Late British comedy icon Eric Sykes has been commemorated with a special blue plaque in London, a year after his death. The Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire star passed away on 4 July, 2012, at the age of 89, and family and friends gathered outside his office at London's Orme Court on Sunday morning (07Jul13) to unveil the dedication, which is traditionally placed by officials from The Heritage Foundation at significant historical sites across the U.K.
Sykes had shared the premises for more than 50 years with his comedian pal Spike Milligan, who also received a plaque in his honour.
Guests at the ceremony included Monty Python star Michael Palin, actress June Whitfield and musician Les Reed.
The veteran funnyman penned skits for stars including Tony Hancock, Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, and worked on the groundbreaking radio comedy programme The Goon Show in the 1950s.
In the 1960s he shot to fame with his own TV comedy series on the BBC and enjoyed huge success on British TV throughout the 1970s.
He also landed roles in movies including Absolute Beginners, Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but is best remembered for his 1967 film The Plank, about two hapless workmen delivering timber to a building site.
In later years, Sykes had sporadic cameo roles in British shows and continued working until as recently as 2010, when he appeared in an episode of U.K. drama series Agatha Christie: Poirot.
Sykes passed away on Wednesday (04Jul12) after a short illness.
His manager, Norma Farnes, tells the BBC, "Eric Sykes, star of TV, stage and films, died peacefully this morning after a short illness. His family were with him."
The star passed away in 2002 and he was buried in a plot at St Thomas's Church in East Sussex, south England, with his famous quip "I told you I was ill" written in Gaelic on the stone.
His third wife Shelagh Sinclair was buried alongside him last June (11), but his son James, from a previous relationship, is fuming after Sinclair's relatives demanded her names and dates were added to the gravestone.
As a result, the site has gone unmarked since Sinclair's passing.
James tells Britain's Mail on Sunday newspaper, "It's always been abundantly clear what my father wanted written on his headstone. It's bad enough the stone has not been on his grave for a year, and now to find out Shelagh's family are trying to add an inscription is infuriating and totally unacceptable.
"My family feels my father's wishes are not being respected and it's absolutely outrageous. I am prepared to take legal action over this. I have spoken to the vicar and he has told me the wording cannot be changed if there's a dispute so I'm hopeful it won't be allowed."
Solicitor Kevin Harper, the executor of Sinclair's will, adds: "We are establishing the wording to put on the gravestone in relation to Shelagh. It's likely to be just her name and the dates relevant to her life and death. The gravestone will be back soon."
Lester, best known for his work with The Beatles in the 1960s, was presented with the BFI's highest accolade in London on Thursday (22Mar12) in honour of his film and TV achievements.
Accepting his prize, the American-born filmmaker acknowledged the harsh reviews he received at the start of his career working in TV with comedians Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers.
He quipped, "When my career was just beginning, the elegant TV critic Bernard Levin came to see me in rehearsal with Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. He wrote, 'He seems an amiable young man who climbed into a lion's cage and realised he's forgotten his chair and his whip.' Some 50 years later, I still haven't found a whip, but with this extraordinary honour, the BFI has kindly given me a chair."
Lester's work with Milligan and Sellers caught the attention of John Lennon, and he was hired by the Fab Four to direct A Hard Day's Night and Help! in the 1960s.
Lester joins a prestigious list of previous BFI Fellowship recipients including Dame Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, David Cronenberg and Martin Scorsese.
Mrs. Doubtfire actor Williams topped a poll of the most influential international comics, edging out Irishmen Spike Milligan in second and Dave Allen in third. Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy rounded out the top five.
In the British category, Connolly came first, beating double act Morecambe and Wise into second place. Victoria Wood came third, cross-dresser Eddie Izzard was fourth, and politically-charged writer Ben Elton was fifth in the survey, carried out by U.K. TV comedy channel Dave.
Children's movies are dark and terrible, although the type of dark and terrible they happen to be depends on the age of the audience that they’re targeting. Toy Story 3 is about accepting death, but because it’s nominally geared toward young children, all of the holocaust references and torture scenes are couched in bright pastels. Young adult literature can be a lot more brazen about its subject matter, which tends to be identity confusion, sexuality, and the consequences of one's actions.
J.K. Rowling managed a coup by telling the story of Harry Potter’s complete adolescence. He must learn to be his own parent, decide who he is and see the consequences of his actions and, of course, confront and defeat death. Don’t fool yourself, Rowling is a fantastic writer. I’ve said elsewhere that Stephanie Meyer makes J.K. Rowling look like Virginia Woolf, but that obscures the fact that J.K. Rowling makes J. K. Rowling look like Jane Austen.
The Harry Potter movies have a similar progression, from those Christopher Columbus pastels to where we are now, with articles in newspapers across the U.S. asking whether or not Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is too scary for children.
The king of dark children’s literature is Roald Dahl. He's a fascinating figure who wrote a great deal more than children’s literature. Dahl wrote a lot of O. Henry-ish crime stories, one of which ends with a woman serving up investigating officers the very leg of lamb she used to bludgeon her husband to death. The detectives gnaw away while telling her that once they find the murder weapon, they’ll find her husband’s killer.
Dahl also wrote a whole slew of rather twisted children’s stories, the most famous of which is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, later made into this week’s classic movie:
1971’s Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Roald Dahl wrote the original screenplay, but he didn’t meet his deadline and the writing duties were eventually handed to David Seltzer. Dahl radically disliked many of the changes Seltzer made, but for most folks who love both the book and the movie, they’re different but equally enjoyable.
There’s a kind of darkness at the edge of the movie; an inscrutability that suggests something truly scary going on somewhere in the depths of Wonka’s factory. The book doesn’t possess that haunting quality, but it does set up the basic engine for the story: a cautionary tale that tells children what happens when they overindulge.
The book, in fact, gets a great deal more grotesque. At the end Charlie actually gets to see what happens to the other children when they’ve been “fixed” by Wonka’s Oompa-Loompas. Mike Teevee, for instance, has been pulled by the taffy-pulling machine until he’s ten feet tall and thin as paper.
The movie recasts this children’s story into a young adult coming of age tale culminating in the decision of Charlie Bucket to either spy on Willy Wonka for money or go back to his penniless life with nothing. This is one of the changes Dahl got so upset about. In the book his simple non-act of avoiding misbehavior while on the tour wins him stewardship of the factory. That’s not quite active enough storytelling for film, so Seltzer recasts Slugworth as a rival chocolate maker using the children as spies.
Much of the magic in the Willy Wonka movie, like much of the magic in the Harry Potter movies, comes from perfect casting. Dahl wanted Spike Milligan, which might have been cool, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone being as pitch-perfect as Gene Wilder, who toyed with the mystery of Willy Wonka with a kind of dangerous playfulness never managed by Tim Burton and Johnny Depp in the recent remake.
I can only hope that as J.K. Rowling watches the last of her Harry Potter books make its way to the silver screen with a great deal more pride and pleasure than Roald Dahl managed when his own characters made their debut.