I got round to listening to “Eric at 80” having wazzed Sunday’s BBC7 show onto CD to play in the car. Priceless memories that have whetted my appetite for his autobiography. I won’t repeat the stories here, except for two.
First, his scriptwriting for Frankie Howerd which came out of the blue and Sykes sat down and wrote the first sketch for him there and then in the dressing-room. It centred on Frankie’s first job as a messenger boy who had to take two elephants from London to Crewe.
“Oh, I did feel a ninny. You’d think people had never seen two elephants on the Underground before.” And so on. Priceless.
Interestingly, when Frankie asked Eric to be his personal scriptwriter, Sykes asked for a credit. His agent politely refused, explaining that Frankie’s radio audience on Bandbox (42% of the population — eat your heart out Murdoch) believed that he made it up as he went along.
Second, something I hadn’t known, although I may have done (I just can’t remember what I’ve forgotten) that the first Sykes series was also Johnny Speight’s first foray into television scripts working, as he was, as an insurance clerk at the time.
He had Sykes and Hattie Jaques as a married couple, the usual sitcom fodder, but Eric wasn’t having it. “Married couples bicker eventually and I want this show to have a life of five years.” (I’m paraphrasing.)
So Eric and Hattie became brother and sister. Not only that, they were twins. Even better, they were to be identical twins. A visual joke, Jack Spratt etc, north and south. Priceless squared.
And it lives on as an idea. Like the two girls on Coronation Street, one a size 8, the other, well a big lass. (Don’t blame me, I didn’t write the script.) But they couldn’t go the whole mile. A thin lass and a big lad who are identical twins which is, by definition, impossible, surreal and very funny.
Just goes to show there is no such thing as an original idea. Except for the original one.
Which is why I say, “Arise Sir Eric.”