PERFORMERS: ERIC SYKES

by Mark McKay (reprinted from LAUGH MAGAZINE #21, 2000)

Until overtaken by Last of the Summer Wine in 1992, Sykes held the record for the longest running sitcom in British television history. Unusually, it also maintained its popularity – with ITV on strike during the final series, more than twenty-two million viewers tuned in to the domestic antics of TV’s most unlikely siblings.

It was performances in Denis Norden-penned RAF reviews which gave the young Eric Sykes his first taste of show business. After the war he landed a job with a repertory company in his birthplace Oldham, and then as stage manager at Accrington. Although keen to pursue a career in acting, he soon discovered the work was not forthcoming. Instead he turned his hand to writing – initially for his old RAF commander, Bill Fraser, and later for an up-and-coming comic, also recently demobbed from the services and now making a big splash on the wireless, Frankie Howerd.

Eric’s sketches for Frankie in Variety Bandbox scored a great success, and led to an introduction to businessman and ventriloquist, Peter Brough, and his blazered schoolboy dummy, Archie Andrews. In June 1950, the first episode of Educating Archie was broadcast, with a script by Sykes and his new writing partner, Sid Colin. The show was eventually to run for ten years, although Eric bowed out after the fourth series in 1954.

It was around this time that Eric became a regular listener to The Goon Show, and voiced his appreciation to chief Goon Spike Milligan. The admiration turned out to be mutual and the two began to collaborate on the scripts. Together with Alan Simpson and Ray Galton they formed a co-operative company called Associated London Scripts, with offices above a greengrocer’s shop in Shepherd’s Bush. Eighteen months later there were thirteen writers on the payroll and collectively they were responsible for a sizeable chunk of the BBC and ITV comedy output.

By 1956 Eric had turned his attention to television, both in a writing and performing capacity. He joined the Goons in their first TV series, The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d and later teamed with Peter Sellers in The Arthur Ploughshare Show, part of ATV’s season of Val Parnell’s Sunday Spectaculars. Sykes also hosted a number of other editions as well.

In the late 1950s Eric found a new performing partner in Educating Archie alumnus, Hattie Jacques. The last ITMA recruit before its abrupt ending in l949, Hattie had a fondness for old music hall songs, which she would deliver with gusto on stage at the Players’ Theatre. A talented comic actress, her career was blossoming – on radio as Grizelda Pugh in Hancock’s Half Hour, and on film in a series of matronly roles with the rest of the Carry On gang.

Eric and Hat appeared together in the London Palladium revue Large As Life, which starred Harry Secombe and Terry-Thomas, and in assorted TV specials. In January 1960 the Radio Times cover heralded their new five-part sitcom, written by Eric’s Associated London Scripts colleague, Johnny Speight and produced by the habitually enthusiastic Dennis Main Wilson. Called Sykes And A…, the title varied each week according to the storyline.

The original premise had the pair playing a husband and wife couple, but Sykes decided it would be less restrictive if they became brother and sister. As if that weren’t incredible enough, given Eric’s lean cadaverous figure and Hattie’s generous proportions, they were made twins.

The naive but lovable siblings shared a home in suburbia at 24 Sebastopol Terrace, relying heavily on each other to sort out their domestic difficulties. Next door lived a supercilious bespectacled bachelor, Mr. Charles Fulbright Brown, played by Richard Wattis. Forever disdainful of Eric (or ‘Sykes’ as he invariably called him), the immaculate Mr. Brown earned Hattie’s unquestioning respect and fidelity. The local bobby was the work-shy Constable Turnbull (Deryck Guyler), known to all and sundry as ‘Corky’. Primarily controlled by his stomach, this ancient copper put in regular appearances at the Sykes residence, ever hopeful of enjoying a free nosh-up from the kitchen.

The first series ended on February 26, with Hancock’s HaIf Hour taking over its time-slot for subsequent weeks. After a short break, the term returned for another run in August. Now Eric was writing his own scripts (supplemented by a couple each from colleagues Spike Milligan and John Antrobus) and the programmes were being offered for overseas transmission. They soon built up a following in Australia and New Zealand.

Over the next five years another seven series were made, although sadly most of these episodes no longer exist. Richard Wattis pulled out after the third season (according to the story, Mr. Brown had decided to emigrate), but Eric and Hat- tie’s popularity endured. In1962 they contributed to the variety cavalcade Christmas Night With The Stars, and the following year were asked to appear at the Royal Variety Performance. Held at the Prince of Wales theatre, this was arguably the best royal show to date, boasting an all-star line-up which included Steptoe and Son, Flanders & Swann and The Beatles.

The abundance of work opportunities offered to TV’s newest double-act led them into other media. They turned up briefly on radio in a series which saw Eric as a fledgling constable in the police force with Deryck Guyler as his superior officer. They also ventured into the Decca studios to record a largely improvised LP, but the results were disappointing. Too many of the tracks proved to be merely self-indulgent drivel.

Meanwhile back on the box, the 1965 episode Sykes and a Nest Egg marked the end of an era. After nearly sixty half-hours, Eric had decided to call it quits. He was unhappy that the Beeb had scheduled his programme up against Coronation Street on ITV, and departed to embark on other projects.

During the war Eric had suffered an ear injury which, left unchecked, was gradually deteriorating. In 1951 he was rushed to hospital for an emergency mastoid operation. This left his right ear almost completely deaf, but on a more positive note, he married the Canadian nurse who had helped him on the road to recovery. A decade later he was again undergoing surgery, this time to overcome deafness in the other ear. These hearing problems were beginning to affect his work and no doubt influenced his ambition to produce a silent movie.

Back in 1964,Eric had spent four months on the script of one episode titled Sykes And A Plank. Regarded at the time as a TV comedy classic, he now set to work on a big screen adaptation. With next-to-no dialogue and a multitude of famous faces, The Plank showed the hilarious antics of two workmen (Eric and Tommy Cooper) as they attempted to transport a wooden beam across London. The experiment was repeated again in 1970 with Rhubarb, the story of a police inspector (Sykes) enlisting the help of his constable (Jimmy Edwards) to beat the vicar (played by Harry Secombe) at a round of golf.

By the early seventies a trend of resurrecting old television series for the modern colour era had begun. Following in the footsteps of Steptoe And Son and Whack-O!, Eric resolved to revive his sixties show for a new audience (a hefty tax bill providing some encouragement). Renamed simply Sykes, the initial editions were merely remakes of earlier programmes.

Older viewers welcomed back its genteel puritanical values which were in sharp contrast to Johnny Speight’s Till Death Us Do Part, which had also made a comeback, amid a swarm of controversy, the previous night.

Although the production values were noticeably superior, other changes were minimal. The setting had altered slightly – Eric and Hat were now living in an end-of-terrace semi in East Acton – but old friends Corky and Mr. Brown still visited regularly. Joan Sims popped up in a few episodes as Madge from the bread shop, hopelessly and inexplicably devoted to Eric. On occasion guest stars helped to brighten up the stories, amongst them Jimmy Edwards (Eric’s partner in the long-running theatrical phenomenon, Big Bad Mouse), golf pro Tony Jacklin and, by now an international film star, Peter Sellers (reprising a role originally taken by Leo McKern in 1961).

The show once again became a favourite with viewers in Britain and abroad. Each year thereafter, BBC1 screened another series of programmes, all introduced with the catchy trumpet theme-tune. One of these, An Engagement, was even adapted to a stage play (which toured under the title A Hatful of Sykes).

After Richard Wattis’s death in 1975, Joy Harington joined the cast as new neighbour Miss Rumbelow, a colonel’s daughter who had spent much of her life in India. Eventually original stories started creeping in – usually involving some grandiose scheme devised by Eric into which Hattie is reluctantly drawn.

Unfortunately time has not been kind to Sykes. Seen today, most of the episodes appear very slow-moving and consequently rather dull. Eric and Hat’s simplicity is also less appealing to today’s sophisticated audiences, and regrettably there are no jokes to fall back on, since all the humour is in the situation.

On the other hand, the short silent films which Eric made for Thames TV are still good for a giggle. The first of these was yet another remake of Sykes and a Plank in 1979, this time with Arthur Lowe as his fellow builder and cameos from a host of seventies comic talent. Next came an updated version of Rhubarb, with Bob Todd assuming the role of the vicar. This was followed by a brace of original comedies: It’s Your Move, featuring Sykes and Tommy Cooper as a pair of bumbling removal men helping a recently married couple to settle into their new home, and Mr. H is Late, the misadventures of a firm of undertakers faced with transporting a coffin from the top floor of a tower block.

However not all the telemovies was successful. If You Go Down In The Woods Today, the tale of a scoutmaster and his cubs embroiled in a woodland police surveillance operation was conspicuously light on laughs, and The Big Freeze, starring Eric and Bob Hoskins as hapless plumbers called to a home for retired actors, ended up being made by a Finnish TV company after a distinct lack of enthusiasm from their British counterparts.

On Christmas Day 1979, This Is Your Life paid tribute to Eric in a star-studded half-hour show. With contributions from Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, Jimmy Edwards, Terry-Thomas, Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd, Zsa Zsa Gabor and golfing partner Sean Connery, this became one of the most memorable editions ever made.

It seemed fairly certain that 1980 would see yet another series of Sykes, but fate intervened. Hattie Jacques succumbed to a sudden and fatal heart attack on 6th October, aged only 56. Eric was deeply saddened by the news and in his tribute he tried to explain their special relationship: “she was like a real sister to me.” He had always spoken in glowing terms of her natural comic abilities, and was particularly proud that in all the years of writing for her, he had never made reference to her size.

In recent years Eric has become a familiar face to theatregoers all over the country. He toured extensively with Johnny Speight’s The 19th Hole (a play based on Eric’s Central TV series exploiting his passion for golf), co-starred with Peter Bowles in Moliere’s The School For Wives, and joined Julia McKenzie and John Gordon-Sinclair in Alan Bennett’s surreal Kafka’s Dick.

Despite recent rapidly deteriorating vision, he also found time to turn out a couple of humorous novels, UFOs Are Coming Wednesday and Smelling of Roses along with a book about his comedy heroes and an autobiography If I Don’t Write It, Nobody Else Will.

After a career of over sixty years in the business, Eric Sykes OBE died in July 2012, aged 89.

 

Television

Sykes and a …

Starring Eric Sykes, Hattie Jacques, Richard Wattis (series 1-3 & 10-12), Deryck Guyler, Joy Harington (series 14-16)
Scripts by Eric Sykes unless otherwise specified

* indicates shows which no longer exist

Series 1: BBC 29 January to 26 February 1960
l. Sykes And A Telephone (by Johnny Speight)*
2. Sykes And A Burglary (by Johnny Speight)*
3. Sykes And A New Car (by Johnny Speight)*
4. Sykes And An Uncle (by Johnny Speight)*
5. Sykes And A Lodger (by Johnny Speight)*

Series 2: BBC 11 August to 15 September 1960
l. Sykes And A Movie Camera*
Eric acquires a home movie camera with cigarette coupons and drives everyone crazy with his film-making.
2. Sykes And A Library Book (by John Antrobus)*
Eric has some library books which are twelve years overdue, so to avoid a hefty fine he tries to sneak them back.
3. Sykes And A Holiday (by Spike Milligan)
Mr. Brown arranges a working exchange holiday on the French Riviera for Eric and Hattie, but they end up yearning for their usual Bog-On-Sea.
4. Sykes And An Egg (by Spike Milligan)*
Mr. Brown bets Eric he won’t be able to save money by hatching eggs to get chickens.
5. Sykes And A Brave Deed*
When he returns home drenched after fishing, Hattie assumes Eric is the hero who rescued a girl from drowning.
6. Sykes And A Cheque Book (by John Antrobus)*
Eric needs business references before he can start paying his bills by cheque.

Series 3: BBC 4 January to 8 February 1961
l. Sykes And A Window*
With the Sykes house one of the few not to have had its windows smashed, suspicion falls on Eric.
2. Sykes And A Salesman*
Eric’s attempts at selling encyclopaedias door-to-door meet with little success.
3. Sykes And A Fancy Dress*
Eric and Hattie receive an invitation to Mr. Brown’s fancy dress ball.
4. Sykes And A Bath
With the builders in, Eric is forced to bathe at Mr. Brown’s house. But when he gets his toe stuck in the tap, the entire bath must be removed.
5. Sykes And A Marriage*
After Hattie’s advert in a magazine Lonely Hearts column leads to trouble, she sets her sights on Mr. Brown instead.
6. Sykes And An Ankle
Eric and Hattie are obliged to wait hand and foot on Mr. Brown, who is bedridden with a sprained ankle.

Series 4: BBC 14 April to 19 May 1961
l. Sykes And A Mission*
Eric and Hattie open a soup kitchen for derelicts but things soon get out of hand.
2, Sykes And A Stranger (with Leo McKern)*
The everyday humdrum is upset when a rough sailor turns up on the doorstep seeking Hattie’s hand in marriage.
3. Sykes And A Cat
Eric drops through a skylight when he makes a late night search for Hattie’s kitten Tiddles on a neighbour’s roof.
4. Sykes And A Bandage*
Eric’s trip to pay off his final motor bike instalment is jeopardised when he agrees to help Hattie practise first aid.
5. Sykes And A Suspicion*
Eric disguises himself as a pillar box to spy on a neighbour he believes is acting strangely.
6. Sykes And A Surprise*
Eric & Hattie’s dinner party is thrown into chaos when a car crashes through their front wall.

Series 5: BBC 30 January to 20 March 1962
l. Sykes And A Gamble
Eric is under the impression he’s one of the Mavericks but his constant betting is eating into the housekeeping money.
2. Sykes And A Job
Joining Hattie at work in the local factory, Eric is forced to step up his low washer production rate.
3. Sykes And A Boat
To cure his hypochondria, the doctor has ordered Eric to take a holiday on the water, but practising his nautical technique is driving Hattie crazy.
4. Sykes And A Journey
Eric and Hattie’s trip back to London isn’t helped when they try to exchange their train tickets.
5. Sykes And An Elephant
Aunt Gladys hears the story behind the elephant head on the wall, and how Eric once managed to lose a pachyderm.
6. Sykes And A Rolls
Eric has landed the job of chauffeur to Lady Bangor.
7. Sykes And A Haunting
Eric and Hattie are trapped in a pair of handcuffs found amongst the effects of their late Uncle Edward, the escapologist.
8. Sykes And A Dream
Hopelessly in love with his beautiful lady doctor, Eric dreams of winning her admiration as a variety of dashing, heroic characters.

Christmas Night with the Stars*
BBC 25 December 1962 (95 mins)
Eric and Hattie appeared in a short segment

Series 6: BBC 21 February to 11 April 1963
1. Sykes And A Fog*
After learning he is beneficiary in a will, Eric remembers wandering into another house during a heavy fog.
2. Sykes And A Phobia*
Eric has managed to get his head stuck in the railings of his bed.
3. Sykes And A Camping*
To win a bet with the mailman, Eric spends the night in a tent.
4. Sykes And A Picture
Hattie has misgivings when Eric offers to put up a picture and do a spot of plastering.
5. Sykes And A Mouse*
The Sykes household is host to a rodent and Eric and Hattie have differing views about whether it should be destroyed.
6. Sykes And A Walk
The exercise bug has bitten Eric and now he sees himself as a candidate for the Olympics.
7. Sykes And A Referee*
Eric has been chosen to referee the Sebastopol Rangers football match, and having placed bets on a victorious local team, all his friends expect him to ensure they win.
8. Sykes And A Pub*
Helping friends out for an evening, Eric and Hattie soon find that running a public house is not all beer and skittles.

Series 7: BBC 25 February to 7 April 1964
l. Sykes And A Box
details unknown
2. Sykes And A Plank
After damaging a friend’s floorboard, Eric and Hat fetch a replacement from the timber yard, but manage to lose it in transit.
3. Sykes And A Search*
Eric is determined to locate the Daily Globe’s mystery woman and win a prize.
4. Sykes And A Following
As driver and clippie on the number 136 bus, Eric & Hat provide a service like the airlines.
5. Sykes And A Menace*
Eric is not looking forward to the forthcoming visit of young Amanda Cornbatch.
6. Sykes And A Log Cabin (with Ronnie Barker)
Eric & Hattie find they are sharing their weekend of self-sufficiency at a primitive shack in the country.
7. Sykes And A Band*
A new lodger who is learning to play the cornet takes up residence in the Sykes house.

Series 8: BBC1 30 October to 4 December 1964
1. Sykes And Two Birthdays*
Eric isn’t overjoyed when his sister gives him yet another pen on their birthday.
2. Sykes And A Hypnotist
An evening at a nightclub ends in pandemonium when a cabaret hypnotist leaves his subjects under the influence.
3. Sykes And A Protest*
Hattie is a less-than-enthusiastic supporter when Eric stages a sit-down protest in the street.
4. Sykes And A Bird*
Hattie leaves home when Eric refuses to get rid of his new pet dove.
5. Sykes And A Cold War (with Dick Emery)
A couple in a caravan park are not pleased when Eric and Hattie arrive as neighbours.
6. Sykes And A Gold
Eric has his heart set on an Olympic gold medal.

Series 9: BBC1 5 October to 16 November 1965
1. Sykes And A Mountain*
details unknown
2. Sykes And A Deb*
Hattie finds it incredible that an attractive debutante sees Eric as her ideal man.
3. Sykes And A Business*
Eric and Hattie take charge of a roadside cafe.
4. Sykes And A Golfer (with Peter Alliss)
Driven to distraction by Eric’s golfing obsession, Hattie decides to learn how to play.
5. Sykes And A Big Brother*
Eric sees a drab future for wage-earners like Hattie and him.
6. Sykes And A Uniform
Eric and Hat’s evening excursion to the cinema is thwarted by sundry uniformed officials.
7. Sykes And A Nest Egg*
When Hattie invites her new poor American boyfriend home, Eric hides his money in his telescope.

Christmas Night with the Stars*
BBC1 25 December 1971 (80 mins)
Eric and Hattie appeared in a short segment

(now titled Sykes)

Series 10: BBC1 14 September to 28 December 1972
l. Burglary
Mr. Brown suggests that Sykes hasn’t yet been burgled because he has nothing of value but Eric maintains would-be intruders are deterred by his savage guard dog.
2. Uncle (with John Le Mesurier)
Mr. Brown is appalled by Eric’s behaviour at the golf club punch party, but all is forgiven when he learns the identity of Sykes’ uncle.
3 Walk
Eric has been in training for a fifty mile walk from London to Brighton, the first step in his quest for Olympic team selection.
4. Menace
Due to play host to ten-year-old terror Amanda, Eric prepares for an onslaught of childish pranks.
5. Boat
Mr. Brown allows Eric to take his new boat out on the river, under the impression Sykes is an experienced naval man.
6. Stranger (with Peter Sellers)
The everyday humdrum is upset when a rough sailor turns up on the doorstep seeking Hattie’s hand in marriage.
7. Football (with Joan Sims & Frank Bough)
Eric has been chosen to referee the Sebastopol Rangers football match, and having placed bets on a victorious local team, all his friends expect him to ensure they win.
8. Job (with Jimmy Edwards)
Joining Hattie at work in the local factory, Eric is forced to step up his low washer production rate.
9. Ankle
Eric and Hattie are obliged to wait hand and foot on Mr. Brown, who is bedridden with a sprained ankle.
10. Mouse
The Sykes household is host to a rodent and Eric and Hattie have differing views a6out whether it should be destroyed.
11. Dream
Hopelessly in love with his beautiful lady doctor, Eric dreams of winning her admiration as a daring flying ace, suave playboy, heroic fireman and gun-slinging cowboy.
12. Marriage
After Hattie’s advert in a magazine Lonely Hearts column leads to trouble, she sets her sights on Mr. Brown instead.
13. Cat
Eric drops through a skylight when he makes a late night search for Hattie’s kitten Tiddles on a neighbour’s roof.
14. Journey
Returning home from their Scottish holiday with Mr. Brown, Eric and Hat travel to London on the Glasgow night sleeper.
15. Lodger
Neighbourliness is stretched to its limits when Mr. Brown stays with Eric and Hattie while his house is being decorated.
t6. Cafe
Eric and Hattie take charge a transport cafe, transforming it into a stylish roadhouse. But the customers do not approve of the changes.

Series 11: BBC1 10 September to 17 December 1973
1. An Engagement
The morning after his boozy army reunion, Eric receives a visit from a beautiful young aristocrat who claims to be his new fiancée.
2. Bus
As driver and clippie on the number 266 bus, Eric & Hat provide a service like the airlines.
3. Spy Ring
Eric and Mr. Brown are convinced the new neighbours are Russian spies. They carry out surveillance with Eric hiding in a street pillar box.
4. Golf (with Tony Jacklin)
Driven to distraction by Eric’s golfing obsession, Hattie decides to learn how to play. Soon she is giving expert tips to Tony Jacklin.
5. Rolls
Eric has landed the job of chauffeur to Lady Dorothy, but on the first outing to a church fete he is involved in a crash.
6. Peeping Tom
The mysterious blurred face Hattie has seen from the kitchen window is identified as Eric with his head stuck between the garden railings.
7. Fancy Dress
An invitation to Mr. Brown’s fancy dress ball sees Hattie dressed as a policewoman and Eric as Julius Caesar.
8. Window Smasher (with Joan Sims)
With the Sykes house one of the few not to have had its windows smashed, suspicion falls on Eric. Denying any culpability, he is sent to Coventry by the other residents.
9. Gamble
Gripped by the gambling bug, Eric manages to lose his house to a minor mafioso who transforms it into a casino.
10. Uniform
Eric and Hat’s evening excursion to the cinema is thwarted by sundry uniformed officials.
11. Bird
Hattie leaves home when Eric refuses to get rid of his new pet dove, Muriel. Corky discovers Hat’s disappearance and jumps to conclusions.
12. Protest
Incensed over the plans for a large apartment block across the street, Eric and Hat stage a protest.
13. Salesman
Eric has decided to become a super salesman but initial efforts in his own street are less than encouraging.
14. Haunting
Eric and Hattie are trapped in a pair of handcuffs found amongst the effects of their late Uncle Edward, the escapologist.
15. Nest Egg
When Hattie invites her new poor American boyfriend home, Eric hides his ₤300 nest egg in his telescope.

Series 12: BBC1 17 October to 5 December 1974
l. The Stolen Bentley (with Anthony Steel)
While Eric and Hattie are upstairs preparing for an evening with the golf club president, a motor car crashes into their living room. Then the owner turns up to claim it.
2. Holiday In Bogsea
Whilst at the seaside, Eric and Corky compete in a newspaper ‘Find the Lady’ contest.
3. The Pub
Helping friends out for an evening, Eric and Hattie soon find that running a public house is not all beer and skittles.
4. The Band (with Bernard Bresslaw)
A new lodger who is learning to play the cornet takes up residence in the Sykes house.
5. Two Birthdays
After receiving a dilapidated car as a birthday present from Eric, Hattie sets out to get her driving licence.
6. A Bandage
Eric’s trip to pay off his final motor bike instalment is jeopardised when he agrees to help Hattie practise first aid.
7. Log Cabin
Eric & Hattie find they are sharing their weekend of self-sufficiency at a primitive shack in the country.
8. The Fog
After learning he is beneficiary in a will, Eric remembers wandering into another house during the heavy fogs of 1959.

Series 13: BBC1 24 October to 12 December 1975 (not 21 Nov)
1. Commercial
Eric enrols in a drama school and takes on an agent after appearing in a glue TV advert.
2. Skiing
Whilst on holiday in the Bavarian Alps, Corky bets the locals that Eric can ski down the Olympic Run unscathed.
3. Caravan
A feud erupts between Eric and Corky when they find themselves neighbours iu a country caravan park.
4. Reporter
Newspaper office-boy Eric causes a commotion when he is given the task of interviewing a publicity-shy celebrity.
5. Marriage (with Joan Sims)
Eric wants to go into a working arrangement with Madge from the doughnut shop, but she wants a more intimate partnership.
6. Night Out (with Joan Sims)
When Hattie leaves Eric on his own for a night, he runs into problems with women.
7. Christmas Party
Eric and Hattie spend Christmas at Corky’s with his friends and relations.

Series 14: BBC1 11 November to 30 December 1976
l. Home Movies
Eric runs into trouble with the law when he and Hattie direct Corky in A Day In The Life of a Policeman.
2. Fishing
Eric and Hattie run into trouble with an unexploded mine when they join a disreputable fishing expedition.
3. Lodgers
With his wife coming home from hospital, Corky enlists Eric and Hattie’s help to clean up after his Pakistani lodgers.
4. Holiday Camp
On holiday with the Turnbulls, Eric upsets his camp team-mates by refusing to join in the activities.
5. Inventions
Eric decides to become an inventor.
6. Flashback
Eric recalls his fishing holiday in Inverness which has left him sceptical of the Loch Ness monster’s existence.
7. Squatters (with Roy Dotrice)
Returning home from holidays, Eric & Hattie find a dirty old tramp has taken up residence and looks like he plans to stay.
8. Bath (with Gorden Kaye)
With the builders in, Eric is forced to bathe at the home of his neighbour, Miss Rumbelow. But when he gets his toe stuck in her tap, the entire bath must be removed.

special: BBC1 22 December 1977 (30 mins)
The Christmas Wishes (with Sylvia Peters & Jimmy Edwards)
A Christmas fairy brings Eric his idol, Sylvia Peters. But when Hattie asks for Paul Newman, Jimmy Edwards arrives instead.

Series 15: BBC1 4 January to 8 February 1978
1. The Hypnotist
Corky’s wedding anniversary at the 88 Club ends in pandemonium when a cabaret hypnotist leaves his subjects under the influence.
2. Picket Line
After receiving a ₤43 greengrocer’s bill, Eric organises a mass demonstration to protest about rising prices.
3. Football Match
Determined to take an afternoon off work in order to see the big match, Eric stages a road accident outside his office.
4. Decorating
Corky bets Eric ₤5 that he can’t have a wall papered and a coat rack attached by the time he comes off duty.
5. End of the World (with Joan Sims)
Hattie persuades Eric to join the crowd up on Shepherd’s Hill awaiting the prophesied apocalypse.
6. Television Film (with Hugh Paddick)
A BBC drama producer asks Eric and Hattie for permission to film a play outside their front door.

Series 16: BBC1 5 October to 16 November 1979
l. The Drop Out
A friend’s long-haired nephew comes to stay but seems to be spending all his time in the cellar boiler room.
2. Fanny-By-Gaslight
Worried that Hattie is overworking herself, Eric tricks her into thinking she’s having a breakdown.
3. The Stay-At-Home Holiday
Hattie remembers the time she and Eric lost their luggage prior to setting out on holiday.
4. Bad Medicine
While suffering from a stomach virus, Eric and Hat are prescribed tablets which, they discover, cause a loss of co-ordination.
5. The Insurance Money
Eric and Hattie are hiding in the South of France while the police and the insurance company are under the impression that Eric has been swept out to sea following a cliff-top misadventure.
6. Six Million Dollar Sykes (with John Junkin)
After an altercation in the pub with Billy Big Knuckle, Eric dreams he’s been taken to hospital and rebuilt with mechanical parts.
7. BBC Honours Sykes (with Henry McGee & Les Dawson)
After twenty years of shows, Eric and Hattie are granted an audience with the head of the BBC.

Other series and specials

Dress Rehearsal (BBC)
31 March 1956 (60 mins)

Opening Night (BBC)
22 August 1956 (60 mins)

Eric Sykes Presents Peter Sellers (ATV)
5 and 12 January 1957 (2 x 45 mins)

Closing Night (BBC)
7 September 1957 (60 mins)

Val Parnell’s Saturday Spectacular (ATV)
various editions in 1957 and 1958

Gala Opening (BBC)
7 March 1959 (60 mins)

Eric Sykes Says Wish You Were Here (BBC)
Switzerland/Stockholm (17 August and 7 September 1963)

Big Bad Mouse (BBC1)
12 December 1966 (40 mins)

Sykes Versus ITV* (ABC)
26 November 1967 (60 mins)

Curry And Chips (LWT)
21 November to 26 December 1969 (6 x 30 mins)
with Spike Milligan, Kenny Lynch, Norman Rossington

Sykes And A Big, Big Show (BBC l)
26 February to 2 April 1971 (6 x 30mins)
Shipwreck*
Concorde *
Guest
Submarine *
Western*
Britain’s First Moon Shot*
with Hattie Jacques and Ian Wallace

Sykes – With the Lid Off (Thames)
7 July 1971 (60 mins)

Big Bad Mouse (Thames)
26 December 1972 (90 mins)

The Eric Sykes Show (A Few Of Our Favourite Things) (Thames)
8 June 1977 (60 mins)

Charley’s Aunt (Yorkshire)
29 December 1977 (75 mins)

Eric Sykes Special (Thames)
31 December 1978 (60 mins)

The Plank (Thames)
17 December 1979 (30 mins)

The Likes Of Sykes (Thames)
1 January 1980 (60 mins)

Rhubarb Rhubarb! (Thames)
15 December 1980 (30 mins)

If You Go Down in the Woods Today (Thames)
29 April 1981 (75 mins)

Eric Sykes – One Of The Great Troupers (BBC2)
10 December 1981

The Eric Sykes 1990 Show (Thames)
14 April 1982 (60 mins)

It’s Your Move (Thames)
18 October 1982 (30 mins)

Mr. H is Late (Thames)
15 February 1988 (30 mins)

The Nineteenth Hole (Central)
5 June to 17 July 1989 (7 x 30 mins)
with John Quayle, Garfield Morgan, Ronnie Brody

The Big Freeze (Finnish TV)
1993 (48 mins)

Celebrations:

Heroes of Comedy
CH4 October 9 1999

Arena: Sykes and A Day
BBC2 December 25 2001

The South Bank Show: Eric Sykes
ITV September 18 2005

 

Radio

It’s A Fair Cop
BBC Light Programme 22 May to 10 July 1961 (8 x 30 mins)
Starring Eric Sykes, Hattie Jacques, Deryck Guyler, Leonard Williams, Dick Emery
Scripts by John Junkin and Terry Nation

Starring Leslie Willey
BBC Radio 4 daily December 29 1987 to January 3 1988
with Leslie Phillips, Eric Sykes, Angela Douglas, Moira Lister, John Graham

Eric At 80 – celebration of Eric Sykes
BBC Radio 4 May 6 2003

 

Recordings

Doctor Kildare/Bedtime Story
Decca 7″ single Y7092

Eric and Hattie And Things!!!!!
Decca LP LK 4507 (1962)
Doctor, Kildare
At Home
Cockles And Mussels
Penny Forum
Au Clair De La Lune
I Love Paris
Interview
Bedtime Story
We Go Together
Many Happy Returns

Sykes And …
BBC Radio Collection double cassette ZBBC 1873 (1996)
features edited soundtracks of four episodes:
A Lodger (10/15)
A Spy Ring (11/3)
An Engagenent (11/1)
A Nest Egg (11/15)

 

Films

1954: Orders Are Orders
1956: Charley Moon
1959: Tommy the Toreador
1960: Watch Your Stern
1961: Very Important Person,
Invasion Quartet
1962: Village Of Daughters,
Kill or Cure
1963: Heavens Above!
1964: The Bargee,
One Way Pendulum
1965: Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines,
Rotten To the Core,
The Liquidator
1966: The Spy with a Cold Nose
1967: The Plank (short)
1968: Shalako
1969: Monte Carlo or Bust!
1970: Rhubarb (short)
1972: The Alf Garnett Saga
1973: Theatre Of Blood
1983: The Boys in Blue
1984: Gabrielle and the Doodleman (TV)
1986: Absolute Beginners
1993: Splitting Heirs

 

Videos

Sykes
BBC Video BBCV 7021 (1984)
Golf (11/4)
Stranger (10/6)
Squatters (14/7)

Comedy Classics of the 60’s
Watershed Video WSP 1054 (1991)
includes an extract from
Sykes And A Cat (4/3)

Sykes and a Bath
BBC Video BBCV 4815 (1992)
Sykes And A Bath (3/4)
Sykes And An Ankle (3/6)
Sykes And A Haunting (5/7)

The Golden Years of TV Comedy 1975
BBC Video BBCV 5785 (1996)
includes Skiing (13/2)

British Comedy Legends – The Very Best of Eric Sykes
Pearson New Entertainment Video PNV 1023 (1996)
features clips from Sykes and other shows

Comedy Greats – Eric Sykes
BBC Video BBCV 6936 (2000)
an edited version of BBC Honours Sykes (16/7) (with excerpts from earlier episodes)
plus Sykes And A Plank (7 12)
and a few Sykes outtakes

The Plank
Rank Video RCC 3072
the cinematic production (with Tommy Cooper)

Eric Sykes Silent Comedy Classics
Thames Video TV 8126
contains Thames television productions of
The Plank
Rhubarb Rhubarb
It’s Your Move
Mr. H Is Late

Such Is Sykes
Thames Video TV 8138 (1991)
contains The Eric Sykes 1990 Show

How to Cheat At Golf
IIc Video SWV 0010 (1991)

The Plank/Rhubarb Rhubarb
Thames Video TV 9950
the Thames television productions

It’s Your Move/Mr. H is Late
Thames Video TV 9992

The Big Freeze
Quantum Leap Video QLG 5047

 

DVDs

Sykes
BBC 3DVD
all 16 episodes of the 1972 series

The Best of Eric Sykes
BBC DVD
reissue of Comedy Greats video

The Eric Sykes Collection
Umbrella DVD
The Plank
Rhubarb, Rhubarb
It’s Your Move
Mr. H is Late
The Big Freeze

The Plank (movie version)
Carlton/Showtime DVD

 

Books

Eric Sykes of Sebastopol Terrace
by Eric Sykes (M & J. Hobbs/Michael Joseph 1981)
novelisations of TV episodes, with chapter titles:
Postmen (from Uniform)
Circumstantial Evidence (Bird)
Burglary
The Vicar
The End Is Nigh (End of the World)
The Football Match
Mr. Brown
The Last Bus Home (from Uniform)
The Last Time I Saw Bogsea (Holiday In Bogsea)
The Marriage

The Great Crime of Grapplewick
by Eric Sykes (Macmillan 1984)

UFOs Are Coming Wednesday
by Eric Sykes (Virgin 1995)

Smelling of Roses
by Eric Sykes (Virgin 1997)

Eric Sykes’ Comedy Heroes
by Eric Sykes (Virgin, 2003)

If I Don’t Write It, Nobody Else Will – an Autobiography
bt Eric Sykes (Fourth Estate, 2005)

Thanks to Peter Tatchell and Brian Allanson for their assistance in the preparation of this profile.

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