Running during the sixties and seventies, Sykes starred Eric Sykes and Hattie Jacques as identical(!) twins Eric and Hattie. This episode, Christmas Party, was broadcast in December 1975 and finds them enjoying a touch of Christmas hospitality at Corky’s house (the wonderful Deryck Guyler, on fine form as ever).
The way that Eric and Hattie behave to their host highlights how different they are. Eric, once they’ve finished eating, is keen to make their excuses and leave but Hattie, knowing how this would hurt Corky’s feelings, insists they stay for a while. It’s clear that Eric’s more than a little cheesed off and Corky’s relatives don’t help to lighten his mood. There’s the distinctly odd Clara (Sheila Steafel), who never seems to speak, as well as an annoying child, Marlon (Nicholas Drake), who delights in taunting Eric.
Eric Sykes’ writing style has always intrigued me. Although he had a long association with Spike Milligan (Sykes pitched in during the 1950’s with Goon Show scripts to help ease Milligan’s workload) his own shows were always quite conventional in their tone and outlook.
So Sykes, unlike Milligan, was never an experimental comedian, which means that his work can sometimes be predictable, although – as with Christmas Party – there’s often a twist or two. One example of using a well-worn gag can be seen when Marlon offers Eric his telescope. You know (and the studio audience seem clued in as well) that in a minute his eye is going to be covered in black bootpolish – and so it is. Was it the sheer predictability which appealed to Sykes? Although his double-take means that he makes the most of it.
With most of the “action” taking place in Corky’s sitting room, there’s a definite feeling of being trapped – certainly most of the audience would probably sympathise with Eric’s sense of despair (he’d much sooner be back at home with his feet up, rather than listening to Clara plonk away on the piano).
Later, there’s a nice reversal of our expectations after Corky demonstrates his favourite card trick. Eric doesn’t want to play along (he complains that Corky does the same one every year) and explains to Hattie that it’s just so obvious – every card in the deck is the Ace of Spades, so it’s no surprise when Corky’s confederate displays the same card. Although he, yet again, picks the Ace of Spades he mischievously tells Corky that it was the Ten of Hearts, only for Clara to show him the Ten of Hearts! Possibly this was the reason why Sykes had crafted the earlier, obvious, gags like the telescope – that way it makes the unbelievable card reveal more of a surprise.
The quick arrival and departure of Jimmy (Jeremy Gagan), a personable pickpocket, seems to provide an explanation as to where all their personal belongings (watches, wallets, etc) have gone, but once again there’s a twist in the tale.
Christmas Party chugs along very nicely thanks to the talents of Sykes, Jacques, Guyler and the guest cast, especially Steafel.