Fred Trueman performing a 60-minute stand-up comedy show in 1969: even off the field he could outwit the best in business © Getty Images
Fred Trueman performing a 60-minute stand-up comedy show in 1969: even off the field he could outwit the best in business © Getty Images

Eric Sykes was one of the most accomplished British comedians on stage and screen. However, he met his match in the fiery Fred Trueman. Arunabha Sengupta recounts their hilarious exchange during a celebrity cricket match.

We saw him for an instance before Voldemort killed him with the Avada Kedavra curse. But there was much more to Eric Sykes than the brief role of Frank Bryce in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

The British radio, stage and film actor was a comedian of repute who performed for more than half a century. Apart from that, he also wrote for television and films, combining with men like Tony Hancock, Spike Milligan, Tommy Cooper, Peter Sellers and others.

Sykes came into prominence with his contribution to The Goon Show scripts in the 1950s and by the following decade he had become a television star in his own right, starring in a number of popular BBC comedy series.

Indeed, in the 1960s he became famous enough to take part in several celebrity cricket matches that paired both actors and professional cricketers.

And thus his path crossed that of Fiery Fred, the fire-breathing fast bowler Fred Trueman.

He was fast. In the mid-1960s Trueman was past his prime but still fast enough to make the best of batsmen hop.

Besides, Trueman had a fabulous, if caustic, Yorkshire sense of humour.

Remember his waving away the apology of Raman Subba Row who had just dropped a catch off his bowling at slip? “Sorry, Fred, I should’ve kept my legs together,” the penitent slip fielder had volunteered after the cherry had slipped through his hands and thighs. “Not thee lad, tha’ mother should’ve,” had been Trueman’s answer.

Or the moments he came up against batsmen edging and surviving. “Where did thee learn tha’ cricket, at Edgbaston?” Trueman asked one of the offending batsmen. And to another, he remarked, “Tha’ bat has more edges than a broken piss-pot.”

So here was Sykes playing alongside Trueman. Luckily in the same side as he. Unluckily having taken up the role of the wicketkeeper.

In ran Trueman and bowled a fiery delivery, beyond the capability of any batsman in the match to touch. It sped through, and the comedian, in a rather foolhardy show of bravado, reached out and tried to stop it with his outstretched hand.

The ball pushed his finger out at a tangent.

After several minutes of frantic rubbing, garnished with unprintable words, Sykes walked up to Trueman.

“Look at that,” he barked, holding out his hand, the finger at a peculiar angle.

“What’s wrong with it?” demanded the fast bowler.

“What’s wrong with it?” yelled Sykes. “Why, can’t you see? It’s bent.”

Trueman looked at it and quick as his own bowling came the rejoinder. “All actors are bent.”

It may be a trial ’keeping to a professional fast bowler, but the latter had no problems in keeping up with, and indeed out-staging, a professional comedian at his own game.

Fred Trueman, bless his soul. And his great heart. They do not make them like him anymore.