Sykes At Christmas (22nd December 1977)

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Sykes isn’t necessarily the sort of sitcom you’d imagine would delight in breaking through the fourth wall – but this Christmas edition does just that. We open with Eric and Hattie addressing the viewers at home (which helps to make it plain that this won’t be a run of the mill show) before the action cross-fades back to last year’s Christmas.

We find a distinct lack of Christmas decorations (and indeed cheer). Eric does encourage Hattie to take a swig of wine, but from her expression it’s more of a chore than a pleasure.  Corky briefly pops around but doesn’t linger – which leaves Eric to wonder where the magic of Christmas has gone. And indeed, the magic of television ….

This is a good reminder that people complaining about the current state of television isn’t a new phenomenon.  Eric hankers for the good old days – a single channel with Muffin the Mule, the potter’s wheel and Sylvia Peters. She’s very much a name from the past, but I daresay the majority of the audience watching at the time would still have fondly remembered her. Even though her television heyday was already twenty years in the past.

Then both Eric and Hattie fall asleep (yes, I know, a little Christmas indulgence is required) and a good fairy (a dressed up Hattie achieved via the wonder of CSO) pops up and grants Eric a wish. He wishes for Sylvia and she duly appears.

If Sykes had been a modern sitcom, then no doubt there would have been plenty of mileage to be found in examining the character of the socially stunted Eric – a man whose one true love was a television favourite from a past decade.  This angle isn’t a feature of this seventies sitcom of course, instead we can either view Eric’s awkward attempt to kiss Sylvia as rather charming (or rather creepy, depending on your point of view).

Even when he invites her up to his bedroom you know that no funny business (of a sexual type, anyway) will be going on – despite what Hattie, listening aghast on the other side of the door, might think.  The reason for him taking her upstairs is delightfully odd – he’s got a cardboard cut out television set and asks her to sit behind it, reading 1950’s news headlines ….

I like the way that when Sylvia begins by mentioning Mr Callaghan, Eric immediately stops her – he wants the comfort and security generated by names from the past, the unpleasant present isn’t required.  The ironic implication that old television can be used as a security blanket isn’t lost on me – although I don’t watch archive tv just for nostalgia purposes (honest).  Still, it was amusing to see an archive television programme reach back even further back in time to a previous “golden age”.

Hattie also gets a wish (from a fairy Eric) but her desire for Paul Newman goes awry – Jimmy Edwards in a tennis outfit doesn’t quite cut the mustard for her.  The arrival of Edwards delights the studio audience, although he doesn’t have a great deal of screentime.

The conclusion – Sylvia Peters is at a party next door, but Eric refuses to believe it (thereby missing the chance to really meet his heroine) – seems almost as unreal as the rest of the episode.  Are we still sleeping or has Eric finally woken up?

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