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Bill Sikes
Bill Sikes by Fred Barnard
Created byCharles Dickens
Portrayed byGeorge Siegmann (1922), William "Stage" Boyd (1933), Robert Newton (1948), Danny Sewell (1960), Oliver Reed (1968), Tim Curry (1982), Michael Attwell (1985), Michael McAnallen (1995), Jack Pocorobba (1996), David O'Hara (1997), Andy Serkis (1999), Jamie Foreman (2007), Tom Hardy (2009), Steven Hartley (2009), Shannon Wise (2010), Jake Thomas (2011), Anthony Brown (2012), Mark Stanley (2015)
Voiced byRobert Loggia (1988)
In-universe information
Full nameWilliam Sikes
Significant otherNancy (love interest)

William "Bill" Sikes is a fictional character and a main antagonist in the 1838 novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Sikes is a malicious criminal in Fagin's gang, and a vicious robber and murderer. Throughout much of the novel Sikes is shadowed by his “bull-terrier” dog Bull's-eye.

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Role in the novel

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 days' growth, and two scowling eyes; one of which displayed various parti-coloured symptoms of having been recently damaged by a blow.[1]

The death of Sikes by ' Kyd' (1905)
The death of Sikes by ' Kyd' (1905)

His friend Nancy tolerates his violent behaviour because she is scared of him. However, when he thinks Nancy has betrayed him, Sikes viciously murders her.[2] After police identify him as travelling with a dog, Sikes attempts to drown Bull's-eye to rid himself of his companion. In the end he hangs himself while trying to escape. It is left ambiguous whether or not this act 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 Mrs. 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 (Toby Crackit). Also, there are rare occasions when he appears to acknowledge Nancy's devotion to him. For instance, after preventing her from keeping her midnight appointment with Rose Maylie and Mr. Brownlow, he wondered aloud to Fagin if being indoors for so long in their dingy lodging was beginning to affect her after she dedicated the whole day caring for him. After he brutally beats Nancy to death, Sikes apparently is capable of feeling guilt—although the reader cannot be sure the emotion is not merely his suspicion that Fagin lied to him about her betrayal and fear of being arrested for the crime.

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. Otherwise, Sikes's background and early life prior to joining Fagin are not mentioned in the book.

Theatrical, cinematic and TV portrayals

In the theatre, Sikes was played by Henry Irving opposite Ellen Terry as Nancy in Oliver Twist at the Queen's Theatre in London (1868).[3][4]

Robert Newton first played Sikes on screen in the 1948 British film noir Oliver Twist. Sikes's death is changed slightly: while attempting to swing to another building to escape the mob, he is shot by a police officer and dies while dangling from a building by a rope around his body. Perhaps Newton's portrayal is the closest to how Dickens himself envisioned the character: a vicious, heavy drinking sociopath.

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 musical's 1968 film adaptation which also won several awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture, with Reed's performance often cited as one of the best portrayals of Sikes – being labelled as "the sinister core of the film". His songs are removed from the film, making his performance of the character closer to that of the novel rather than the stage version. The famous climax of the 1948 film adaptation is retained and Bill Sikes dies in the same manner of being shot then hanging himself.

In Disney's animated version, Oliver & Company (1988), Sikes is renamed Sykes and he is a cold-hearted loan shark who lives and works in a New York shipyard with his pet Dobermans, Roscoe and DeSoto, and is voiced by Robert Loggia, who was cast in the role after Marlon Brando rejected an offer to voice the character because he felt the film was going to be a flop.[5] Fagin, here depicted as a dogkeeper, owes him money before Sykes proceeds to kidnap a young wealthy girl, Jenny Foxworth, planning to take a ransom to himself. In a final confrontation, Sykes chases Fagin and the dogs into the subway tunnels in attempt to recapture Jenny until they reach the Brooklyn Bridge. While Roscoe and DeSoto are killed when they fall onto the electrified railway, Sykes fights with Oliver and Dodger on the roof of his limousine, and is finally killed when his car collides with a train, sending his corpse falling into the East River.

In Disney's 1997 live-action television production, Oliver Twist, Bill Sikes is played by David O'Hara. In the 2005 Oliver Twist Bill Sikes is played by Jamie Foreman. In 2007, Sikes is portrayed by actor Tom Hardy in the BBC One miniseries Oliver Twist, later aired in the United States on PBS' Masterpiece Classic.[6][7] In the 2015 BBC TV series Dickensian, Sikes is played by Mark Stanley.

In the 2021 movie, Twist, Sikes is altered into a woman portrayed by Lena Headey with a pet Doberman named Bull's-eye and appears to be a lesbian when seen in a supposed relationship with Nancy.


  1. ^ Dickens, Charles (1839). Oliver Twist. Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). London: Richard Bentley. pp. 198–9. |volume= has extra text (help)
  2. ^ "Bill Sikes: My favourite Charles Dickens character". Telegraph (2012–02–15). Retrieved 2018-08-11.
  3. ^ Madeleine Bingham, Henry Irving and The Victorian Theatre, Routledge (1978) - Google Books pgs. 68-69
  4. ^ Richard Foulkes (ed), Henry Irving: A Re-Evaluation of the Pre-Eminent Victorian Actor-Manager, Routledge (2017) - Google Books
  5. ^ Hischak, Thomas S. (6 October 2011). Disney Voice Actors: A Biographical Dictionary. ISBN 9780786486946.
  6. ^ All-star cast announced for BBC adaptation of Oliver Twist, BBC (25 July 2007)
  7. ^ Hemley, Matthew Drop the Dead Donkey duo creates new BBC1 comedy, The Stage (11 July 2007)
This page was last edited on 26 November 2021, at 20:24
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