SykesI’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 and Jacques

Sykes and Jacques

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)

Thomas and SykesHe also appeared in films with Terry Thomas in the likes of Kill or Cure and, of course, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.

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.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

6 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 4th November 2012

    You can be bribed? good to know…

  • john 4th November 2012

    I remember seeing one of his later performances in Victoria Wood’s DINNERLADIES…..
    delicious timing

  • Trevor Rowley 5th November 2012

    Apologies if you’ve already referred to his origins, Mr P, but he was also a son of Oldham, Lancashire. Like Bernard Cribbins and Dora Bryan, who also came from the town, he was typical of that rich vein of comic talent that has always flowed from “oop North” to constantly remind us of the level of inspiring talent that has originated against a background of cotton mills, iron foundries and engineering workshops of this part of England. Not many miles from the town we stumble upon the origins of those other mirthmakers, Gracie Fields from the cotton town of Rochdale, George Formby from the coal mining town of Wigan, Les Dawson and Bernard Manning from the grime of the city of Manchester and, just a little further afield, Arthur Askey, Ted Ray and the king of whimsy himself, Ken Dodd from the seafaring city of Liverpool.

    Eric Sykes shared his comic performing and unique writing skills with other departed entertainers like Ronnie Barker, Kenneth Horne, Barry Took and Bob Monkhouse and (the thankfully still alive) Barry Cryer and Roy Hudd. Sadly, the old-fashioned vein of talent that these characters belong to seems to be running dry and what we are left with is just a pale imitation of the real thing.

    • Mr Parrot 5th November 2012

      I didn’t mention Eric’s origins because I know it only upsets Mr Pudding to be reminded of Lancashire’s natural superiority over the white rose county.

      I recall hearing an interview Sykes gave when he talked about that first sketch he wrote for Frankie Howerd. He was walking home in Oldham when he heard the Two Elephants skit coming from the nearby houses.

      Other things I didn’t mention include his partnership with Jimmy Edwards and the uproarious Big Bad Mouse stage show and the role his mother played in his ambitions even though she died a few weeks after he was born.

  • Trevor Rowley 5th November 2012

    Poor chap, he had a miserable childhood. I read of an interview he had given late on in his life. He described losing his mother as an infant, after which his older brother went to stay with relatives and poor old Eric was “palmed off” on to neighbours. He didn’t return to the family home until he was about two years old which was when he found that his father had remarried in the interim and the new Mrs Sykes had given birth to a child who was only about twelve months younger than Eric. Sadly, he got the bum deal as the relatives still doted on the older brother and the step mother only had time for her child by Mr Sykes. He grew up being well aware that he wasn’t really loved by anybody.

    • Mr Parrot 5th November 2012

      In addition to that, for many years he believed that his mother had died in childbirth and so felt somehow to blame. It was only in later life that someone close to him put him right. Even so, he had a photo of his mother on his office wall facing the desk where he wrote his scripts and he always looked to her for inspiration.


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