ross argues that the Carry On star was the ultimate rough diamond, showing his temper and tenderness in equal measure.Sid's heart attack had been real, of course, but caused by overwork rather than over-strenuous extra-marital activity.
But the on-screen chemistry of Sid and Babs (Barbara Windsor) had certainly reacted and overflowed the Bunsen burner immediately the two first appeared on that big screen together: Barbara in her fetching pink and white nurse's outfit which, ever since, every red-blooded schoolboy believes all nurses wear. And Sid, resplendent in blue and white pyjamas, with an air of hospital contempt pouring from every fibre, struck dumb by this vision of a Florence Nightingale from the imagination of Max Miller.
Clearly Terry Johnson is laudably immersed in the pitfalls, peccadilloes and platinum blonde obsession of Alfred Hitchcock and dead comedians.
Just like Hitchcock, Sid tended to treat every job as "just another movie". Both Hitchcock and Sid were also equally healthy admirers of the young ladies with the fairer hair.
Unquestionably, Sid's career was surrounded by them. Not surprisingly. The 1950s had been the blonde decade. Every starlet worth her salt seemed to be getting her hair colour from a little bottle and Hollywood turned most of them into stars: Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Sheree North and Mamie Van Doren.
And Sid's world of salt beef sandwiches and laundrettes had its own appealing batch: Vera Day, Liz Fraser, Sheree Winton and Barbara Windsor.
But Sid was still everybody's mate. Even if you happened to be petite, talk in a high voice and know how to perfectly fill a tight sweater.
Vera Day explains: "There was never any chance of me falling for Sid. We always just laughed and joked on the set. Once I had got out of my husband's clutches I could enjoy the company of my fellow actors without worrying. But nothing ever happened between Sid and I. However, our relationship did get deeper when we did The Chigwell Chicken on television. I was having a terrible time with Arthur [Mason - her husband] at that time and, on the day of working on this live television, I came into work with a black eye.
"It wasn't really talked about in those days but it was Sid who took me aside. I was young and stupid but Sid realised that love has to be part of the mix, even in a violent relationship.
"Sid was absolutely wonderful. He said, 'Come on babe. What happened? I know for a fact you didn't bump into a door.' He had this wonderful way about him. He put you at your ease and you could talk about your troubles. He said, "Was he schiker?" Meaning was he drunk, in Yiddish. He was very non-judgemental. He didn't blame Arthur. He blamed the drink. He was very sweet about it. We had long talks about jealousy and drinking and what it can do to you and how it can destroy your marriage. So he was very, very supportive. I had actually moved out and away from Arthur by that stage and I was living in the Cumberland Hotel. But I know for a fact that Sid took Arthur aside one day and gave him a gentle talking to on how to treat ladies with respect. And Arthur was a big man, with a fiery reputation. But he greatly admired Sid. And he listened to him."
Of course, it wasn't just on the film set or in television studios that Sid mingled with the great and good and glamorous of British film.
He saw his involvement in charities as an important part of his success and would happily cavort and pose for photographs at various Variety Club events.
It was at these socials and not in Carry On Doctor that Sid and Barbara Windsor first appeared on screen together. In the very guise that, now, everybody seems to know them in. As themselves.
There is Sid and Barbara having a frolic in a pedal-boat at Battersea Fun Fair. And Sid dressed up as Father Christmas, helping Barbara dish out gifts to underprivileged children.
They were in the same social circle for some time. For, although their paths didn't actually cross in the Carry Ons until near the end of the 1960s, Barbara's chirpy, cockney sparrow personality was a familiar one in the industry.
She had been an increasingly budding chorus girl since the mid-1950s.
She'd wowed audiences on the London and New York stage. Scored a small screen hit with the BBC situation comedy The Rag Trade and, finally, joined the team at Pinewood for Carry On Spying in 1964.
She was also an East End girl - Sid's natural habitat.
The two were seen as the perfect comic couple in the eyes of the nation.
* 'Smasher! The Life of Sid James' by Robert Ross is published by JR Books at £8.99 (paperback)
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