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Eric Sykes, gentleman of comedy, dies
Eric Sykes, who has died aged 89, was a comedian, TV star, novelist, film director - and a true gentleman of comedy, embodied the great theatrical belief that the 'show must go on'.
Sykes, who has died at the age of 89, was still hugely popular in the last decade of his distinguished life, continuing to appear on the West End stage, even though he was almost totally deaf and nearly blind following a stroke and heart bypass surgery. He achieved nationwide fame for his long-running and acclaimed series Sykes And A . . . with Hattie Jacques, which started in 1960 and ran, in spells, until 1979, having involved more than 125 shows.
But Sykes, noted for his cigar-smoking and thick-rimmed spectacles, was multi-talented - a comedian, actor, novelist, film director and producer. He wrote for some of the great comedians of the 20th century, including Peter Sellers, Tony Hancock, Frankie Howerd and Stanley Unwin. He also co-wrote scripts for The Goon Show with Spike Milligan.
His partnership with Hattie Jacques was one of the most satisfying of his career and he was deeply troubled by a TV drama about her which he believed was "raking over" private parts of her life. He preferred to remember her as a great co-star, adding: "Hat wasn't a small lady, but her size was never mentioned in our scripts. She trained as a ballet dancer and was incredibly agile."
His own private life was said to be contented. On 14 February 1952 he married Edith Eleanore Milbrandt, with whom he had a son called David and three daughters, Catherine, Julie and Susan.
His humour was gentle and witty, as for example in his joke: "I had lunch with a chess champion the other day. I knew he was a chess champion because it took him 20 minutes to pass the salt.”
One of his most memorable works was the 1979 (it was 1967 and not completely silent, just no real dialogue. EW) silent film The Plank, a gem of a slapstick comedy for which he won The Golden Rose of Montreux and which starred his comedy hero Tommy Cooper. Bernard Cribbens, who starred in The Plank, said today: "He will be very sadly missed. I just wish him a lot of rest up there with all the other comics, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe. They will all be up there, having a laugh together. Eric was a very, very good writer, not only for himself but for other people as well. There was a strange, quirky, off-beat quality to his writing."