Having been impressed by his role in the Lavender Hill Mob, in 1954 writers Galton and Simpson cast Sidney James in the popular BBC radio show Hancock’s Half Hour, and subsequently cast in the series when it transferred to television. James’ established character, an ambivalent work-shy rogue, provided the perfect counterpoint to Tony Hancock‘s peevish, pompous suburbanite. Hancock’s Half Hour proved to be immensely popular with the public and established James as a natural light comedian in his own right. The Hancock partnership had dissolved by 1960 due to Sid’s growing appeal and Tony Hancock’s fear they were being regarded as a double act. and the last BBC series in 1961, retitled simply Hancock, was without James.
Of course Sid went on to do remarkably well in the CARRY ON films.
Hancock committed suicide, by overdose, in Sydney on 24 June 1968. He was found dead in his Bellevue Hill apartment with an empty vodka bottle by his right hand and amphetamines by his left.
In one of his suicide notes he wrote: “Things just seemed to go too wrong too many times”
On 26 April 1976, while on a revival tour of The Mating Season, a 1969 farce by the Irish playwright Sam Cree, James suffered a heart attack on stage at the Sunderland Empire Theatre. The technical manager (Melvyn James) called for the curtain to close and requested a doctor, whilst the audience (unaware of what was happening) laughed, believing the events to be part of the show. He was taken to hospital by ambulance, but died about an hour later. James, aged 62, was cremated and his ashes scattered at Golders Green Crematorium.
Later it was rumoured that Sid James’s ghost haunted the dressing room he occupied on the night of his death. After one experience during an engagement there, the comedian Les Dawson refused to play the venue again. He never revealed why and would not talk on the subject.