Heyheyup! It’s Sgt Bilko
Photos by Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography
He was a superstar of the 1950’s, now Ann Evans meets Phil Silvers’ No1 fan.
“Heyheyup!” It’s that quick witted, smart talking, wheeler-dealer Sergeant Ernest Bilko from the American sit com of the 1950s. Or rather, it’s Sgt Bilko, alias Phil Silvers’, number one fan and collector, Steve Everett at his amazing Sgt Bilko Vintage Emporium and museum in Coventry.
Steve is a massive fan of Phil Silvers, and has been ever since he chanced upon the Phil Silvers show on BBC1 late one Sunday evening back in 1981. Steve recalled, “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 Sergeant Bilko.”
In its heyday the Phil Silvers show regularly drew in 23 million viewers. 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, and had even written a song for Frank Sinatra.
Steve has been a collector since his dad showed him a Laurel and Hardy film when he was a kid and has been collecting for over 35 years. He started the emporium from a shop ‘container’ in 2015 in Fargo Village, which is a complex of small businesses built on an old factory site. Later with some European funding, he was able to move from the container into the current shop. Quite recently he and business partner Mick launched a small crowd funder to enable them to create more space without moving to other premises.
“We raised £1,800 which allowed us to move some of the shelving around and separate the shop from the museum,” Steve explained. “We needed to make a clear division between the shop and the museum, to avoid people asking if they could buy museum pieces, such as Phil Silver’s overcoat!”
Steve is delighted to have the support of Phil Silver’ family. He has five daughters, all of whom, have donated personal items to the museum. They include a pair of his famous glasses, his shoes, his shoe horn, a smoking jacket, two overcoats, a red waistcoat, hand written letters, his desk clock and wristwatch both of which are still working. His driver’s licence from 1981, various cards such as his Screen Actor’s card, his Beverley Hills bath robe and his favourite Dodgers blanket which he took to games with him. There are also original tickets to his shows which were recorded in front of a live audience. There’s 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. There’s also many original photographs and Sgt Bilko comics and toys.
Most recently they were delighted to acquire five animation cells and some of the pencil storyboard artwork which had originally been on display in New York with JJ Sedelmaier Productions. Steve made contact with Mr Sedelmaier who was impressed by Steve’s museum, and sold him the treasured items.
Steve said: “We have had them scanned professionally printed onto light sensitive paper, so it’s the copies that are on display and the originals stored away safely. To find any of these surviving after 63 years is amazing.”
Another new item to the collection is Phil Silvers’ screen test jacket that he wore for the 1944 Hollywood Musical, Something for the Boys which co-starred Carmen Miranda. Steve successfully bid for this in a USA auction of Debbie Reynold’s collections. “She was a big collector,” said Steve. She was also a close friend of Phil Silvers in the 1940s. The jacket is still in really good condition, and I thought it interesting to get a large photo of the inside label to exhibit beside it.”
Another special item in the museum – but something that can be purchased is a bust of Sergeant Bilko, crafted by one of the Phil Silvers Appreciation Society’s members, Steve Thompson. “The society and the museum commissioned him to do a Bilko sculpture, limited to 100 pieces. All have been individually hand painted by Mick Clews and we’re also doing a small number in black and white. They come nicely packaged, they stand at 21cm tall and cost £80 each.
The Phil Silvers Appreciation Society.
The Phil Silvers Appreciation Society now has around 1,600 members from all around the world. Steve and Mick formed the appreciation society back in 1985and were invited on to Pebble Mill at One with Magnus Magnusson to launch the Society. What they hadn’t realised was that Magnus had telephoned Phil Silvers in America and told him about the launch. Steve and Mick couldn’t have been more surprised and delighted when live on BBC television, Magnus played the clip of when Phil Silvers had spoken about the new society in his honour. Steve added, “We were thrilled that we had made contact with him and delighted by what he had to say. He told Magnus to give Mick and I a warm hug from him and sent a special message to his fans. He was a very humble man. Sadly, he passed away a month later.”
For details on opening times visit the Sgt Bilko’s Vintage Emporium, Fargo Village, Coventry: www.sgtbilkosvintageemporium.com
British Phil Silvers Appreciation Society: www.philsilvers.co.uk