Belfast actor Sam Kydd appeared in 240 movies including Reach For The Sky as well as favourite TV soaps Crossroads and Coronation Street... now his extraordinary story is being told in a book by his proud son
Brought up in the Village area of the city and a former prisoner of war who survived a mass execution, Sam Kydd's real-life story was worthy of the big screen treatment too, his son Jonathan Kydd tells Ivan Little
The name might just be elusive but the face will be instantly recognisable to anyone who was watching films and TV shows back in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. For actor Sam Kydd was in so many British productions back then that even he struggled to recall them all.
The conservative estimate is that he appeared in a record-breaking 240 movies in his 37-year career playing a multitude of roles in films that included I'm All Right Jack with Peter Sellers, Dunkirk, Scott Of The Antarctic, Sink The Bismarck, Till Death Us Do Part and Reach For The Sky.
He mightn't have been cast in the lead roles, but he also featured in TV shows like Crossroads and Coronation Street, where he played Mike Baldwin's father Frankie, and he had much more substantial parts in hit series like Crane And Orlando, which attracted upwards of 16 million viewers back in the day.
Sam regularly played Cockneys but the English accents that he adopted for most of his parts throughout his career disguised the fact that he was born in 1915 and raised here. A Belfast Kydd, so to speak.
And now Jonathan Kydd, who's the son of Sam, is preparing to honour his versatile dad with a book about his glory days that flourished after he moved to live in England in his teens.
How the book came about would make a fascinating chapter all of its own. For scribbled notes that Sam wrote as the basis for an autobiography lay undiscovered for decades in the loft of the family home in London.
But now Jonathan, a talented actor and voice-over artist in his own right, is polishing up his dad's diaries for what he thinks will be a remarkable memoir of his remarkable life
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He has also had to do extensive research to pin down details about the career of his father, who had a tendency to undersell himself in the records that he kept.
He says: "He would often write something like 'I did three films this week' but he wouldn't say what they were. And doing three films in one week didn't seem to strike him as anything out of the ordinary.
"He would also write about having appeared in TV shows by leading comedians of the time like Arthur Askey, Harry Worth, Eric Sykes and Charlie Drake, but what he didn't say was that he was in 16 episodes of their series."
The as yet untitled book will also shed some light on Sam's little documented childhood in Belfast.
A search through the internet provides a few clues with one nugget disclosing that Samuel John Kydd was born on February 15, 1915, at 52 Nelson Street in the Docks area.
His father John Kydd was a sergeant in the Royal Irish Rifles and he married Mary Elizabeth Anderson in Belfast in 1914.
However, the couple later moved to the Village area, where Sam was raised not far from Windsor Park.
Jonathan hasn't been able to establish where his father was educated, but he remembers being told by him about his love of playing football and watching Linfield FC.
"Dad brought me over to Belfast and he once took me to Windsor where I got to 'score' a few goals. I still have a Linfield shirt from that visit," says Jonathan, who thinks that his father was around 13 when he went with his entire family circle to live in London.
"I've heard all sorts of stories about why they moved - from rumours of spying in the Donegal hills to financial problems which necessitated a midnight flit," he says.
"But whatever the reason, they all settled in a large house in Bayswater. One of the uncles was a dresser in the theatre."
Whether he had any influence on Sam isn't known.
Initially after settling in England it looked like he would pursue a sporting career.
He was a gifted all-rounder and he had a trial with Queen's Park Rangers, but he also showed promise as a cricketer and a cross-country runner.
However, he decided to try to make a living out of entertainment instead.
He was renowned for his impressions and he acted as MC for the Oscar Rabin dance band, who played at the Hammersmith Palais in London.
Sam also joined the Territorial Army and was later called up for active service in the Second World War.
But after just a week in France he was captured and ended up as a prisoner of war in German-occupied western Poland.
He was held there for the duration of the war and organised theatrical productions in his POW camp to boost morale.
Jonathan says: "He never told me anything about those experiences face to face and bizarrely it was only recently that I discovered from historian Dan Snow that my father was one of the only survivors of a mass execution during a forced march."
Sam wrote a book about his incarceration called For You The War Is Over which sold over 40,000 copies and its success has only served to baffle Jonathan even more about why his father didn't follow it up with the autobiography on which he'd been working.
One theory is that he simply mightn't have had the time thanks to his incredibly hectic acting commitments.
He says: "He never stopped working. Directors seemed to like him. He had a wonderful face and it was tailor-made for big close-ups.
"There was always the feeling that he was a sweet guy. He was often cast as an ordinary soldier who was someone that people could sympathise with."
Last year the Talking Pictures satellite TV channel devoted an entire day and night to Sam's films, calling him one of the greatest British character actors of all time - and one of the most prolific.
Jonathan says his dad was unquestionably the hardest working actor of his or any other generation and even he hasn't been able to track down all the 200-plus movies and possibly 1,000 TV shows in which he appeared.
"Apparently, he made 104 of his films between 1946 and 1952 and I can find only 60 of them," says Jonathan, who adds that he is still genuinely touched by the affection that still abounds for his dad who died in 1982 at the age of 67 due, his son says, to a 60-a-day cigarette habit.
"People still contact me to let me know that they loved him. A Facebook page in his honour has lots of lovely messages," he adds.
The scale of Sam's celebrity status at its peak was reflected by the fact that in 1974 Eamonn Andrews surprised him with his red book on This Is Your Life.
Jonathan was unhappy that the programme focused too heavily on his father's time as a POW rather than on his acting career.
But Dixon Of Dock Green star Jack Warner was one of the TV stars who lauded Sam, who was in at least one episode of every series of the police show, usually as a crook with a heart of gold.
Sam's tribute was the only one in the history of This Is Your Life which wasn't broadcast in full.
One guest refused to take part in the live show and ITV hastily aired the recorded edition as a replacement, but had to cut out of it because they ran out of time.
Jonathan says Sam was a very different dad from fathers of today, adding: "There were no hugs and kisses whereas now I have a 10-year-old daughter and I tell her I love her all the time. Which is maybe making up for the fact that he never said that to me.
"Dad was also away a lot filming on location when I was young. However, I loved going to football matches with him to watch his favourite English team Chelsea. He was mobbed all the time."
Jonathan's pride is unmistakeable. A favourite anecdote is about the time he asked his father if he was in a movie called The Magnet, which was coming on the television.
"He was reading the papers in the kitchen and he said 'no' but just after the opening titles I saw his character running down the stairs. He was the postman and when I told him he shouted to me that he remembered the film now. He said he would be appearing in it later on. I watched the whole film. But he wasn't in it again."
As well as the book, which it's hoped will be published next year, Jonathan is also toying with the idea of writing a stage show and producing a documentary about his father's amazingly productive career that also included regular appearances in his later years on the children's TV show Play School.
He also hopes that Belfast may one day recognise Sam's achievements with the erection of a blue plaque in his memory to go alongside tributes which have gone up in the Village to singer Ruby Murray and footballer Joe Bambrick.
"That would be fantastic," adds Jonathan.