MOST FAMOUS for starring in the Carry On films and for his trademark raucous laugh, Sid James once said 'nobody could ever think of me as a star' - but he has nevertheless become a key figure in British comedy.
Arriving into the world as Solomon Joel Cohen on 8 May, 1913, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Sid was born far away from Ealing into a family of Jewish music-hall entertainers who used to tour theatres as a Vaudeville act. His father was also a successful stand-up comedian.
At age three Sid, dubbed ‘Sollie’ by his family, seemed destined to follow in his parent’s footsteps and to become part of the act.
Things took a dramatic shift when his parents were spotted by a talent agency in 1919 and offered the opportunity to tour Australia with their routine. Sid and his brother were left at their grandparents' house in Natal until his parents finally returned two years later.
When he was eight, Sid started school, but took little interest in academia and often skipped classes. He left with no qualifications and little idea what to do. He went to a trade school to look at becoming an electrician, but when that fizzled out he joined the family hairdressing business.
Surprisingly, he was very handy with a pair of scissors and enjoyed hairdressing, getting to cut the hair of famous people, including the daughter of Joseph Delmont, a rich and respectable member of Johannesburg’s Jewish community.
Berthe Sadie Delmont, who became his first wife, shared Sid's passion for jazz and rekindled his love of comedy, performance and dance. She helped get the ball rolling on what would become a very successful career in the spotlight.
After the Second World War, when he became a lieutenant in the South African army, Sid moved to England on Christmas Day, 1946, arranging to stay in Queens Gate Mews, near Gloucester Road, with his new second wife Meg Williams, the mother of his first daughter Reina.
Ealing finally took centre stage in Sid’s life where he won roles in the legendary comedies produced at Ealing Studios, including The Lavender Hill Mob in 1951 and The Titfield Thunderbolt in 1953. In between the two, he remarried for the third and final time to actress Valerie Elizabeth Patsy Assan.
Sid also lived at 35 Gunnersbury Avenue, near Ealing Common, for eight years from 1956 until 1964.
It was while living in the borough that he signed up to his first Carry On movie, Carry On Constable, in 1960, launching his involvement in a series that would last until Carry On Dick in 1974.
Tragically, Sid died of a heart attack while perfroming on stage at the Sunderland Empire Theatre on April 26 1976.
The Dead Comics society – now renamed the British Comedy society- wanted to celebrate the life and career of the well loved and irreplaceable actor with one of its blue plaques, which was placed on the wall of his former Ealing home in October 1992, and then again further up the wall in August 1995 after it was stolen by an unknown thief.
John Gatenby, co-founder of the society, said: “He was a very funny man and one if the most outstanding comedians of his era.
“We decided to fund the plaque in recognition of his very long career, especially for the amount of work he did with Tony Hancock, his partner on the radio show Hancock’s Half Hour and not forgetting his many roles in the Carry On films.”