* Eric Sykes, beloved British comedian, dies
* Aged 89, his career spanned more than 50 years
(Adds more details, quotes, background)
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON, July 4 Eric Sykes, one of Britain's
best-loved comedians who forged a career in entertainment by
writing for others, has died, his manager said on Wednesday. He
In a career spanning over 50 years he was a regular
collaborator on the popular 1950s radio comedy programme "The
Goon Show" and became a leading personality after starring in
his own television series, "Sykes and a..." in the 1960s.
"Eric Sykes, 89, star of television, stage and film, died
peacefully this morning after a short illness," his manager
Norma Farnes told Reuters. "His family were with him."
Sykes was born in Oldham, northern England, in 1923, and was
introduced to showbusiness while serving as a wireless operator
in the Royal Air Force.
A chance meeting with wartime friend and actor Bill Fraser
in 1940s London led to a breakthrough in comedy writing and his
collaboration with comedian Frankie Howerd on the successful
radio show "Variety Bandbox".
Further radio work followed for Sykes, including the
groundbreaking 1950s Goon Show - partly to ease the workload of
its co-creator Spike Milligan.
His early television projects included "The Howerd Crowd"
and "The Tony Hancock Show", but his big breakthrough came in
1960 with the launch of "Sykes and a..." in which he starred
alongside Hatti Jacques in a brother-sister act that struck a
chord with viewers and attracted huge TV audiences.
Sykes took on a variety of supporting roles in feature films
including "Heavens Above!" (1963), "Those Magnificent Men In
Their Flying Machines" (1965) and "The Spy With A Cold Nose"
But he is best remembered by many for a virtually
dialogue-free film called "The Plank" (1967) in which he and
Tommy Cooper appeared as two workmen delivering planks to a
Two years later he starred alongside Milligan in "Curry and
Chips", a controversial sitcom that was criticised for being
racist and taken off the air after only six episodes.
Co-creator Johnny Speight defended the series, saying it was
specifically designed to highlight discrimination in society.
Sykes' television career subsequently faded, but he was
still appearing on the stage well into his 70s, including in
Alan Bennett's "Kafka's Dick".
His enduring success was all the more remarkable because he
was almost totally deaf since his early 30s and blind from the
He is widely credited with introducing an offbeat tone to
mainstream British comedy, and recalls a gentler age of humour
that has been overshadowed by more aggressive, controversial
"I'm proud of being a vaudevillian, the last of my line," he
once said. "A lot of people think my entertainment is
candy-floss. Well, entertainment is too aggressive these days,
all in your face."
Actor Bernard Cribbins, who starred in a remake of The
Plank, said Sykes would be sadly missed.
"I just wish him a lot of rest up there with all the other
comics, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe," he added in remarks
to British media. "They will all be up there, having a laugh
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)