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Was there ever a film made of Sergeant Bilko

01:00 Mon 04th Feb 2002 |

A.� There was a 1996 movie version of Bilko, which was directed by Jonathan Lynn with Steve Martin as the eponymous conman, but it was never a critical success.

Q.� What happened to Phil Silvers

A.� The original title was You'll Never Get Rich, which remained as the sub-title whenthe series became The Phil Silvers Show two months after its premiere in 1957. It won Silvers three Emmys and has been described as the greatest sitcome act of all time.

SIlvers was born Philip Silver in New York, the son of Jewish immigrants. he made his show business debut at the age of 11, and featured in numerous films over the next decade, signing to MGM in 1940. But it was as Bilko he found fame, and his character overshadowed everything he did thereafter. A New Phil Silvers Show, in which he played maintenance superintendant Harry Grafton lasted only the 1963-1964 season CBS in the States. Just Polly and Me, The Slowest Gun in the West and Summer in New York fared even worse. After several years of illness and clinical depression, Silvers died in 1985.

The Bilko character turned up again in cartoon form in Hanna-Barbera's Boss Cat, which even had Maurice Gosfield voicing his toon representation, blue Benny the Ball.

Q.� Why was the show so successful

A.� Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko, based at mythical Fort Baxter, Kansas, was the biggest and most charming rogue in the US Army. With little to do in the Midwest, Bilko was incurably occupied in get-rich-quick schemes, spending most of his time gambling, conjuring up scams, and out-manoeuvring his unfortunate and all too trusting commanding officer, the hapless Colonel Hall, who was reduced to calling his post 'Little Las Vegas'.� The Bilko-Hall relationship was central to the genius of the show, a modern reworking of the dumb master/clever servant relationship. Highly resourceful, Bilko could talk his way out of any situation. A favourite target for his ill-fated con tricks was Rupert Ritzik. Sergeant Joan Hogan, who worked in the base's office, was Bilko's mild romantic interest during the first three seasons, then phased out.

Bilko also endlessly flattered the Colonel's wife, and his wooing technique became known as 'Bilko Blitz'.

Down the guest list, the show provided early screen appearances for Alan Aida, as Carlisle Thompson, Fred Gwynne and Dick Van Dyke.

In a moral conclusion to the long-running satire on army life, Bilko was behind bars and Colonel Hall had won the war.

The show was created by Nat Hiken, who was later responsible for Car 54� and Where Are You

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By Katharine MacColl

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