Charley's Aunt

Charley's Aunt

1977 - United Kingdom

Eric Sykes and Yorkshire Television revived Brandon Thomas's famous farce for the festive season in 1977 with a seventy-five-minute adaptation of the play which, after it opened in London in 1892, set a record for the number of performances for that century; 1,466 across four years. In making the one-off play for television, Sykes was reunited with Jimmy Edwards with whom he'd previously had a huge stage success in the late 1960s much ad-libbed production of Big Bad Mouse.

The fun starts when Donna Lucia D'Alvadorez (Barbara Murray) fails to arrive to act as chaperon to the two young women (Kitty Verdun and Amy Spettigue played by Louise Hall-Taylor and Judi Maynard) that Jack Chesney (Osmund Bullock) and Charley Wykeham (Alun Lewis) are trying to woo, and they have to find a substitute in a hurry.

Charley's Aunt

In the original, Jack and Charley persuade Oxford undergraduate Lord Fancourt Babberley to impersonate Charley's Aunt, but with Sykes clearly beyond the age where he could pass as a student, even in this farcical situation ("I'm too old to play an under-graduate, even if I knew how - which I don't" - he told the press), his character, the manservant Brassett becomes the main character who ‘drags up’.

When Jack's father, Sir Francis Chesney (Gerald Flood) arrives and reveals that he has inherited debts that have wiped out his family fortune, Jack suggests that Sir Francis should marry Donna Lucia who is a widow and a millionairess. Mr Spettigue (Jimmy Edwards), the penniless father of Amy also turns up and is furious that the boys are lunching with the girls without permission. But, upon hearing of the celebrated millionairess he decides to stay for lunch in an attempt to win her over for himself.

Meanwhile, the real Donna Lucia, who turns out to be an attractive middle-aged woman, arrives at Oxford with her adopted niece, Miss Ela Delahay (Yvonne Nicholson), who, it transpires, is also a lady of wealthy means.

Syke's script stayed moderately close to the original, although the reviewer Ken Burgess wrote that 'The Eric Sykes version of "Charley's Aunt" should have been presented with apologies to the author, Brandon Thomas.

Not only was there licence with the Thomas lines but there were liberties even with the adaptation, and Sykes and Jimmy Edwards (running true to their track records) ad-libbed and improvised. The rest of the cast, too, spluttered, thundered, simpered and clowned their way through a tale which was not so much farce as burlesque.

Charley's Aunt

Purists may doesn't really matter. Why should "Charley's Aunt” be sacrosanct?

Call it farce, burlesque, slapstick, music-hall humour or whatever you will. It was fun.'

Published on April 10th, 2023. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

Read Next...

Eric Sykes

The very best comedy has always sported an essential core of warm humanity. For decades of British television viewers no one conveyed that warmth or humanity more successfully than the great Eric Sykes.

Also starring Eric Sykes

Faces of Jim

Jimmy Edwards series of one-off sitcoms that introduced a minor supporting character actor who would go on to become 'the guv'nor' of British comedy...Ronnie Barker.

Also starring Jimmy Edwards

The Brahmin Widow

A soldier returns to India to find the girl he loved but had to leave.

Also tagged Single Play

Counsellor at Law

New York lawyer George Simon is about to jump out of his office window in the Empire State Building...

Also starring Barbara Murray

Alice in Wonderland TV play

The earliest television version of Lewis Caroll's fantasy masterpiece was broadcast before most people in Britain had televisions...

Also tagged Single Play


US miniseries based on Alex Haley's saga of an African American Family.

Also released in 1977

Lou Grant

A City Editor at a major Los Angeles newspaper goes after serious issues such as Vietnamese refugees, child abuse and gun control.

Also released in 1977

Kid Flanagan

A young boxer's career is destroyed by a scheming woman in this one-off BBC play that also starred Sid James.

Also tagged Single Play


A gentleman thief burgles the rich.

Also released in 1977