Eric Sykes and the Big Bad Mouse at Edinburgh King’s
West End producer and one time Edinburgh King’s panto director Paul Elliott used to tell me about a play he produced, one that had become legendary for its anarchic nature. It was a farce called Big Bad Mouse and it came to the Capital in 1973.
Leading the cast of that production were Eric Sykes and Jimmy Edwards who had made the piece their own.
This came to mind while watching reruns of Sykes on Forces TV the other night. It got me reflecting that Sykes would have been 98 on Tuesday past. It also caused me to recall the one and only time I met my comedy hero. It was after a performance of Time and Time Again at the King's in 1984, during which Sykes’ clowning had literally stopped the show as he reduced audience and cast alike to tears with his ‘ad-libs’.
Which brings me back to Big Bad Mouse and why I’m gutted to have missed it - it’s sounds like it was one big ad-lib from beginning to end. A quick search of the News’ archives uncovered two press shots from the production’s visit to the King’s. Edwards played the bossy Mr Price-Hargreaves, Sykes was Bloome, the eponymous mouse, and Elliott’s tales of their on and off stage antics were legion.
Reaction on social media to a blog post I wrote about meeting Eric just made me all the more jealous of those who had seen Big Bad Mouse.
One lucky theatre-goer wrote: 'Five minutes after the start, some people walked along the front row of the stalls to their seats. Edwards and Sykes stopped the show, walked to the front of the stage and watched them. Once they were seated, Edwards asked them if they were comfortable. An embarrassed, "Yes," was the answer. "Would you like to see what you missed?"
"Yes..." cue mayhem as the entire cast redid the script to that point in about 30 seconds. The entire theatre, including some of the cast, were in hysterics. Edwards went to the back of the set, thumped it, a panel opened and a hand with a pint glass of beer appeared. He drunk in a oner, returned it to the hand and the panel closed. The play continued. Not altogether seriously.’
Another local recalled in attendance recalled that at another point, Sykes slipped unseen into one of the boxes, put on the fur coat belonging to the woman there, a hanky on his head and, doing an impression of Queen Victoria, declared to Edwards, "We are not amused.”
Later, as the ‘script went out the window’ Edwards marched up and down the aisle playing his trombone,' while another person who remembered seeing the show noted, 'My mum and I saw him… he came down from the stage, whilst Jimmy Edwards was playing his trombone, to chat us up and steal our chocolates.'
Other memories shared included the fact that Edwards lived up to his talkative reputation: 'My cousin’s husband was a taxi driver in Edinburgh. He told me he picked up Eric and Jimmy Edwards and Jimmy was in full verbal flow. He said Eric caught his eye, made a face and turned his hearing aid off.'
If only there was a recording of that production somewhere.