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This is a story of a mystery. How can a man famous beyond words simply disappear?
'He was the king of music hall revue
'and to millions, the funniest man in the world.
'Hollywood stars flocked to see him on stage.
'Bob Hope said he was probably the best of them all.
'He was a favourite of Winston Churchill, General Eisenhower
'and members of the royal family.
'He invented new forms of comedy and inspired an entire generation
'of entertainment giants.'
I remember seeing a man, a comedian with bright blue eyes
and it was the first time I'd laughed hysterically at a character on the stage.
He embodied the epitome of what I consider a good comedian.
He walked funny, he talked funny, he had funny ideas.
Clearly, he was such a supreme live performer,
the people I've spoken to who've seen him, 60 years later, their recall of the words that he said, the lines...
I just wish that he'd lived until the television age.
Cos if you'd seen him in person, he was charismatic.
'His influence went beyond music hall into the world of serious theatre.'
Of all the people I've ever watched with the greatest delight,
I think I still borrow from him freely and unashamedly.
'His name was Sid Field
'and there was a time when everyone knew it.
'But today, he's all but forgotten.
'And I want to find out why.'
Join me as I uncover the amazing lost story of Sid Field.
In 1994, I starred in a musical based on the life of Sid Field
called What A Performance and I had to become him.
That's me as Sid Field.
And in order to become like Sid Field,
I had to learn to breathe like him, to talk like him.
And I had the good fortune of being trained by Sid Field's understudy, Jack Tripp,
who taught me all Sid's tricks of the trade,
how Sid would work an audience, how he would look at an audience,
how he would befriend an audience almost immediately the moment he came on stage.
And for the first time in my life,
I got a feeling of what it was like to be a comedian
and have the audience actually laugh at me.
To become like this great man, Sid Field.
The Daily Mail wrote about Sid Field that he was "the greatest English comedian since Charlie Chaplin"
and yet the treasure chest of his life is tiny.
'The problem is, as a live performer in the days before television,
'there's precious little evidence of his genius.
'He appeared in barely any films and the best known, London Town from 1946,
'was a tragic failure.
'Everyone who knew him condemned the movie
'as a pale imitation of the real Sid.'
-Get back in the chair!
-But I was only trying to...
-Get absolutely back in the chair!
'To them, London Town was best forgotten.
'There are fragments of news reel, like this,
'his 1947 New Year's message from Pathe.
'What's that, Sid?
'Typically, the sound is missing.
'But he did make an earlier film.
'In 1940, Sid appeared in a low-budget movie called That's The Ticket.
'But it hasn't been seen for years and was generally thought to be long since lost or junked.
'That is, until we started making enquiries for this programme
'and a dedicated film librarian tracked down
'what may well be the last surviving copy deep in the vaults of the British Film Institute.
'I've invited an expert in early comedy, Paul Merton,
'to join me to see That's The Ticket for the very first time.
'Could this be Sid Field's lost masterpiece?'
-We've searched it and we understand it's empty.
I'll have to show you the layout.
Now, we're here
and the safe's in this corner. We're wo...
Hors d'oeuvre, sir?
We're working on it when in comes the girl.
They start shooting. So do we.
-You wouldn't shoot a girl.
A case like this, it's her life or ours.
You see, in a job like ours, you can't afford to let anybody stand in your way.
In our business, if it comes to killing, well, that's just too bad.
So you see, if you want to get on in this job,
you've got to remember all I've told you.
-Hors d'oeuvre, sir?
That is magnificent, to see that. I did not know that existed.
I now know what a Sid Field moment is cos I've seen him do it.
-It's like seeing a lost treasure, isn't it?
It's a major piece of work from a major artist.
It's suddenly discovering that Leonardo Da Vinci painted Mr Lisa.
-As well as the wife.
That's a major discovery, that.
Sid Field has always been spoken of by comedians of his generation as being a great comedian
and the visual evidence has been slight sometimes.
You can see him in London Town, you can see the characters, you can't hear the reaction.
In this film, all this material was very fresh, very new, he's bringing it to life as he's doing it.
-No-one's seen it.
-No. It's great. I want it. I want to show it to people. That's wonderful.
-Meet any Indians on the way, sir?
-Did you meet any Indians on the way?
-Indians? What do you mean?
-You've been scalped.
'We may have found a lost film,
'but that doesn't explain why Sid Field became the forgotten star.
'So let's take this story from the beginning.'
Sid was born on the most perfect day for a comic, April Fools' Day.
The year, 1904.
The place, Sparkbrook, Birmingham, in this street.
Pretty unremarkable street, really, but then Sid himself could've ended up pretty unremarkable
had it not been for two great influences in his life.
'The first was his mother.
'There are no photographs of her, but we do have a description.'
Sid's mother, Bertha, was a dressmaker. She was short, a little stout,
but with a personality that was able to make even the strongest manager crumble.
She was to prove a guiding hand throughout much of Sid's show business career.
In actual fact, Sid might not have had a career at all
if it hadn't been for the influence of one other very famous comic.
'Charlie Chaplin was a working-class boy who rose through the music halls
'to become the most famous comedian the world had ever known.
'And Sid wanted to be just like him.
'Half a century later, silent cinema still had the power to inspire the young Paul Merton.'
And I remember coming out of seeing this Buster Keaton film and I was 12 years old
and thinking, "That's what I want to do. I want to do what he does"
and it's a bit fanciful, but I almost felt as if there was a baton being proffered toward me.
I really did. I felt...
It was a big thing because I was watching something at that point that was 50 years old
and it still had the power to work and to move and to make people laugh
and I thought, "That has to be art. That is an art."
Like so many comedians, I read that he was very influenced by the silent movies, especially Charlie Chaplin.
Well, if he was born in 1904,
certainly by the time Chaplin came along, he was 10, 11, 12,
so ideal time to get influenced by a major comedian, really,
and Charlie Chaplin would've been inescapable. He was the biggest comedian in the world
through the fairly new medium of motion pictures at that point.
'Inspired by his hero, young Sid began to do a busking act.
'Years later he talked about it in the only recorded interview that exists.'
It was doing Chaplin in the streets.
I used to kid round with the kids and all that sort of business
and the police caught me one day and said I'd get into trouble
if I did it anymore because I was holding up the traffic.
A lady saw me. She said to my mother, "Why don't you let him go on the stage?"
# Now I went looking for work one day and wherever I came to look
'And that's exactly what she did.
'In 1916, many children were packed off to work in factories or farms from the age of 12.
'A child performer could earn good money, about seven shillings and sixpence a week.
'So when Mrs Field spotted an ad in the paper for a music hall troupe,
'she had young Sid down the train station in no time.'
Just imagine, you're 12 years old,
you've never been in a group of people ever before, really,
and your mother shoves some small change into your hand
and pushes you off to Manchester with a group of strange children.
'Sid got the job, but he was told he had to start immediately without any rehearsals.
'To calm his nerves, they gave him a tot of port
'and the habit of a lifetime had begun.
'Just like his hero, Sid was now in music hall.
'He had joined the chorus of the Kino Royal Juveniles,
'a rather grand name for a travelling song and dance troupe.
'Through the 19th century, the music hall had grown to become
'the main form of working-class entertainment
'and during the First World War, there were over 300 of them around the country.
'For a shilling, soldiers home on leave could see a live show
'likely to include singers, acrobats,
'saucy comics, performing animals and juvenile troupes, like Sid's.
'It could be a pretty bawdy place.'
'Today, very little survives from that world.
'Some fragments of film, a few scratchy recordings.'
'And this, Wilton's Music Hall in London's East End.
'A good place to find out more from the president of the British Music Hall Society, Roy Hudd.'
It was tough. Here we are in one of the most famous early music halls of all time, Wilton's Music Hall.
The halls were always attached to the pubs.
Music halls, halls of music.
Look at this place. You can imagine tables and chairs,
packed out with boozy old geezers off the boats and the London docks.
And it was that sort of place. It was like a northern club.
'Perhaps not the most suitable environment for a 12-year-old boy,
'let alone a whole gang of them.'
There were lots of those little juvenile troupes. They seemed to be a big deal.
And I think they got half a crown a show or something, so they were quite cheap to put on.
'Although Sid never performed at Wilton's,
'the walls once echoed to the same great British songs that would've been his bread and butter.
'Conductor Charles Hazelwood knows the genre well.
'He used to be the director here.'
HE PLAYS DAISY BELL
# But you'd look sweet upon the seat
# Of a bicycle made for two
-It's wonderful stuff, isn't it?
-Isn't it? It's got this kind of come-hither lilt to it.
You can totally see why people wanted to sing this material.
You're kind of pulled up by your belt and braces. # Daisy...
And they would do that, wouldn't they? They literally would go... # Daisy
It's an open sound and it's brazen, isn't it?
Yeah. You've got this wonderful word. # Daisy, Daisy
It's a lovely, big, wide-open vowel sound.
People just want to wrap their lungs around a word like that and a melody like that.
HE PLAYS FIRST LINE OF MELODY
It's like that's perhaps the question or the statement positive, and here's the response.
-HE PLAYS NEXT LINE OF MELODY It's so simple.
-But so effective.
And everybody joins in and sings and they have a whale of a time.
And that, to me, is the key of the music hall tradition
and why it's easy to understand how it had such a secure place in the hearts of British people.
I think we, as a culture, have always loved to wrap our lungs around a simple tune.
# I'm Burlington Bertie, I rise at 10:30
'In his touring troupe, Sid sang covers of songs like Daisy Daisy
'and Ella Shields' 1916 chart-topper Burlington Bertie from Bow.'
# I've just have a banana
# With Lady Diana
# I'm Burlington Bertie from Bow
Charles, was there a sort of formula, a musical formula in this sort of music
that would sort of tell the audiences what was going to happen?
The thing that comes immediately to my mind is that sort of extended rallentando, sort of...
Yeah, it's the philosophy of the elastic band,
which all great song composers should know about.
You have a nice verse which might be whimsical to set the scene. As you tease towards the chorus,
you want to build the tension and excitement. This is where the elastic band comes in. You start to...
And there comes a point where you can't pull it any further, it's got to go! And the chorus starts. So...
# Where the balmy breezes play
# I do like to be beside the seaside
You're off. That's the kind of call to arms the audience would've needed.
'Sid was learning first-hand
'how a song could get the audience on his side.
'But he also began to show a particular talent for comedy.
'And by the time the first war ended, Sid, now aged 14,
'had been promoted to understudy a comic called Wee Georgie Wood.
'No, that's not Sid, that's Wee Georgie,
'a four-foot-nine man who went on stage as a school boy
'and then came out with some very adult material.
'In so many ways, Sid had to grow up fast.'
You know, it's hard for me to believe that as a young boy from Birmingham,
13, 14 years of age, Sid was literally on the move touring all the time.
'Of course, life was no picnic for the kids he grew up with back in Sparkbrook.
'At 14, they would be doing long hours on farms or in factories.
'Compared to their life of drudgery, Sid had the life of Riley.'
Playing Bristol and seaside towns like Newquay,
and even London's Holborn Empire.
'Someone who also did an apprenticeship touring the country's less up-market venues
'was Nicholas Parsons.'
There's no truer thing in our profession,
particularly when it comes to comedians and comics,
than the more experience they've had
facing difficult audiences, tough audiences
in miserable clubs all over the country.
And once they have been around a time
and they've mastered their craft,
the more experience they've had, when they get a big break,
the more they're able to take advantage of it and make a name for themselves.
'But Sid's big break was still two decades away
'and a slow revolution was about to hit his world.
'Music hall was changing. The introduction of new regulations
'meant that alcohol was no longer allowed in the auditorium.
'So the venues became less like pubs and more like theatres.
'Music hall was turning into variety.
'At the same time, new styles of music were arriving from across the Atlantic. There was ragtime.
'And something called jazz.
'But Sid took the changes in his stride.
'He could sing, he could dance, and he'd do anything.
'Revues, pantomimes, even circus acts.
'So he just kept working in the provinces.
'It wasn't a bad life.
'But for him, the biggest thing to happen in the 1920s
'was a 16-year-old dancer named Connie Dawkins.
'So now it's time for me to meet someone who has a very direct link with that romance,
'Sid and Connie's daughter, Diane.'
That's my mother. She was obviously at dancing school.
She could dance very beautifully.
-Cos she was a chorus girl.
Were they both in the Midlands?
I suppose they met on tour somewhere and she was one of the dancing girls, I suppose.
-And that's how they got together.
-Did you mother have a stage name?
-No, no, she wasn't as grand as that.
-No, she was just one of the girls.
-One of the girls.
'While their romance blossomed,
'show business was about to change again.'
# Swanee, how I love you, how I love you
# My dear old Swanee
'In October 1927,
'Al Jolson brought sound to the motion pictures.'
'From now on, every singer and comedian in every little theatre
'would have to compete with Hollywood's finest talent.
'But Sid was more worried about his love life than the future of live performance.
'His mother didn't seem to approve of Connie.'
Bertha Field tried her best to frighten Connie away.
"Some of his family were in asylums, you know?" she'd say.
And, "Sometimes Sid acts very peculiar".
But Connie was having none of it. She knew she'd found her man.
# Now I've found the right girl, oh, what a girl
'But it wasn't until 1933 that they plucked up the courage to defy Mrs Field.'
Sid told Constance, "Be ready, 10:15 Friday morning."
"Why?" "We're going to get married. But don't tell a soul!
"I don't want it getting back to my mother!"
# You've scored a bull
# Now my search has ended
# Bye-bye the past
So, here's Sid in his brand new Trilby and off they go for the wedding feast.
Wedding feast? Well, instead of champagne, it's a cup of tea.
And instead of caviar, fish and chips.
Which also doubles as a wedding cake.
And then they pledged their love to each other over this banquet
with Connie wearing her gleaming wedding ring,
and then it's a quick bite and off to do the show.
-Look at that with the nice jacket.
-Yes. And cigarette.
'In 1936, after Diane came along,
'the family bought a house in the Birmingham suburbs.'
-That's you there, isn't it?
-That's me, yes. HE LAUGHS
He used to chase us up the stairs. He had four little false teeth here
and he used to lift them with his tongue so they were like that
and he'd put a towel over his head and chase us all round the house.
And it was lovely, cos we screamed ourselves silly.
You know what it's like. Has anybody ever chased you up the stairs?
-You can't just get up there quickly enough!
So he was always fooling about, yes. Lovely.
'However, Sid still had to spend most of his time away on tour,
'despite now being a father.'
I used to wish I had one that came home from the office every evening
-with nice sharp pencils that I could draw with.
-I think that's what my children say about me sometimes.
Cos we didn't see him from one end of the week to the other.
'Through the 30s, Sid was gradually working his way up the billing
'in a series of variety shows that toured the provinces.
'To entertainment historians, it's an interesting period.'
The titles are fascinating. Red Hot And Blue Moments.
One Exciting Night. Hot Ice.
These are all part of folklore now.
'Sid was making a name for himself and catching people's eye.
'Amongst them, a future comic legend, Spike Milligan.'
I saw my very, very first variety show at the New Cross Empire with my mother and father.
I'd never been to one before. The show was called Red Hot And Blue Moments.
And I remember seeing a man, a comedian, with bright blue eyes
and it was the first time I'd really laughed hysterically at a character on the stage.
Years later when I went to Leeds and I saw Piccadilly Hayride, I realised that man was the great Sid Field.
He did something that not very many comics do today.
He walked funny, he talked funny,
he had funny ideas, his timing was out of this world.
Everything he did was funny.
'When the Second World War broke out,
'the big time was still eluding him.
'Like it or not, the movies were now the number-one form of entertainment.
'During the war, the cinemas of Britain sold about 1.4 billion tickets a year.
'And while Sid was doing panto in a regional theatre,
'40 million people saw Gone With The Wind.
'But in 1942, something happened that would revolutionise his life.
'He teamed up with Jerry Desmonde.
'He was a straight man who much later worked with Nicholas Parsons.'
It was a dream combination and so...
And that's what Sid Field needed,
someone who was the epitome of this distinguished, elegant man.
And he was perfect for Sid to bounce off.
-Will you stop being so stupid and come back?
-Why do you keep saying "let's go" then?
When I say let's go, I don't mean let's go, I mean stay here and let's go!
'It was as if Morecambe had finally found Wise.
'Jerry was a comedy dancer playing in Streatham
'and at first was reluctant to play the straight man to Sid's more earthy characters.'
Jerry was in real life as he was on the stage. That was Jerry Desmonde.
A charming, lovely, distinguished, very formal sort of person.
-When you say "let's go"...
-..you don't mean let's go.
-You mean stay here and let's go.
'They were different, too, in how they approached the material.
'Jerry said that Sid never relied on the scripts for laughs.
'The audience showed him where the laughs were.
'And without that interaction, he never really worked on film.'
-What do I do with this bag?
-Oh, dear, oh, dear. What do you think you do with the bag?
-I'm asking you a civil answer.
What do I do with the bag?
'Nicholas Parsons was lucky enough to see this golfing sketch how it should've been. Live.'
I must say, when he walked on for that golfing sketch, Sid had such an engaging personality,
you started to smile. You just knew it was all going to be funny.
Jerry was a perfect foil. Simple dialogue, but the way Sid played it made you roar with laughter.
-Put a ball down.
-That's right. Now make the tee.
-Make the tee.
-I thought you wanted to play golf.
'Someone else who saw the original sketch was Eric Sykes.'
-You felt that you wanted to protect him.
And Jerry Desmonde, too, was such a brilliant feed
that you could understand his frustration
at not being understood.
For heaven's sake, get a stick in your hand!
'Soon after he teamed up with Jerry, Sid's fortunes started to turn.
'They caught the eye of top theatre impresario George Black,
'the Cameron Mackintosh of the time,
'and he was putting together a new musical revue for the West End stage.'
After more than 20 years in the wilderness, Sid Field was about to arrive.
'His new revue would be here, just off Leicester Square.
'Established acts were away entertaining the troops
'so George Black chose undiscovered talent for his cast.
'His title was catchy.'
Strike A New Note. And this is the programme.
And it really does give a flavour of what it must have been like here in the Prince of Wales Theatre.
It's cheap wartime paper.
And "the rising generation" hints of Dad's Army.
Full of performers either too young to fight, or like Sid Field, too old.
Here's something you'd never see in a programme of today.
Look. "This theatre is disinfected throughout with Jeyes' Fluid."
Many of the show's line-up would've become famous stars in their own right.
For example, here we have two teenagers at the time, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise.
-It is indeed!
'Singer Bernard Hunter and dancer Donald Reed
-'were with the show from the start.'
-Just the same.
'The opening night was March 18th 1943
'and for Sid, it was the chance he'd been waiting for all his life.'
Tell me about the first night. What was that like?
Well, sensational, cos Sidney came round to shake hands with everybody
before that curtain went up, and he was trembling like an aspen.
The orchestra launched into their first number.
Three minutes, please!
This is the moment that Sid has been dreaming of.
His act practised to perfection.
Made up, dressed up, possibly ginned up, who knows?
Sid is anything but ready to go on stage.
He is petrified!
Straight man Jerry Desmonde began his introduction for Sid.
"Now, ladies and gentlemen,
"one very bright and promising young man was overlooked at the auditions.
"So to be fair to him, we're bringing him onto the stage right now to show us what he can do."
-He glances to the wings and sees Sid like a rabbit in the headlights.
"I've got no spit! I can't go on! I won't!"
Finally, Sid is literally thrown onto the stage.
-They had to push him on the stage. He wouldn't go on.
They had to shove him on.
'In those days, it was the newspaper theatre reviews
'that could make or break a show or a performer.
'After any opening night, the cast usually stayed up to read the first editions.'
Mr Collie Knox, a critic writing for the Daily Mail, said,
"I've attended many a thrilling first night in my time,
"John Gielgud as Hamlet and the electric success of Laurence Olivier as Richard III,
"but never before have I heard such gales of laughter and applause whirling around the theatre
"as I did on that historic Field night.
"The man in front of me laughed so helplessly
"he had to be carried out and given first aid."
But suddenly he was a national star then.
And everybody was flocking to the Prince of Wales Theatre to see the show, Strike A New Note.
After years of struggle and battle, Sid Field had made it,
and he literally broke down and cried when he realised he was a discovery.
'It was a moment he recalled on the one and only surviving radio interview.'
The first night, of course, was a terrific thing in my life.
I didn't even realise that I should be the success I turned out to be.
But within three weeks,
-the bills were up there, "Sid Field, the new funny man". It was a great thrill when I saw that.
-Overnight, Dad was this huge...
I mean, literally, go to bed one night,
-wake up in the morning and your lives will have changed.
We used to go for lunch at the Trocadero on a Saturday
and then walk back to the Prince of Wales
and I used to like that, cos I used to think,
"This is my daddy! This is my daddy!" I didn't say it, but I liked everybody to know that he was mine.
-Did people stop him?
-Oh, you couldn't have a meal in peace.
-This is without television.
-This is being in a theatre show.
-And they knew him. It's quite extraordinary.
-It is extraordinary.
Amongst all those people who were influenced by the great Field,
none was influenced more than Tony Hancock.
Graham Stark had the privilege of being present in the audience with Tony Hancock
when Hancock first set eyes upon Sid Field
and the sketch that reached home was called The Blizzard Of The Bells.
And Sid played a rather moth-eaten music professor.
And at this point, Tony and Graham were collapsing in laughter.
BAND PLAY SLOW MELODY
HE TAPS BELL
BAND PLAY SLOW MELODY
HE TAPS BELL
BAND PLAY SLOW MELODY
And Tony grabbed Graham by the arm and he said,
"That's the man for me. That's the man for me."
And what he meant was, this was the star
that was going to be the guiding light for the rest of his career.
The man's so utterly stupid, I could scream.
I could've had my music lesson with Miss Panthorp.
'As well as his timing, audiences also loved his chameleon-like ability
'to create a whole range of comic characters.'
-I might be a mug in here, but I ain't outside.
-You'll very soon be outside!
'He switched from posh music professor...'
Sometimes I finish before the orchestra's even started!
-'..to cockney wide boy.'
-Right-oh, nice and bright.
# You ought to see me...
'Each character might then appear in a series of sketches.
'It's a comedy style we know so well,
'but back then, it was groundbreaking.
'One of the most popular characters was a fella by the name of Slasher Green.'
Everyone in wartime Britain was familiar with the Slasher Greens,
the wide boys that run the black market.
Sid's genius, though, was spotting that spivs, as they were called,
would be a rich vein for comedy.
-I'll play you a tantivy.
-Tantivy? What's that?
Tantivy. It's like a hunting song.
All about hounds and horses and that.
'Slasher Green was doing his bit for the war effort.
'Invasion planning for D-Day was underway, but even planners need a break.'
I remember a lot of important people came round to see you in that show
-and one of them was General Eisenhower.
-That's right, yes.
He said, "I've heard so much about this guy Field from my men."
He was very complimentary to me
and said, "Field, you're doing a grand job with my boys. Thank you very much."
-I bet you were very proud of that.
-I was, very proud indeed.
# I'm going to get lit up when the lights go up in London
'One of Sid's numbers from the show, I'm Going To Get Lit Up,
'became a huge wartime hit.'
BOTH: # You will find me on the tiles, you will find me...
'The song was so iconic that Winston Churchill chose it
'for one of the most important secret signals of the entire war.
'When it broadcast on the radio, resistance fighters in Europe
-'knew that D-Day was imminent.'
-# More, much more
When the dark cloud of wartime lifted, everybody flocked here to Piccadilly Circus
and there was only one song they wanted to hear.
Sid's song. I'm Going To Get Lit Up When The Lights Go Up In London.
# The city will sit up when the lights go up in London
# We'll all be lit up as the Strand was
# Only more, much more
# And before the party's played out
# They will fetch the fire brigade out
BOTH: # To the littest uppist scene you every saw
-You're very kind. Thank you very much.
-A little tearful, but nevertheless, a great man.
-Takes the guts out of you.
A great man.
-I wish I had a drink.
-You lift it up to Sid.
He would've loved that.
'The roaring triumph of Strike A New Note
'led to a follow-up show, Strike It Again.
'And as the war ended, Sid was riding high on success.'
Strike It Again ran through VE Day until August bank holiday 1945
and it didn't close through a lack of audience. No.
It closed because Sid Field set his sights elsewhere.
'And this is where he came.
'Britain's answer to Hollywood - Shepperton Studios.
'After almost 30 years, he'd finally reached the top on the stage.
'Now he had the chance to make it in the movies
'and be seen by an audience of millions.
'All he needed was a big hit film.'
For the film company J Arthur Rank, it seemed a sure bet.
Britain's most famous stage comic would become Britain's most famous film comic.
A £1 million blockbuster starring the hottest talent in town.
With sumptuous sets and extravagant dance routines,
the film aimed to wake up grey, post-war Britain.
'But Sid was lost in those sumptuous sets
'and the dances went on forever.
'And worse than that, his comedy just didn't work.'
You felt for him all the time because you were...you were hurting.
It's almost like putting...
-..Nureyev in Strictly Come Dancing.
And to watch... I was suffering for him.
# Miser, miser, you're getting worse
'One of Sid's co-stars was a child actress already famous in her own right, Petula Clark.'
# Spend a few coppers, old man
I was playing his daughter and so it was important, I suppose,
that we got along well, and we certainly did.
Because he was a warm, generous man
and I felt, playing those scenes with him, that he was sort of like a dad.
-# No, you can't keep a good dreamer down
-Now the funny chorus.
'There was a huge atmosphere around the making of this.
I'm not sure that Sid fitted in well to that...
..you know, tra-la-la thing that was going on.
He was a very down-to-earth kind of man.
-You'd like a little...
-Some of that, please.
-Some of what?
-One of these? I thought you would, yes.
'The first film that Sid appeared in, That's The Ticket,
'was shot fast and loose in just three weeks.'
-You'll get it whether you like it or not.
'That way of working seems to have suited him better.
'But with the massive sets, huge casts and enormous Technicolor film crew,
'the London Town shoot must have been painfully slow.'
Sid hated being filmed. He described the camera as,
"Coming at me like a blood-thirsty dragon, ready to pick up my mistakes."
He wasn't comfortable without the audience.
The rehearsal could make the crew laugh,
but in the take, everybody had to be dead quiet and it, kind of...
He was of that breed of musical comedian, so was the last of the line, more or less.
They needed the audience. They needed to feed off it. They needed to get a reaction.
'Geoffrey Macnab has written a definitive history of the Rank movie empire.'
So what was it about the film that made it fail? Why do you think it failed?
It wasn't a comedy for domestic consumption, low budget,
where you could just have fun, do it quickly, and move onto the next one.
But nor was it a great artistic endeavour, like a Red Shoes.
It fell disastrously between two stalls.
The sadness is, because of that, Sid Field didn't have a film career.
And because he didn't have a film career,
you ask somebody in the street, "Who is Sid Field?" they won't know.
And they might well know who Arthur Askey is,
they might know who George Formby is.
They might even know who Tommy Trinder is.
And Sid Field, who was probably on a level above these comedians,
is forgotten, and that's the sadness of it.
'I can only imagine Sid's frustration.
'The blockbuster that should have made his name live forever
'went down like a lead balloon.
'But London Town's failure didn't affect Sid's popularity with his faithful live audience.'
Next came Piccadilly Hayride,
which gave him over 700 sell-out performances.
It was an incredible showcase of talent.
'Piccadilly Hayride was a smash right from the start.
'Songs from the show were made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra.
'Ever heard this one?'
# They've got an awful lot of coffee in Brazil
-How do you do?
-'The show also launched the career of, amongst others, Terry Thomas.
'And for Sid, it confirmed his place in show business royalty,
'the king of comedy.'
One night I was up in this bar having a drink. It was between the houses.
And there were one or two people in and a babble of conversation.
And suddenly the conversation dropped, like that.
And the door opened and in walks Sid Field.
And he had the make-up on for the second half.
And he came and stood next to me.
Well, of course, everybody's now looking at him with awe.
I can't remember what he was having because from that moment I was tongue-tied.
If he had asked for a barrel full of goldfish
I would still have accepted it and said, "I'll have the same."
In the same room as Sid Field?
'During the war, Sid's most popular persona was the spiv Slasher Green.
'But later, another of his character types became everyone's favourite.
'Today, it's one of the most common types of comedy around.
'But then it was new and very daring.'
He did that sketch, which was unique at the time,
which he played a camp photographer.
-No, no, I'm sorry. Doesn't suit you one bit.
-Of course, my hair isn't done.
-Mm. Even so.
That had not been done on the stage. The general public didn't know what they were laughing at,
-it was just somebody very sweet and lovely and precious.
But he was sending up people who were camp. And it was a wonderful impersonation.
And he did it with such style and aplomb, it was hysterical.
Something on the lines of, erm...
-Yes, oh, good.
-We'll have these books with you.
Sid set the trend for this gossipy form of camp humour,
which Frankie Howerd built upon with a more crumpled exterior.
-..which was a rotten shame, wasn't it? Oh, it was a shame!
-He put a lot into that, didn't you?
-Tell him, you put a lot into it. He put his pension in.
Larry Grayson... LAUGHTER
There's so much of Larry which is pure Sid.
And then, in more recent times, Julian Clary, Graham Norton and so on. It's an unbroken line.
'In fact, where would television comedy be today without those camp characters.
'But Sid discovered that it was a rich vein of comedy possibilities in another way.'
-What's your name?
-Lee. Have you been to the gym?
'The camp character could work the audience more than any other.
'There was a licence to make comments that would otherwise come over as just aggressive
'or downright rude.'
I think you could keep your legs slightly closer together.
Yes. It's a bit upsetting.
I'm trying to work here.
'I've come to Leicester to see how, 60 years later, it still works for Julian Clary.'
It's important to me to know who's in the front row cos there's quite a lot of interaction.
And see who's there to play with.
-I look for a heterosexual couple.
-That's my, kind of, way in.
I know Sid was heckled a lot and people used to shout at him and he used to love that.
-Has anybody heckled you?
-Oh, yes. I encourage it.
-Yes, cos it's not... They haven't come to see a Chekhov play.
And it can create a bit of improvisation.
And certain places, you know, a really witty heckle is fabulous.
'When I was preparing to play Sid on stage,
'I got a host of tips from his understudy, Jack Tripp.'
I would come on to do my sketches like this.
And I'd start working.
Jack, who was teaching me, and he knew Sid Field,
he'd say, "No, no, no!"
-So he'd say, "I'll show you."
This is what he showed me Sid would do.
He would come on.
He would trip. He would look at the audience,
he would get them on his side then he would start the sketch.
So he'd come on like this, the same foot every time, and he'd go,
"Oh!" and look at them and go, "Oh, dear", you know. And then start.
-Was that the original mince, do you think?
-He did mince.
-He really did mince.
All that mincing backwards and forwards.
That photographer sketch, he was doing this all the time.
People are asking me what mincing means. I should have referred to Sid Field, really.
-He really did mince.
-I'm really going to look forward to watching you tonight now,
having had this conversation, because I'm fascinated by comedy.
-There may not be a laugh to be had.
-Here in Leicester?
'Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Mr Julian Clary!
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
'Eyeliner and pink Rollerblades.
'The clothes have changed, but the interaction with the audience is pure Sid.
'His comic legacy lives on.'
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
How kind. Thank you. Mind you don't peak too early.
-Is that a heterosexual couple slipped through the net here?
Good evening. Nice to see you having a proper night out.
Because I know you heterosexuals prefer to stay at home, don't you?
-Eating food covered in breadcrumbs.
Watching Top Gear.
Leslie, you actually saw Sid Field live on stage.
He worked an audience, didn't he? He used an audience.
Yes, well, I had a rather super girlfriend. I was quite young still.
And I was doing quite well with her. I had my arm round her and touching her up a bit, you know?
And he saw it from the stage.
And he picked me out and started to send me up rotten.
And all the audience turned round and watched me and him.
And he used me in his show.
-So he really used an audience?
Yes, he could walk... He used to walk out into the audience.
He was part of the audience.
And he came out with some fairly strong stuff about this bird I was with, you know.
-Can you remember what he said at all?
No. I don't think I could repeat it.
What's you name? Any idea?
-Dick! Is it?
-Thank you, God.
'No-one could work an audience like Sid.
'Back in 1946, Piccadilly Hayride was the hottest ticket in town.
'And Sid's fans included Hollywood stars like Bob Hope and Cary Grant.
'Danny Kaye came to see the show and became a close friend.
'From the left, Danny Kaye, Laurence Olivier and Sid.'
Laurence Olivier adored Sid.
He was one of his greatest fans. And Bing Crosby was, too.
He had a marvellous row of worshippers.
'In London's Albany Club, the Bartenders Guild meets to discover who can mix the perfect cocktail.
'In all, there were 46 entries. The stage and screen star Sid Field comes along as one of the judges.'
'Sid even had a cocktail created in his honour. A colourful concoction called the Slasher Green.
'But from that first glass of port to calm his stage fright,
'Sid had never been a stranger to drink.
'Peter Burn was somewhat concerned when he saw Sid backstage
'just before one of his many Royal Variety performances.'
And Sid Field, to my horror, I saw was slumped in the corner.
Completely out. Legless.
I couldn't believe it. They hadn't even been on. And the king and queen were in front,
and Churchill and all the great and the good.
And it was being broadcast all over the world. I thought, "This is a disaster!"
And I said, "Excuse me, I think he's had a few drinks."
He said, "Yes, well, I'd be very worried if he hadn't."
We stood on the side of the stage in the wings.
And Jerry Desmonde walked on and did the preamble.
And Sid was standing there, and he got his cue,
and suddenly he shook himself like a bear coming out of a river,
and walked on and gave the performance of his life.
-They said he liked a tipple.
-He did, but I thought everybody did.
-But I never ever saw him drunk. I never thought, "He's gone a bit funny."
So, I mean, it didn't seem to impinge, well, certainly not on my life.
'Everyone thought that Sid would follow Piccadilly Hayride with another hit revue show.
'But in 1948, he took a brave new direction.
'To play the lead in a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, Harvey.
'Needless to say, there's no films or recordings of Sid in the role,
'but James Stewart played the part in the Hollywood version two years later.
'It won him an Oscar nomination.
'It was a comedy, but there was no singing, no dancing, and Sid couldn't play the audience.'
Suddenly, this variety comedian had gone legit.
He was absolutely wonderful in the show.
Brilliant. And with his amazing timing.
It was innate, instinctive comedy timing.
He was in a disciplined situation of a play. He took on that discipline,
gave a memorable performance,
he deserved an Oscar for it.
'His success in Harvey showed that, as with Tony Hancock, Sid could do more than just sketches.
'He could sustain a dramatic comic character.
'And that was a style of comedy that would soon become a mainstay of the emerging medium of television.
'In fact, TV would have suited Sid perfectly.
'Because then most shows were even performed in front of a live audience.
'He was on the verge of even greater success.'
# Rainy days don't worry me
'Except for one thing. During the run of Harvey, his health declined.
'He took a month off to recuperate, but soon after returning, in February 1950,
'Sid had a heart attack and died.
'He was just 45.
'At his funeral, thousands turned out to show their grief.'
# Keeping troubles away from...
There used to be a straight road that went up to the chapel,
and there were flowers completely covering all the grass.
Phyllis Rounce, who was Tony's agent at the beginning of his career,
she once told me something quite touching.
She said the only time she saw Tony Hancock cry,
burst into tears,
was when he heard the news of Sid Field's death.
# Rainy days don't worry me
'Sid Field may have been a brilliant comic. But he was hopeless with money.
'When he died, there was just £60 in his bank account to keep his widow and three children.
'But when the show business world heard of their plight, they came out like an entertainment army.'
In 1951, they united here at the London Palladium Theatre
for one of the greatest benefit concerts that has ever been staged.
'Sid's close friend Danny Kaye was the inspiration behind the event.
'It was a concentrated blast of talent.
'The biggest stars together for one incredible show, a midnight matinee.
'It would raise the equivalent of £350,000 for Sid's family.'
One writer called it, "the greatest show of its kind ever seen
"with a more impressive array of talent than any Royal Command Variety Performance."
Everyone was here. Comics like Danny Kaye, Tommy Trinder.
Actors like Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Whilst Peter Ustinov was on stage mimicking every voice in a choir,
here in the wings stood Elizabeth Taylor and Vivien Leigh.
Noel Coward, Judy Garland, a galaxy of stars.
One of the high points of the show was when Danny Kaye came on to sing.
Or at least he tried to sing, because at the same time, the Crazy Gang came on
and literally stripped him of his dress suit, squirting him all over with soda water,
throwing a custard pie in his face until he was left naked, just bar his underpants,
on which was the slogan, "Candy Kisses".
And in one spectacular routine,
dancers from three huge West End musicals gathered together to dance, here on this very stage.
'They did it to raise the money, yes, but more than that,
'they needed to express their grief.
'Because everybody who knew Sid or just saw him on stage loved him.
'And the tragedy for us today
'is that there's no hard evidence left that really shows why.
'We just have to take people's word for it.'
I just wish that he'd lived until the television age.
Because if you'd seen him in person, he was charismatic.
He embodied the epitome of what I consider a good comedian.
It is to be visual and likeable.
And Sid Field had all these commodities in abundance.
-Address the ball!
I don't know what to do, do I?
He was such a supreme live performer. The people I've spoken to who have seen him,
60 years later, it's as if they'd seen it yesterday.
-What a performance.
A painter leaves paintings, a composer leaves work that other people hear.
What does a comedian leave? Only the memories of people who laughed at him.
# Just remember when good fortune chooses to frown
'After a lifetime on stage, and just seven years at the top,
'Sid Field was the star who died too soon.
'Poised on the brink of the television age, who knows what might have been?
# You can't keep a good dreamer down
'But those who saw him never forgot.
'And memories, like jokes, go down the generations.
'So maybe the echo of that laughter haunts us still.'
# Your lucky star
# You can feel just like a king
# And not wear a crown
'Although we may not now recognise his name, Sid's impact on comedy was vast.
'And his legacy continues to this very day.'
# When the little monkey feels he's more than a clown
# Well, you can't keep a good dreamer down
# If the man they dumped would like a new Paris gown
# Cos you can't keep a good dreamer down
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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