I’m not generally one for heaping praise on the media (unless bribed or coerced), but I have to thank the BBC2 for the evening of programmes last night celebrating the life and work of Eric Sykes who died earlier this year.
Sykes was one of my early comedy heroes for all sorts of reasons, but mostly for his mixture of silliness, surrealism and slapstick.
He began his career as a writer and had his first big break with the Two Elephants sketch for Frankie Howerd in 1947. I’m sure I have whole thing on CD somewhere, but you’ll have to make do with that clip from YouTube.
Sykes went on to form Associated London Scripts with Spike Milligan, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson and later collaborated with Milligan on The Goon Show, but it was as a tv star in his own right that brought Eric to the national consciousness.
The BBC lined him up with Hattie Jacques in a traditional married couple sitcom, but Eric insisted that should be brother and sister. More than that, they were to be twins and even sillier, beanpole Sykes and ‘larger than life’ Hattie were to be identical twins.
The 1967 film The Plank that Sykes wrote, directed and starred in was not only an homage to his own heroes, Laurel and Hardy, but a classic in its own right. (You can watch it in sections on YouTube)
Sykes acted in the Peter Hall production of Moliere’s The School of Wives, as well as in As You Like It, Pinter’s Betrayal, Chekov’s Three Sisters and other ‘serious’ roles.
And it was a direct result of his work on stage that lead to Nicole Kidman insisting that he appear in the psychological thriller, The Others, in 2001.
What makes Sykes’ career all the more remarkable was that he was profoundly deaf and registered blind in later years, but you would never have guessed it.
All of this is a very long-winded plug to catch last night’s programmes on iPlayer if you can, but I wanted to include a clip here and was spoilt for choice.
In the end I went for the toe stuck in the tap sketch from the very earliest Sykes and a… series from 1960.