As seen on The Late Great Eric Sykes, three days before he died in the summer, aged 86, Eric Sykes told his agent Norma Farnes that what he'd like more than anything would be the chance to pop into Orme Court one last time.
This was his office in London's Bayswater, and having been fortunate enough to share an hour in his company there, I knew what the place meant to him. In the 1960s it had been a fun factory, with top gagsmiths firing jokes at each other across the hallway. Comedy was a serious business for these guys with Sykes and Spike Milligan failing to agree where to position a "the" for maximum laughs and the latter settling the matter with a lobbed paperweight.
When I visited Orme Court, I noticed that Milligan, who had been dead three years, still had a pigeon-hole and what's more he had mail. I hope Sykes' pigeon-hole remains active although he's pretty much the last of his generation. Almost all his associates featured in The Late Great Eric Sykes, including Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd, Peter Sellers and regular co-stars Hattie Jacques and Derek Guyler, are gone. Guyler played Corky, the bumbling bobby, and typically Corky would say "Hello, hello, what's all this then?" and Eric would say "Don't come dashing in here like Starsky and Hutch!" He was being ironic, of course. No one did any dashing in Sykes' comedy.
Farnes took us on a tour of the office, which seems to have been left untouched. Sykes fired his gags from a big Sherman tank of a desk. There was the cupboard where he kept his cigars, latterly just for sniffing. And there was the photograph of his mother. She died giving birth to him, at least this was what he was told, and he bore much guilt for that. But she was his inspiration. In a clip from an old interview he said: "When I'm in trouble or a bit down I've only got to think of her." The photo's position in direct eyeline from the Sherman was deliberate. "Eric was absolutely certain that she guarded and guided him," said Farnes.
Sykes didn't have a catchphrase and his style wasn't loud or look-at-me. His heroes were Laurel and Hardy who no one mentions anymore, which seems to be the fate of practitioners of gentle comedy (notwithstanding that with Stan and Ollie or Eric around, there was a high probability of being hit on the head with a plank). Denis Norden, one of the few old chums not yet potted heid, described him as diffident, and not surprisingly it was the gentle comedians of today who queued up to sing his praises (no sign of Frankie Boyle). Eddie Izzard rhapsodised about him getting a big toe stuck in a bath-tap; Michael Palin said: "He just did the things you'd see your dad do, or someone in a garage." And right at the end Farnes recalled Eric's reaction to the dramatic revelation that his mother had actually hung on for a week after he was born: "So she did hold me!"Aidan Smith, The Scotsman, 4th November 2012
As this enjoyably straightforward documentary made clear, Sykes possessed a rare talent as both a fastidious wordsmith and a natural slapstick prankster.Ceri Radford, The Telegraph, 3rd November 2012
Despite his fame and success, it's not difficult to cast Eric Sykes - who died earlier this year at the age of 89 - as the unsung hero of post-war British comedy. Unlike his sometime cohorts Tony Hancock and Spike Milligan, he was never wholly taken to the nation's bosom. There are no stories, as there are of Hancock's Half Hour, of the pubs clearing as everyone rushed home to catch his latest show. But none of this is to disparage a brilliant, raging comic mind that contributed to the Goon Show scripts, wrote for Hancock and developed his own TV show Sykes: a twisted kaleidoscope of '70s suburbia that ran from '72-'79 and pitched him against the formidable Hattie Jacques. Forming the basis for BBC2's Eric evening, The Late Great Eric Sykes promises contributions from Eddie Izzard, Russ Abbot, Michael Palin and Bruce Forsyth, with a screening of a classic Sykes episode and a 2001 Arena profile rounding things up. So pull up the floorboards and have your rhubarb at the ready!Adam Lee Davies, Time Out, 3rd November 2012
Sykes, who died in July aged 89, was a master at teasing big laughs from unpromising material: a plank, a missing cat, fishing... And he was steeped in comedy greatness, writing for Hancock and Howerd, and collaborating with Spike Milligan on The Goon Show.
But it's for his TV sitcoms (Sykes and a... in the 60s, just plain Sykes in the 70s), that he's probably best remembered. He, Hattie Jacques as sister Hat and Deryck Guyler as local policeman Corky, made a formidable, beloved trio.
This tribute to Eric Sykes, one of Britain's best-loved comedy actors and writers, who died in July, forms an evening of programmes dedicated to the man. An episode from series seven of his sitcom Sykes - in which the lofty Eric and the cuddly Hattie Jacques played an unlikely pair of oddly sexless twins, leading fanciful lives in Sebastopol Terrace, Acton - follows at 10.30pm, plus a repeat of an Arena documentary at 10.55pm.
The comedy writer and actor had a career in film, TV and radio that spanned more than 50 years, and saw him work with Tony Hancock, among many others. Sykes was part of a new wave of comedy and was catapulted to fame in the postwar years when hit shows such as Variety Bandbox and Educating Archie made him the highest-paid comedy writer in the country. His popularity continued as he became one of the brains behind The Goons and Sykes ran for a further 20 years. Comedians Eddie Izzard and Russ Abbot, Monty Python star Michael Palin, entertainer Bruce Forsyth and film director Mike Newell are just some of the celebrities paying their respects to a man whose comic influence will continue to be felt for many years to come.Rachel Ward, The Telegraph, 2nd November 2012