Eric Sykes, one of the most endearing and popular comic actors of his generation, died today aged 89 after a short illness.
His manager, Norma Farnes, said: "Eric Sykes, 89, star of TV, stage and films died peacefully this morning after a short illness. His family were with him."
In wide-ranging career, he will probably be remembered best for his long-running and widely acclaimed Sykes And A... TV series with Hattie Jacques.
Eric Sykes died aged 89 after a short illness
Sykes was still appearing on the West End stage into his '80s, even though he became almost totally deaf and nearly blind. But he was much more than an actor. He was also a hugely successful comedy scriptwriter of enormous talent, energy and imagination - writing for stars including Peter Sellers, Frankie Howerd and Stanley Unwin - as well as a novelist, a film director and a producer.
His humour was always gentle and warm-hearted. He invariably steered away from smut and had little to say in favour of the modern 'alternative' comedians, whose bawdy repertoire entirely failed to appeal to him.
Sykes on BBC radio programme "One Minute Please" in 1957
Sykes was born in Oldham in 1923 and served as a wireless operator in the Mobile Signals Unit, Royal Air Force, from 1941 until after the end of the Second World War. Like many comics of his generation, he was introduced to showbusiness during his wartime service. On demob, he tried to forge a career in comedy, but found very little work. Luckily he met Flight Lieutenant Bill Fraser, a friend from his RAF days, who was enjoying some success on the London stage.
Fraser asked Sykes to write some scripts for him and before long Sykes found himself in huge demand as a showbusiness writer. He was soon writing for hit BBC radio shows, like Educating Archie and Variety Bandbox. Then he became one of TV's first fledgling scriptwriters and appeared in a number of TV variety shows, including the 1955 spoof Pantomania, as well as starting to write scripts for The Goon Show. He co-wrote 24 episodes with Spike Milligan.
During his collaboration with Hattie Jacques, which lasted until shortly before her death in 1980, Sykes was involved in a number of other projects, including a controversial comedy show called Curry And Chips, in which he played opposite a blacked-up Milligan. He also wrote, directed and starred in the silent film The Plank (see clips below), which is now regarded as a classic.
Sykes getting congratulated by singer Max Bygravesand scriptwriter Johnny Speight, after being granted the Freedom of the City of London in 1988
It was relatively early in life that he was afflicted by deafness, but that disability seemed to have little effect on either the quality or quantity of his work. Sykes didn't let age interfere with his work ,either. Even though he was approaching 80, he starred with Nicole Kidman in the acclaimed movie The Others, and also starred in the hilarious West End farce Caught In The Net in which, despite his years and his increasing blindness, he played an immensely active role.
Before all that, Sykes had starred in scores of West End hits and was eagerly sought after by top-flight casting directors. Other films in which he appeared or wrote or both, included Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (1965), Monte Carlo Or Bust (1969), Boys In Blue (1982), and Splitting Heirs (1993). He also had two novels published in the late 1990s - The Great Crime Of Grapplewick and Smelling Of Roses.
Whenever he was asked when he was going to retire from work, Sykes invariably replied that he enjoyed doing what he did so much that he did not regard it as work at all.
In 1952, he married Eith Eleanore Milbrandt, with whom he had one son and three daughters. He was awarded an OBE in 1986.
Take a look at some classic Eric Sykes clips - including The Plank:
Stars and fans pay tribute to Sykes on Twitter: