The plank is a British slapstick comedy made in 1967, starring a whole host of British comedians. Eric Sykes and Tommy Cooper played leading roles as two hapless builders who buy a floorboard for a house they are constructing. They return to the house with the plank on top of a Morris Eight, but the journey is fraught with unexpected difficulties. The film is without dialogue, but with selected sound effects. Three versions of the film were made, and the third was made in 1979 for Thames TV as a half-hour TV special, with a cast including Eric, Arthur Lowe (taking Tommy Cooper’s role), Charlie Drake, Charles Hawtrey and Wilfrid Hyde-White.
Eric Sykes was an English radio, television and film writer, actor and director whose performing career spanned more than 50 years. He frequently wrote for and/or performed with many other leading comedy performers and writers of the period, including Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, John Antrobus and Johnny Speight. He collaborated on The Goon Show scripts, and became a TV star in his own right in the early 1960s when he appeared with Hattie Jacques in several popular BBC comedy television series.
By 1956 Sykes had developed hearing problems; he subsequently lost most of his hearing, but learned to lip-read and watch other performers say their lines in order to get his cues. His spectacles contained no lenses but were a bone-conducting hearing aid. Disciform macular degeneration, brought about by age and possibly smoking, left Sykes partially sighted, and he was registered as blind. Sykes died on 4 July 2012 at age 89 after a short illness.
Tommy Cooper needs little introduction. He was a great British prop comedian and magician.
Cooper was a member of The Magic Circle, and respected by traditional magicians. Famed for his red fez, his appearance was large and lumbering at 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) and more than 15 stone (210 lb; 95 kg) in weight.
Cooper took up show business on Christmas Eve, 1947, after seven years of military service. Cooper rapidly became a top-liner in variety with his turn as the conjurer whose tricks never succeeded, but it was his television work which raised him to national prominence. After his debut on the BBC talent show New to You in March 1948, he soon started starring in his own shows, and was popular with audiences for four decades, most notably through his work with London Weekend Television from 1968 to 1972 and with Thames Television from 1973 to 1980. Thanks to his many television shows during the mid 70s, he was one of the biggest and most recognizable comedians in the world.
Cooper was a heavy drinker and smoker, and experienced a decline in health during the late 1970s, suffering a heart attack in 1977 while in Rome, where he was performing a show. Three months later he was back on television in Night Out at the London Casino. By 1980, though, his drinking meant that Thames Television would not give him another starring series, and Cooper’s Half Hour was his last. He did continue to guest on other television shows, however, and worked with Eric Sykes on two Thames productions in 1982.
On 15 April 1984, Cooper collapsed and soon after died from a heart attack in front of millions of television viewers, midway through his act on the London Weekend Television variety show Live From Her Majesty’s, transmitted live from Her Majesty’s Theatre. His stage persona required that his act intentionally went wrong for comic purposes, leading to some initial uncertainty about whether this collapse was real.
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