1st April 2019
As a child entertainer during the First World War his mother, to steady his nerves, gave him a glass of port before each performance and the young Sid was alchohol-dependent by the time he was 13. Even as a successful adult Field suffered chronic stage fright and was a compulsive drinker and worrier; weaknesses which may have contributed to his premature death from a heart attack at 45. Unfortunately the three films he starred in only muted his impact, which relied on an infectious cumulative interaction with live audiences, and do little to preserve his posthumous reputation. Perhaps a better legacy can be seen in the work of the generation of comedians which followed. Both Danny Kaye and Tony Hancock idolised Field, and he had a profound influence on stars such as Morcambe and Wise, Frankie Howerd, Spike Milligan and Leonard Rossiter. Bob Hope described him as ‘probably the best comedian of them all’. Cary Grant, Charlie Chaplin and Bing Crosby were admirers. Even Sir Lawrence Olivier, no less, admitted that he held Field in such high esteem as an actor, that he had watched and studied Sid’s live shows many times not just for amusement, but in order to better emulate his technique.
After his death in 1950, Olivier; along with Kaye, Orson Welles, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Peter Ustinov, Richard Attenborough and other notable stars of stage and screen were among a cast of 240 who performed in a matinee benefit for his wife and young children. Given all this, it is difficult to conceive and sobering to reflect on how quickly and completely the name Sid Field faded and slipped into obscurity.