SGT BILKO’S VINTAGE EMPORIUM
By Ann Evans
Photos courtesy of Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography
Had he lived, actor and entertainer Phil Silvers would have celebrated his 106 birthday on May 11. He’s probably best known for starring in The Phil Silvers Show, a 1950s American sitcom set on a US Army base in which he played the quick witted, quick talking Sergeant Ernest Bilko.
In its heyday the show regularly drew in 23 million viewers. The “Heyheyup!” was the familiar command bellowed out by fast talking, wheeler-dealer Sergeant Ernest Bilko back in the 1950s.
But, as well as being Sgt Bilko, Phil Silvers was an all round entertainer whose career spanned 60 years. He’s been in more than 50 films as well as 150-200 TV, stage and radio shows. He could sing and dance, and was originally a Vaudeville and burlesque performer, he’s even written a song for Frank Sinatra.
He has fans all over the world, but one man who has taken his appreciation to the limits is Coventry man Steve Everett. He has created the world’s only Phil Silvers Museum – based in Coventry. The Sgt Bilko Vintage Emporium is endorsed by the Phil Silvers family, and brimming with all kinds of Phil Silvers memorabilia and personal items once belonging to the star, given to Steve by the Silvers family.
It’s purely coincidence that there’s quite a resemblance between Steve and his all time hero, although he admits that the Phil Silvers style glasses were deliberately chosen for the ‘look’ and he does often dress as Sgt Bilko when the occasion arises.
Steve has been a fan since 1981. He recalled, “Late one Sunday evening in 1981 I was channel hopping when I came across the Phil Silvers Show on BBC1. It was The Empty Store episode originally shown in 1955. I watched it transfixed. I was hooked. So along with a good friend of mine, Mick Clews, we started collecting anything and everything to do with Phil Silvers and Sgt Bilko.
“I’ve been collecting since my dad showed me a Laurel and Hardy film when I was a kid, so my collection has built up over 35 years. We launched the museum here on 1st November 2015, exactly 30 years to the day that Phil Silvers passed away.”
Steve also founded the Phil Silvers Appreciation Society which has about 1,500 members from all around the world.
Many of the items in his Emporium have been donated by the Phil Silver’s family. Steve said: “He had five daughters and all have donated personal items to the museum.”
Amongst the unique items are his famous glasses; his shoes and a shoe horn; clothing including his Beverley Hills bath robe and his favourite Dodgers blanket which he took to games with him. Also his desk clock and wristwatch both of which are still working; a variety of documents such as his Screen Actor’s card, and his 1981 driver’s licence and more.
Steve added, “We have original tickets to his shows which were recorded in front of a live audience. We have a gold statuette given to everyone involved when the show went into syndication in 1961. Also a gold brick which Phil got when the show finished, and many other items,”
A very special event happened in 1999, when Phil’s eldest daughter, Tracy contacted Steve to say that the family had campaigned to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame without success, and could he try on behalf of the Appreciation Society.
Steve said, “So we wrote a ten page letter to show Phil’s contribution to entertainment. And on 1st November 2000 a posthumous star was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. We were over the moon! I was able to get over to Hollywood for the occasion and met Tige Andrews who played Private Gander and Allan Melvin who played Corporal Henshaw.”
It’s free to visit the Sgt Bilko Vintage Emporium, check the website for opening times.
British Phil Silvers Appreciation Society: www.philsilvers.co.uk
Purely Sgt Bilko: www.thephilsilversshow.com
Sgt Bilko Vintage Emporium, Fargo Village, Coventry: www.sgtbilkosvintageemporium.com