Eric SYKES (1923-2012)
Eric began his career in radio, with many credits as a writer and actor in the 1950s, most notably through his collaboration on The Goon Show scripts.
He became a TV star in his own right in the early 1960s, when he appeared with Hattie Jacques in several popular BBC comedy television series.
“Is this a joke? I could have been wearing a sweat-shirt!”
Eric Sykes recalls his experience of This Is Your Life in his autobiography, If I Don't Write It, Nobody Else Will...
‘You can’t go to London like that.’ said Edith one day.
This should have rung the alarm bells. I often went to London dressed casually.
I had a meeting with Paul Elliott, who was managing my affairs at that time, and Philip Jones, Head of Light Entertainment at Thames Television.
‘Why don’t you wear a suit?’ Edith went on.
Edith had never before concerned herself with my appearance. I thought for a moment that perhaps they wanted to take me out to dinner to discuss a new project, but I was already changed before another thought troubled me: our meeting was scheduled for three o’clock – too late for lunch and much too early for dinner.
I met Paul in London and we walked round Piccadilly, up Shaftesbury Avenue and up Dean Street, turning left and eventually found ourselves back in Piccadilly. His conversation was more of a monologue – his favourite dream of running out on to the pitch at Wembley as captain of the England team, how many pantomimes he was organising for next year. He even pointed out the theatre where his wife was appearing. I’d never heard Paul trot out such inanities and I was just about to suggest he visit a doctor when I spotted Philip Jones approaching. Gone was the languid stroll; we were now marching purposefully. We stopped outside the front of the New London Theatre and Paul asked me if I’d got a comb.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked.
‘It’s just a press interview,’ said Paul.
I still couldn’t understand all the secrecy surrounding something that everybody seemed to know about except me. I was soon to be enlightened. As they pushed me through the door, I was greeted by Eamonn Andrews, holding a large red book. ‘Eric Sykes, this is your life.’
The theatre was packed and applauding and I was in what is known as a quandary. I had warned the producer, Jacko, an old friend of mine, that if he ever tricked me into being the subject for the show I’d walk off, leaving a dozen new laid on his face.
I had to think quickly, but nothing upstairs was working; I was in several minds. I half turned, but Paul and Philip, standing shoulder to shoulder, cut off that escape route. Then I thought of all the people – family and friends – round the back who had taken the trouble to come and support me. Eamonn was getting nervous, having seen the indecision on my face. Accepting defeat, I walked down the aisle and up on to the stage, and as soon as I was seated Eamonn proclaimed, ‘And here is your wife, Edith.’
She made an entrance and we embraced. She was trembling slightly, unused to the limelight.
Then Eamonn introduced the rest of the family – Kathy, Susan, Julie and David – and they all trooped on. Edith trying not to look at me – oh, the devious ways of women! But as they sat by me, I was so proud of them all: the girls stunning and David, a broth of a lad, and had the show ended there I would have been satisfied. But there was more to come: Bill Fraser, Tommy Cooper with a plank over his shoulders, Frankie Howerd with a chip on his, Max Bygraves, Spike Milligan, Johnny Speight, Harry Secombe, good grief, surely our half-hour was up.
Then Zsa Zsa Gabor from Las Vegas dropped in to say nice things about me. A heart-warming surprise came as Bobby Hall was introduced, a pal from Oldham I hadn’t seen since before the war. At last my darling television sister Hattie was there – in fact my Life wouldn’t have been the same without her. What a fitting way to end the programme. But there was more. Dear old Terry-Thomas, pushed on in a wheelchair, had taken the trouble to make my day, although he was a very sick man. There was enough talent on the stage to supply three Royal Command Performances.
To steady the ship my elder brother Vernon and his wife Eve were introduced followed by my younger brother John and his wife Irene. The show had been running almost an hour and still they came: Peter Brough and Archie Andrews, Johnny Speight and, to my delight, Douglas Bader. Talk about my cup overflowing, next on was Tony Jacklin, the British and US Open golf champion in the same year, and my extra special guitarist John Williams.
Jimmy Edwards filled an already overcrowded stage and to close the bill, the icing on the cake, my old mate Sean Connery, having flown in from somewhere or other, made a short speech describing me as a character I am still endeavouring to live up to.
All in all, I had to admit it was a very emotional day and I thanked Paul Elliott and Phillip Jones for one of the most exciting and yet in a strange way humbling experiences of my life.
Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls the experience of this particular edition of This Is Your Life in his book This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...
For the Life team, Sean Connery had always proved more elusive then his 007 James Bond character. He is an actor who has always jealously guarded his privacy, as is his right. This does not necessarily mean that one day we might not prove more successful than SMERSH.
Amazingly, when his agents were approached about a possible appearance on the Life of Oldham-born comedy actor and writer Eric Sykes, there was only a slight delay before a call saying Mr Connery would appear live on the tribute from our television theatre. What's more, he arrived early when he heard Zsa Zsa Gabor was on the show - he wanted to meet her for the first time. The embrace in the Green Room would have done justice to a Bond movie.
About his long-time golfing partner Eric, Connery said he had enjoyed some of the best times in his life in Eric's company: 'Generous, just, talented, passionate and the best of men.'
Connery joined a comedy Hall of Fame on that show: Jimmy Edwards, Harry Secombe, Spike Milligan, Max Bygraves, Terry-Thomas and Tommy Cooper. Spike had to dab away tears of laughter as Tommy entered carrying a plank (he had appeared with Eric in The Plank on TV) and, despite the suspicion of a libation or three, proceeded to take over the show.
Once Tommy had the audience in the palm of his hand, he couldn't stop, and overran his allotted spot so much that Eamonn Andrews gave up the ghost and, for the first time ever, took a seat with the rest of the guests to crease up laughing with them.
on the guest list...