With a couple of hats and a few props Sid Williams could transform himself into 10 characters in 10 minutes.
He was part of the Comox Valley theatre community, both on and back stage, for 70 years. He also performed in commercials, made guest appearances in the TV program The Beachcombers and toured the province as Century Sam during BC’s centenary.
As they say in thespian circles, Williams “left the building” on Sept. 26, 1991 at the age of 92. On Tuesday, Sept. 20, nearly 20 years to the day after he died, Courtenay Little Theatre will pay homage to the short man with the tall heart.
The tribute begins at 8 p.m. at CLT’s The Space, located at 1625 McPhee just behind Jet FM Radio. The performance features short skits and reminiscences by those who knew and worked with Williams. Admission is free.
“Sid knew everyone in town and everyone knew him,” says Art Collins who wrote several songs for Williams. “He had what he called his ‘hat trick routine.’ He’d play one character for a few minutes then turn around and, with a hat, scarf or set of false teeth, totally transform into someone else. Audiences roared with laughter, everyone loved him.”
Collins wife, Joan, accompanied Williams on piano for 25 years. “I got to know Sid very well,” she says. “He was always a gentleman and always willing to help out if someone needed a favour.”
“And he was very professional. We always rehearsed whether we were performing for a small group or the whole community. Sid liked to tailor the performance to the audience. He had certain songs, like “Spread a Little Sunshine” that he opened his hat routine with. His whole attitude was to be happy and thankful for what we have.”
Mike Butler met Williams in 1945 and worked with him on many a stage set.
“I did survey work for the Ministry of Highways at the time and Sid would always say, ‘Oh, it’s within half an inch, if that’s good enough for government work, it’s good enough for us.”
“He had connections all throughout the community and was always scrounging stuff to use for sets,” continues Butler. “So I teased him back by saying, ‘Oh, here’s another $1.49 day set by Sid.”
Gail Limber was a cheerleader for the BC Lions when she performed on the same program in Vancouver as Williams for the Centennial Celebrations. After she moved to Courtenay, she played Mammy to his Pappy in Lil Abner.
“He was always joking around; often you didn’t know if he was serious or not,” she says. “He took his teeth out to play Pappy and tried to convince me to take mine out too. But I didn’t have any removable teeth and wouldn’t have taken them out even if I did.”
“He was an absolute character and I learned a great deal from him,” Limber adds. “Probably the most important thing I learned about community theatre was that you can be a star on stage with an adoring audience but when the show’s over someone needs to sweep the stage and clean the toilets. Sid never had any pretensions; he was always willing to help out.”
But there was a serious side to Williams. He served on the City of Courtenay council for more than 20 years and was instrumental in the building of the Memorial Pool and many other community projects, as well as unofficially looking after the civic theatre for many years.
Williams was a founding member of the Comox District Mountaineering Club, served on the board of the Courtenay Recreation Association and co-owned Ski Tak Hut when it first opened and later owned Searle’s Shoes.
His fun-loving and incredibly generous nature touched many. His contributions have been recognized in many ways including being named Freeman of the City in 1968, receiving the Eric Hamber Award in 1963 for his outstanding commitment in the field of theatre and the being inducted into the Order of Canada in 1984. In 1991, the Comox Valley civic theatre was named in his honour.