Obituary: Sid Green

ERNIE WISE, "the one with the short, fat, hairy legs", was explaining his personal pop group to Eric Morecambe, "the one with the glasses". "There's Dick and Sid and me," he said. "Dick's a boomer, Sid's an ooh- er, and me, I'm a ya-ta-ta-ta-er." Seemed simple enough to Eric until they all started to sing. His confused joining-in with booms, oohs and ya-ta-ta-tas led to 10 of the funniest minutes on television, impeccably timed and made even funnier when Sid and Dick, the ooh-er and the boom- er, began to break up with the hilarity of it all.

Sid Green and Dick Hills seemed as permanent a pair of comedy scriptwriters as Eric and Ernie were as performers, but, as with everything that lasts a long time, perhaps a break-up was inevitable. The permanent break came in 1996 when Dick Hills died; now Sid Green has gone, both perhaps to join Eric Morecambe, leaving only Ernie Wise as the last living reminder of yesterday's years of the finest in our television comedy.

Green was born in London in 1928 and was thoroughly well educated at Haberdashers' Aske's Hatcham Boys' School in south London, where he met the boy who would eventually become his partner in comedy, Richard Hills, two years his senior.

Both served in the Second World War in different branches of the armed forces: Green was in the Army, Hills in the Navy, and both were officers. They met again as men back at the old school when both played for the Old Boys in the annual rugby match. In the interim both men had become schoolteachers. They tried their hands at script writing together that Christmas, contriving a sort of burlesque pantomime for the staff, the boys and their parents. It worked well enough for the pair to consider writing comedy for a profession.

They needed a star to hitch their hopeful wagon to, and found one performing in their local variety theatre, helping make merry in the comical musical act of Morton Fraser and his Harmonica Gang. This star was the good-looking Dave King, who towered over the stooge of the mouth-organists, a hilarious dwarf. Sensing King's comedic talent, Green and Hills soon persuaded him to go solo, and with the pair as his permanent writers, King swiftly rocketed to stardom as a solo comedian in monochrome television.

Beginning as the compere of the BBC's Show Case in 1954, King was soon rewarded with his own series, The Dave King Show, in 1955. He refused to sign the contract unless the BBC took on Green and Hills as his writers. The producer Ernest Maxin agreed, and the monthly 60-minute series ran from October that year until April 1957. From this time on the pair used their initials only: Sid was "S.C. Green" and Dick was "R.M. Hills", believing it sounded a little more literate than the show-bizzy Sid and Dick they would eventually become when united with Eric and Ernie.

When Dave King's local success prompted interest from American television, he took Green and Hills with him to NBC as his regular writers. This was 1959, and the team made no fewer than 19 live shows in the Kraft Music Hall series. The scripts were Americanised by a young tyro writer called Mel Brooks. When Dave King returned to Britain with his scriptwriters in tow, the team were signed up by Anglia Television (ATV) for a run of 11 hour-long specials, followed by a further seven half-hours in 1962. These would be the last shows Green and Hills would write for King.

When Tony Hancock insisted on severing himself from his popular radio supports for his next television series, Sidney James was temporarily stranded. Ray Galton and Alan Simpson saved the day by making Sid the star of a new series of sitcoms, Citizen James, featuring the pockmarked cockney as Sidney Balmoral James, semi-crook, in partnership with that other no-good from British B-pictures, Sydney Tafler. Galton and Simpson wrote the first six shows, then left the way clear for Green and Hills to try their hands at plot-bound sitcoms. They were successful enough to script a run of 26 half-hours from 1961 to 1962.

Along the way came The Alma Cogan Show (1960) starring Britain's bubbly pop singer. On this series Green and Hills encountered Morecambe and Wise, appearing as guest stars. There was instant rapport between the two teams of two. When in 1961 ATV offered the comedians their own half-hour show, Eric informed the management that "if we couldn't get Green and Hills, we couldn't do the series". The first show, which Green and Hills christened Two of a Kind after a song which they liked, ran into unexpected trouble - an all-out strike by members of Equity, the actors' trade union.

This turned into Green and Hills's biggest break: with Eric and Ernie's full approval they played all the other parts which they had written for supporting actors. Naturally nervous about appearing on national television, they soon developed characters of their own and clearly met with the approval of the huge ITV audience. Just as well, for the strike lasted 12 weeks. Graham McCann, in his recent biography of Morecambe and Wise, uses Green and Hills' own writing technique to describe their physical characteristics: "Hills, the short, pudgy, puckish one, and Green, the tall, thin, slightly queasy-looking one". He also quotes Morecambe's description, "They were very talented guys, better educated than the pair of us - and a lot older too!"

After coining many a catchphrase for the comical couple - "Get out of that!" says Eric with one hand flat against Ernie's neck; "There were these two old men sitting in deckchairs," begins Eric, telling a naughty story that never reaches its climax; and the extraordinary visual gag of Eric catching an invisible ball in a paper bag - Green and Hills finally left the series in 1968 when Eric Morecambe suffered his first severe heart attack.

On his own, Green went to the US again in 1970 to become the writer for The Don Knotts Show. Knotts, a meek and mild stooge promoted from a supporting role in The Steve Allen Show, liked Green's work but for the first seven weeks not one gag of Green's was used in the programme. There had been other failures too. In 1960 his Strange World of Gurney Slade, written for Anthony Newley, was a disaster. After the first show the remaining five were shifted from the peak time of half past eight to later than 11 o'clock, a sure sign of telly failure.

Further failures, this time for the whole team, were the three feature films written for Morecambe and Wise. Not that there was anything wrong with the scripts themselves, or the direction of the films; it was the performances of the comedians themselves. Used to doing their stuff in front of live audiences, the twosome, and particularly Eric, seemed unable to work their comedy without feeding off the adrenaline that comes from living laughter. For the record the films were The Intelligence Men (1965), That Riviera Touch (1966) and The Magnificent Two (1967).

Also somewhat odd and more than somewhat disappointing were the television series written by the writers for themselves. There was That Show for Southern Television in 1964, screened in London the next year in the sinisterly significant late hours, and Those Two Fellers, made by ABC- TV in 1967, in which they were supported by a new comedienne called Diane Rochelle. This was a bit better as it was basically a chat show starring comedians ranging from veterans such as Ted Ray and Big-Hearted Arthur Askey, to Bob Monkhouse and their old oppos, Morecambe and Wise.

In his closing decade of the 1980s Green wrote, on his own, for such popular comedy stars as Michael Barrymore, Freddie Starr and one more double act, the odd but endearing Krankies. It seems now, as the 1990s draw to a close, that the 1980s might well have been the fade-out for a golden age of television comedy. Perhaps Green and Hills knew, or suspected it.

Sidney Charles Green, writer: born London 24 January 1928; married (three daughters); died Frinton-on-Sea, Essex 15 March 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London