Saturday, 28 January 2023

Ghost Light

Celebrating Sylvia Syms, 6th January 1934 to 27th January 2023.

Not to be confused with American jazz singer aka Sylvia Blagman, Sylvia Syms was born in London, got into the acting profession and built up a hugely impressive body of work in a career spanning more than six decades. 
The handful of tributes I've read have inevitably been drawn to Sylvia's bravura performance in 1958 film Ice Cold In Alex, made familiar to a whole new audience in the 1980s when Carlsberg repurposed a clip for a hugely popular ad campaign. There's also mention of her latter performances, particularly as The Queen Mother in Stephen Frears' 2006 film The Queen, appearing with Helen Mirren in the title role.
For me though, one of Sylvia Syms' standout performances, mentioned if at all only in passing, was in Doctor Who in 1989. In what subsequently became the final series of the original run, Sylvia appeared as Mrs. Pritchard in the three-part story Ghost Light. Should this ever come up a pub quiz question, the very last scene to be recorded for the original series's 26-year run featured Sylvia Sims and Katherine Schlesinger.
Personally, I think it's one of the best Doctor Who stories of either incarnation, with a brilliantly gripping yet frequently oblique story and standout performances not only from the leads Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, but guest stars including Ian Hogg, Sharon Duce, Carl Forgione and Frank Windsor. Sylvia's realisation of Mrs. Pritchard is sublime, adding a depth and nuance to the character that less skilled actors would have missed.
Long suffering readers will recall - possibly with horror - that I've occasionally posted a selection of songs drawing on a particular actor's career in film and TV. Previous victims stars have included Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth Taylor and Juliette Binoche. Today's selection with apologies is a dubious tribute to Sylvia Syms.

Unfortunately, as far as I'm aware, no-one had yet to record and release a song called Ice Cold In Alex and I had to shoehorn in a Ghost Light song, breaking my usually strict rule of 'namesake' songs only. By coincidence, there's another Doctor Who reference in here: Frazer Hines appeared in the show as a hugely popular travelling companion in the late 1960s; his short-lived pop career was arguably less, er, popular.

I couldn't decide between the two choices for Together (which I think was Sylvia's final film role, released in 2018) so I included them both, topping and tailing the selection. Both very different, it has to be said.

Another tough choice was Absolute Beginners: the film's title track by David Bowie or the 1981 single by The Jam? Weller won out.

Before today, you may not have realised you needed a nearly-ten minute version of Love Story by Andy Williams. From today, you may realise that you don't need a nearly-ten minute version of Love Story by Andy Williams. It's a kitsch keeper for me.
Sylvia Syms' CV is such that a twelve song selection could easily accommodate some much-loved (by me) artists such as Tim Bowness, The Jazz Butcher, Soft Cell and Tom Robinson. 
And then there's No Time For Tears by The Marvelettes, a pure pop classic that was a mere B-side - a B-side!!! - back in 1965.
All in, just over fifty minutes of music as a thank you to a brilliant, beautiful actor.
Rest in peace, Sylvia Syms. 
Today's selection is also dedicated to Rol, of the wonderful My Top Ten blog.
1) Together (Edit): Nine Inch Nails (2020)
2) Lost In The Ghost Light (Giallo): Tim Bowness (2017)
3) Love Story (Where Do I Begin) (Long Version): Andy Williams (1979)
4) Absolute Beginners (Single Version): The Jam (1981)
5) The Human Jungle (Extended Mix By John A. Rivers): The Jazz Butcher (1985)
6) Blue Murder (Album Version By Todd Rundgren): Tom Robinson Band (1978)
7) Original Sin (Dance Version By Nile Rodgers): INXS (1984)
8) Punch And Judy Man: Frazer Hines (1968)
9) Run Wild, Run Free: Claudine Longet (1970)
10) No Time For Tears: The Marvelettes (1965)
11) Where The Heart Is (12" Version By Mike Thorne & Harvey Goldberg) (Early Fade): Soft Cell (1982)
12) Together: William Shatner ft. Lemon Jelly (2004)
Ghost Light (A Tribute To Sylvia Syms) (52:24) (Box) (Mega)


  1. Just catching up a bit - lovely tribute Khayem and what an eclectic selection of songs. I never realised Sylvia was in Doctor Who and I need to watch Ice Cold In Alex again (I think it gets shown on Talking Pictures from time to time) I was also reminded on reading the various tributes of another great film, Victim, which I haven't seen in years. Definitely time to revisit.

    1. Thanks, C. Eclectic is right! It felt almost sacrilegious having The Jam follow Andy Williams, but the pairing of Soft Cell and William Shatner was so wrong it felt right ;-)

      I haven't seen Ice Cold In Alex for many years, Victim probably for over three decades. I wonder, would Talking Pictures be brave enough to show the latter? Possibly Film 4. I used to have a lot of classic B&W films on VHS - Room At The Top, Poor Cow, Saturday Night And Sunday Morning - all long gone now, sadly!