Sid James's post-Hancock's Half Hour series finally arrives on DVD
Being kicked out of any marriage in going to be painful, even if it is a comedy one. Tony Hancock booted Sid James off Hancock's Half Hour in 1960, severing a partnership that had survived six radio series and six TV seasons. Hancock carried on for one series more and Sid got Citizen James, his very own vehicle, created by HHH scripters Ray Galton and Alan Simpson.
Even if loyalty wasn't in Tony Hancock's arsenal of qualities, it was at least in Galton and Simpson's. But despite their involvement, Citizen James isn't the equal of Hancock's Half Hour or, indeed, Steptoe and Son. Their commitment to it appears only to have given Sid 'a place to stay,' televisually speaking, after Hancock threw him out. Once he was up on his feet again, after the first series, they upped and passed over scriptwriting duties to then Morecambe & Wise writers, Sid Green and Dick Hills.
Citizen James definitely feels chipped from Hancock wood though. Sid's character, again just called Sid, is the familiar law-dodging rogue from HHH, with Hancock stalwarts Bill Kerr (as his partner-in-crime) and Liz Fraser (as Sid's long-term fiance) in tow. Even the background actors like Johnny Vyvyan, Alec Bregonzi and Hugh Lloyd were HHH alumni. Everything about Citizen James was there to remind you of Hancock's Half Hour. Except there's no Tony Hancock.
Which is actually Citizen James' biggest weakness. Galton and Simpsons were at their best writing about aspiration. It's there in HHH, Steptoe and Comedy Playhouse. Citizen James doesn't allow them that mouthpiece for intellectual betterment or class guilt, and it feels less dimensional because of it.
Still, this is a release to treasure. These episodes have remained unseen for 50 years now and while it lies in the shadow of Galton and Simpson's giants either side of it, it's a pleasant enough little show, which Sid James makes worthwhile.
All the surviving episodes of the first Galton and Simpson series are here, plus the four remaining Green and Hills-scripted episodes. The first series is the superior one, given Galton and Simpson's talent for comic characterisation, while the episodes from seasons two and three are more obviously gag-based.
DVD Extras: Filmographies, Galton and Simpson on Citizen James; plus an extended interview with Liz Fraser.
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