Tuesday 1 April 2014

Sid Field: You had to be there...

All Fools' Day, but you'll find no silly pranks here. Instead let us turn out attention to a now all but forgotten giant of British comedy - Sid Field. Born on this day ('It's a girl! Ha ha, April fool!') in 1904, Sid was a compulsive entertainer from his earliest years, and got his first break standing in for Wee Georgie Wood. To steady his nerves, his mother gave him a glass of port before he went on - which was not very wise: young Sid was alcohol-dependent by the time he was 13, and remained so for the rest of his high-functioning alcoholic life.
 After serving his time in the music halls, perfecting an unusually wide range of characters, routines and impressions, Field hit the big time with a series of West End revues in the Forties that apparently had audiences literally falling off their seats. He had fans in high places, including Cary Grant, Chaplin, Eisenhower, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Olivier - and Bob Hope, who described him as 'probably the best comedian of them all'. And virtually all the stars of the British comedy firmament hailed him as an innovative genius and a huge influence. All of which is quite mystifying, as surviving footage of Field in action (check out YouTube) is sorry stuff. He seems to have been a classic case of a 'you had to be there' comedian.
 Perhaps if he'd lived another decade or so and tailored his act to the rising medium of television, something more convincing might have survived him. But he died early, at the age of just 45. At a matinee benefit for his wife and children, a cast of some 240 performed in tribute to him - Danny Kaye, Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Peter Ustinov, Richard Attenborough, and a veritable Who's Who of British comedy, stage and variety. That's fame. How soon it can fade...  

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