50 Years Of Ernie Bilko.....



In 2005 The Phil Silvers Show, known universally as Sgt. Bilko, celebrated it's 50th anniversary. To commemorate this landmark occasion the society has compiled some interesting facts regarding the series and a brief history on the official Appreciation Society that has spearheaded and perpetuated the memory of Phil Silvers.


The Phil Silvers Show, originally titled You'll Never Get Rich ran on the CBS Television Network from 1955-1959, over four seasons. Officially there were 142 actual episodes, however with the original pilot episode and the 1 hour 'Live Special' Keep In Step the show can actually claim a total of 144 episodes.


The show debuted on American television on September 20th 1955. Initially it was not a great success, having been placed up against the then 'King Of Television', Milton Berle. However, following a rescheduling it began to find an audience and eventually toppled Milton Berle from his perch.


During it's original US run the show, riding high on a sea of critical and public acclaim, scooped 5 Emmy awards.


It was first screened by the BBC in 1957, and the British audience fell in love with the rascally Motor Pool Sergeant. The show  featured regularly in their schedules until the year 2000. It is without exception the only black-and white-comedy series from the 50's to have truly stood the test of time.


Phil Silvers was a self-confessed Anglophile and adored the admiration the British public bestowed upon him. By his own admission Phil would often throw in British phrases into the show!


The show was also groundbreaking in that in an era when TV shunned using actors of ethnic origin Phil insisted his platoon should have a mixture of multicultural faces.   


The creator Nat Hiken and his writing team (including Neil Simon) have been cited as the main influence of latter-day classics Seinfeld and Frasier. US enlistees trebled during the first run of the show. Bilko represented such fun! Of course the reality was somewhat different!



In 2003 Radio Times voted The Phil Silvers Show as 'the greatest situation comedy of all time' beating Fawlty Towers, Seinfeld and Frasier.



In a recent poll Sgt Bilko was voted 4th most likely candidate for the US Presidency! Although almost forgotten in his home country Phil Silvers is still revered as a comedy god in the UK


Famous self-confessed Bilko fans past and present include: President Eisenhower, Cary Grant, Eric Morcambe, John Cleese, Leslie Nielsen, Robin Williams, Jason Alexander, Nathan Lane, George Cole, Desmond Lynam, Jonathan Ross, Robbie Coltrane, Mike Leigh, Maureen Lipman, Terry Venables, and Rick Stein. 



Phil Silvers influence on the world of comedy can be seen in countless other characters, from James Bolam's Likely Lad to Ronnie Barker's Fletcher to David Jason's Del Boy.


The British Phil Silvers Appreciation Society was the brainchild of Steve Everitt who caught his first Bilko episode (The Empty Store) during the early 1980's. Fellow Bilko fan Mick Clews came aboard as co-founder after responding to an ad in PHOTOPLAY magazine in 1984. Steve and Mick befriended Phil Silvers early in 1983 and kept in touch until his passing in 1985.


The Society was officially launched with Phil Silvers blessing on the BBC's Pebble Mill at One programme in October 1985. To mark the show's 30th Anniversary a small gathering of Phil's fans were invited to a celebration of both the show and Phil Silvers. Steve and Mick were interviewed by the late Magnus Magnusson (a huge Sgt.Bilko fan) along with author David Thomas. Phil even managed to sneak in a surprise message for his UK fans which he recorded the night before.


In 1989 as a tribute to Phil the Society organised a 24 hour Bilkothon (in which they watched 55 episodes of The Phil Silvers Show uninterrupted) and raised over £400 for the BBC's Comic Relief charity and found themselves back at the Pebble Mill studios, interviewed this time by Alan Titchmarsh and Craig Charles.



Throughout the 90's the Society perpetuated Phil's memory by appearing on a number of television and radio shows including Noel's Addicts, Collector's Lot, Steve Wright's Afternoon Show and Midlands Today plus a host of national and local newspaper interviews. Steve and Mick also managed to contact many of the surviving actors and crew who worked with Phil during that golden era.   
In late 1999 Steve (after bombarding the Committee) and the society received confirmation that Phil was to be awarded a long overdue Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Tracey Silvers (Phil's eldest daughter) very kindly offered to fly Steve and Mick over to Hollywood for the Ceremony! Bilko veterans Allan Melvin (Corporal Henshaw), Tige Andrews (Private Gander), Bilko producer Edward J Montagne along with Red Buttons (Phil's long-time friend and admirer), Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) and Phil's family all paid tribute to Phil's genius on that unforgettable day.


Johnny Grant presiding master of ceremonies proudly dedicated 1st November 2000 as 'Phil Silvers Day' in Hollywood. Phil's star was placed next to his life long buddy Jack Benny. 


2005 was the 50th anniversary of The Phil Silvers Show and the 20th anniversary of Phil's passing. We look forward now to 2011, the anniversary of Phil's 100th Birthday, and we are making plans to commemorate this occasion with a major event. 



All that remains now is for Phil Silvers and The Phil Silvers Show to return to the BBC schedules... Keep Tuning In..!