My friend, Pete Bigg, who accompanied me that day, was recalling on Facebook yesterday, how – knowing that Eric was stone deaf, 'we giggled our way to some hotel room, in the expectation that we'd be knocking at a door that was never answered.'
In the event, the door was opened by someone else. Eric shook our hands and then delivered what Pete rightly refers to as 'an immortal line':
"Hold on, let me find my glasses, then I can hear you!"
Actually, this was both joke and no-joke because Eric wore spectacles with built-in hearing aids; but – and, this I did not know at the time – they were just frames with no lenses.
Following one of my questions – probably a tad too long and possibly a mite too pretentious – Eric thoughtfully removed his specs, took out a handkerchief and 'cleaned' the lenses before passing it through one of the eye apertures and pulling it back and forth. The interviewer collapsed in hysterics and took some time to recover his equilibrium!
Sykes was, without question, my favourite TV comic – I loved his brilliance as a script-writer (fantastic work for Frankie Howerd, The Goons, Archie Andrews and others), his gentle (but also surreal) style of comedy and the physicality and immaculate timing of his playing. Supported by co-stars Hattie Jacques ('Hat'), Richard Wattis and Derek Guyler, the show Sykes and... was – for a staggering 20 years – a perennial joy.
Of course, the show's premise alone was funny: 'Eric and Hattie – identical twins'!
When we met, he gave me a copy of his recently published first book: a novel based on his alter ego's life in Sebastopol Terrace...
Indeed I did!
The book is full of his quaintly quixotic humour:
[Hat has] always been good with names – for instance, Peter for the cuckoo clock, Jaws for the goldfish. There was a time when she wanted to call the settee Ernest, but I soon quashed that. I mean, there's no end to it once you start that lark – everything has to have a name.
'Where's my socks?'
'I've put them in Wilfred and you look in the drawer.'
'Not Nellie, Wilfred's upstairs next to Albert.'
That's the straight road to madness.And here are Eric and Hattie in playful mood at the Royal Command Performance of 1963...
Image: Caricature of Eric Sykes by Stuart Buchan