Look At It This Way - July 6, 2012

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IN years to come, when I’m sat in a wingback chair in Dunwritin’ Rest Home for Retired Gentle Journalists, I shall dust off my memories and watch them sparkle in my mind’s eye.

I’m not talking about love or family or friendship but days that start out as any other and turn into something that shines and endures.

One of those golden days was spent in the company of the late Les Dawson and now late Eric Sykes, pictured inset.

Sykes is dead. The world’s the poorer for it. The youngsters may not remember him (wasn’t he in Harry Potter? The Others?) but here was one of comedy’s greats, an actor, innovator, director, up there with the Goons and Milligan and Monty Python – but with a gentle edge to his humour. The kids won’t get what the fuss is all about because they weren’t watching at the time.

Sykes was of his time.

The fact that he was trapped there and barely got a break to show his worth in later life is our loss. It’s also one of the reasons why I turn off when so-called sitcoms come on today.

They are not funny. They are often cruel. They laud the likes of Gervais when it might be better to be more humane. Sykes had that gift of humanity in humour. He knew comedy worked best when it featured pathos. He was of the generation that gave us Dad’s Army which pricked pomposity, and Steptoe and Son which made us cringe in sympathy. No wonder he could be barbed about the new generation of comedians, cock a snook at the snide, and be just a little bitter about those who kept him off the box.

But he never sniped at ordinary people who smiled simply to see him. Sykes was The Artist long before the film of the name revived the genre. His silent films were screamingly funny.

They were born of the innocence of Buster Keaton, had the appeal of Benny Hill minus the smut, and helped spawn the likes of Mr Bean.

And Eric – never knighted, comedians always trailing hoofers, singers and sportsmen in the honours list – never lost his love of making others laugh. He approached it with great purpose. The first time we met was at the Grand, in his dressing room, Eric, increasingly deaf, awaiting his cue to go on stage in Run for Your Wife with Dawson. He had little time and less inclination for an interview.

Les came to my aid. Join us for a game of golf, he said, it’s the only time Eric relaxes. He was right; the day was joyous. We were at Fairhaven, the most beautiful course on the Fylde, on a gloriously sunny day, two of Britain’s best comedians teeing off and tee-heeing off.

I never got my interview. I barely got a word in. I was laughing so much. Instead I walked at the side of two giants of comedy and enjoyed their line of play.

Both cast a long shadow to this day. And you need sun to cast a shadow. Sykes shone...