When I was young, the highest paid comedy writer in the UK was Eric Sykes.
He wrote for the biggest stars around, everyone wanted him.
He wrote all Frankie Howerd’s material.
He wrote for Tony Hancock, the funniest man on radio or TV.
He wrote for Peter Sellers.
He worked with Spike Milligan on the funniest comedy show ever: The Goon Show.
The show which later gave birth to Monty Python.
When Spike Milligan was ill, Eric Sykes wrote the whole show alone.
He wrote a surreal radio series about a ventriloquist’s dummy, called Educating Archie.
How do you make a ventriloquist’s dummy work on radio?
Eric Sykes did.
By the 1970s he’d become a comedian in his own right.
He had a TV series with Hattie Jacques.
It ran for years and years, a hundred and twenty five shows, and it got seventeen million viewers a week.
Eric Sykes was a comedy phenomenon.
He was not only a writer and a comedian, he was a novelist, an actor, a film director, and a producer.
In 1964 he was voted BBC Personality of the Year.
In 1986 he was given an OBE; and in 2004 he was given a CBE.
He acted in twenty movies alongside stars like Terry Thomas, Sean Connery, and Nicole Kidman; he even acted in Harry Potter.
But it wasn’t until he died, and I read his obituary, that I realised the most amazing thing about him.
All those years, I never knew he was stone deaf and blind.
He kept it a secret.
He’d been on the beaches in the Normandy landings, and was wounded by artillery shells.
He had no eardrums.
Which was why he always wore glasses.
Not to see through, the glasses had no lenses.
But the arms of the glasses transmitted vibrations to a bone at the back of his skull, it vibrated when anyone nearby made a sound.
Eric Sykes just pretended he could hear.
And, as he gradually lost his sight, he pretended he could see too.
At first, he would write scripts using a massive magnifying glass.
Then, as his vision went, he’d write by feeling the page.
Sometimes he’d be writing for ages only for someone to tell him the page was blank.
His pen had run out of ink but he couldn’t tell.
When he acted on stage he’d have someone quietly lead him to the place where he was supposed to stand.
That way no one else knew he was blind and he carried on faking it.
And it worked.
He worried that if people knew he was deaf and blind they’d feel sorry for him, and they wouldn’t give him work.
So he hid it and no one knew he was deaf and blind, so no one felt sorry for him.
That way he still got lots of work.
And he did more work, faster than anyone else.
That’s how he became the most prolific, highest paid comedy writer.
He didn’t feel sorry for himself so no one else felt sorry for him.
And so he was able to beat everyone else.
His attitude was, nothing else matters except the brain.
And I know my brain’s as good as anyone’s.
He didn’t want sympathy because he knew that was the real handicap.