Sunday 15 November 2015

The Wonderful World of Sebastopol Terrace

In the first of a series of blogging re-posts this week, here is a blog from earlier in the Summer where I sing the praises of Eric Sykes' classic 1960s and 70s television situation comedy, Sykes.

I would like to begin a series of blogs looking at the long running sitcom roles taken on by some of our favourite Carry On actors. Many of the Carry On team were incredibly prolific television comedy actors and managed to fit in series on television with their annual trips to Pinewood to rejoin the Carry On team.

One of my all time favourite British situation comedy is the BBC series Sykes, which starred the wonderful and much-missed comedy genius Eric Sykes. Playing his twin sister in the series was Carry On regular Hattie Jacques. Eric and Hattie enjoyed a wonderful working relationship and had superb shared chemistry and comic timing. Sykes ran first of all from 1960 until 1965 and then returned, in colour, from 1972 until 1979. No doubt the series would have continued had it not been for Hattie's sad death in October 1980.

The premise of Sykes was quite simple. It was all about the lives of Eric and Hat, who lived at Sebastopol Terrace in Acton, London. On the surface it was just another domestic sitcom, however the writing frequently surreal and fairly wacky and the unexpected often happened! Eric was always the outlandish, stubborn, accident prone character the action and plot tended to focus on while Hattie was the sensible, patient, clever sister who smoothed things over.

Eric and Hattie were joined for many of the episodes by some regular co-stars. Richard Wattis, a wonderful light comedy actor, played their snobbish neighbour, Mr Brown, while Please Sir favourite Deryck Guyler played local policeman Corky. Joan Sims also made several appearances as Eric's love interest Madge, who ran the local bakery and kept Eric in constant supply of doughnuts!

Interestingly, and probably unlike many other comedy series, over forty of the episodes produced when the show returned in the 1970s were remakes of scripts broadcast during the original run of the series in the early 1960s! It didn't really matter though as so many of Eric's legendary scripts were instant classics and audiences loved them.

Sykes featured many wonderful supporting actors during the years. Peter Sellers appeared as an escaped convict in the classic 1972 episode Stranger. Other guest stars included Hattie's ex-husband John Le Mesurier, Roy Kinnear, Bernard Bresslaw, Sheila Steafel, Jimmy Edwards, Les Dawson, Dinah Sheridan, Joan Hickson, Chic Murray and Graham Stark.

What I loved most of all about Sykes was that the scripts hardly ever focused on Hattie's weight. In Sykes, Hattie was graceful, funny, warm and supportive. The shows frequently showcased Hattie's abilities as a wonderfully talented comic actress. Eric and Hattie enjoyed a wonderful partnership on stage and screen lasting many years and you could tell they got on well together. Eric often told the story of when he first saw Hattie, performing at The Players Theatre in London. She was delivering a typically robust music hall number and at the end of the routine she went into the splits and earned a huge round of applause. Apparently Eric was dumbstruck and new he had to meet and work with her. And who can blame him?

I loved so many of the classic Sykes episodes. The scenarios have often been repeated since, but they were the masters. Whether it be Eric, with his big toe stuck in the bath tap, Hattie and her ongoing conversations with Peter, who lived in the cuckoo clock or Eric's ongoing arguments with pompous Mr Brown, the series presented many surreal situations which allowed the combined genius of Eric Sykes and Hattie Jacques to flourish. 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan 

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