Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Sykes and an Autobiography

Have just learnt that Eric Sykes has died. This is my 2005 review of his autobiography. The above image comes, I  presume, from Very Important Person: not a big role, but a pleasing one.

Given his contribution to postwar British comedy - writing for the Goons and developing Frankie Howerd's comic persona being the least of it - Eric Sykes is entitled to write his memoirs any way he pleases, and the result is a warm book, rich with anecdotes: according to this, the real-life Sykes has had about as many mishaps as his screen persona.

It has to be said, however, that the book is thinner (if that's what you're looking for) on comic (or personal) analysis, but perhaps that's appropriate: he once talked in an interview of having to reassure a puzzled and angry Tommy Cooper that he shouldn't try to pull apart his gift but simply be grateful; and as Sykes has, in any case, already written elsewhere about his own comedy heroes, it's not too difficult to sit back and accept this book for what it is. What comes over when watching the Sykes sitcom is the warmth of the perormers and that is faithfully conveyed here.

Read Graham McCann's biography of Frankie Howerd if you want a more detailed account of the innovation that Sykes' scripts represented, or try David Nathan's The Laughtermakers (long out of print) for material about Sykes. Or just watch The Plank (with Sykes and the instinctive Cooper) and marvel - probably the wisest course of action.

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