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Bill Sikes by Fred Barnard
|First appearance||Oliver Twist|
|Created by||Charles Dickens|
|Portrayed by||Robert Newton (1948), Oliver Reed (1968), Tim Curry (1982), Robert Loggia (voice, 1988), Michael McAnallen (1995), David O'Hara (1997), Andy Serkis (1999), Jamie Foreman (2005), Tom Hardy (2007), Burn Gorman (2009), Steven Hartley (2009), Shannon Wise (2010), Jake Thomas (2011), Anthony Brown (2012)|
|Significant other(s)||Nancy (lover, deceased)|
|Children||None, although sometimes the boys are thought of as his children.|
He is one of Dickens's most vicious characters and a very strong force in the novel when it comes to having control over somebody or harming others. He is portrayed as a rough and barbaric man. Sikes is a career criminal associated with Fagin, and an eventual murderer. He is violent and aggressive, prone to sudden bursts of extreme behaviour. He owns a bull terrier named Bull's Eye, whom he beats until the dog needs stitches.
Dickens describes his first appearance:
The man who growled out these words, was a stoutly-built fellow of about five-and-thirty, in a black velveteen coat, very soiled drab breeches, lace-up half boots, and grey cotton stockings which enclosed a bulky pair of legs, with large swelling calves—the kind of legs, which in such costume, always look in an unfinished and incomplete state without a set of fetters to garnish them. He had a brown hat on his head, and a dirty belcher handkerchief round his neck: with the long frayed ends of which he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke. He disclosed, when he had done so, a broad heavy countenance with a beard of three weeks' growth, and two scowling eyes; one of which displayed various parti-coloured symptoms of having been recently damaged by a blow.
His prostitute girlfriend Nancy tolerates his violent and lawless behaviour, perhaps because she, being a thief since the age of six, needs stability in her life, and because she believes that she loves him. However when he thinks Nancy has betrayed him, Sikes viciously murders her. The murder is especially gruesome and one of the most graphic, frightening scenes Dickens ever wrote. In the end a mob hounds him through the streets of London until he hangs himself while trying to escape. It is left ambiguous as to whether or not this was intentional.
Sikes has almost no redeeming qualities, although Dickens does give him some shading: at the robbery in the countryside, Sikes, rather than leave Oliver at the scene of his botched burglary of Rose Maylie's house, picks him up and runs with him as far as he can, before hiding him in a ditch at the suggestion of an accomplice. After he brutally beats Nancy to death, he apparently is capable of feeling guilt—although this is essentially suspicion that Fagin lied to him about her betrayal, and fear of the possibility of being caught. Sikes lives in Bethnal Green and later moves to the squalid rookery area of London then called Jacob's Island, east of present-day Shad Thames.
Sikes was played by Danny Sewell in the stage musical Oliver! which won several awards in the early 1960s. Oliver Reed played Sikes in the 1968 film musical Oliver! which also won several awards. Robert Newton played Sikes in the 1948 British film noir "Oliver Twist". Perhaps Newton's portrayal is the closest to how Dickens himself envisioned the character: a vicious, heavy drinking sociopath.
- Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). London: Richard Bentley. pp. 198–9.