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Sykes and a... (1960-65)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Sykes and a... (1960-65)
BBC/BBC1, tx. 29/1/1960-16/11/1965
60 x 30min eps in 9 series, black & white
ProducersDennis Main Wilson
 Sydney Lotterby
 Philip Barker
WritersEric Sykes
 Johnny Speight
 John Antrobus
 Spike Milligan

Cast: Eric Sykes (Eric); Hattie Jacques (Hattie); Richard Wattis (Charles Brown); Deryck Guyler (PC Wilfred 'Corky' Turnbull)

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Far-from-identical twin siblings Eric and Hattie find themselves in a succession of extraordinary situations.

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Eric Sykes and Hattie Jacques had worked together several times during the 1950s, including on The Tony Hancock Show (ITV, 1956), but it was only with their comic misadventures at 24 Sebastopol Terrace in Sykes and a... that they became embedded in the public mind as a priceless comic partnership.

It was Johnny Speight who first put the two together in a situation comedy when he submitted a script to the BBC with the pair as a married couple. Sykes, however, viewed the conception of a husband and wife partnership as not only too familiar a sitcom formula, but also one that was too restrictive for further development. Consequently, the characters were changed to brother and sister, and thus television's most improbable twins were born.

Jacques described her and Sykes' characters as dreamers in an innocent world who would be lost in the real one: Eric the ineffectual, accident-prone Everyman, whose every scheme and undertaking ends in disaster, and the perpetually bemused, child-like 'Hat' (sometimes Harriet, but rarely Hattie), who greets every new demonstration of her brother's ineptitude with the despairing cry, 'Oh, Eric'.

Hat's frequent exasperation with Eric was shared by the other recurring characters, local bobby on the beat Corky and, with eyes invariably raised heavenward at Eric's behaviour, next-door neighbour Mr Brown.

While the characters occasionally ventured into the outside world - working in a factory in 'Sykes and a Job' (tx. 6/2/1962), or being benighted in Bavaria in 'Sykes and a Mountain' (tx. 5/10/1965) - the majority of episodes revolved around more mundane sounding domestic situations: Eric getting a big toe stuck in a tap in Sykes and a Bath (tx. 25/1/1961), Eric and Hat's rubbish blowing into the garden of Mr Brown in 'Sykes and an Ankle' (tx. 8/2/1961), or Eric trying to catch a mouse in 'Sykes and a Mouse' (tx. 21/3/1963).

Such was the pair's popularity that they returned after a seven-year break in a further series, Sykes (BBC, 1972-79), with the siblings now having gone up in the world - or at least to house number 28 in the same terrace. Of these later 67 episodes, 43 were reworked from ones originally transmitted in the earlier series. But life in Sebastopol Terrace would have been unthinkable without Hat, and with the death of Jacques on 6 October 1980, Sykes decided that the series should quietly die with her.

John Oliver

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Video Clips
1. Emergency call (1:50)
2. Table manners (2:27)
3. Fares please (1:33)
Complete episode: 'Sykes and a Haunting' (26:10)
Jacques, Hattie (1922-1980)
Milligan, Spike (1918-2002)
Speight, Johnny (1920-1998)
Sykes, Eric (1923-2012)
Wilson, Dennis Main (1924-1997)