Ken Sykora

Biography by

A fixture of British radio in the years following World War II, Ken Sykora was not only one of the most acclaimed jazz guitarists of his generation but also a respected broadcaster who appeared regularly…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

A fixture of British radio in the years following World War II, Ken Sykora was not only one of the most acclaimed jazz guitarists of his generation but also a respected broadcaster who appeared regularly across the BBC's family of networks. Born in London on April 13, 1923, Sykora was the son of a Swiss-German countess who eloped with a Czech cavalry officer. He later studied geography at Cambridge, where he also organized the Cambridge University Band Society. Upon earning a degree in science from the London School of Economics, Sykora served as an intelligence officer during the war, returning to teach in London's east end. He also moonlighted in local jazz clubs, most notably Murray's Cabaret Club, and in 1951 formed his own band while also performing with Ted Heath at the London Palladium and with Geraldo at the Stoll Theatre. Named Britain's top guitarist five years running in Melody Maker's annual readers poll, Sykora was eventually hired by the BBC as a presenter on broadcasts including Jazz Club and Jazz Band Ball. He also created and hosted the series Guitar Club, which yielded a series of EPs of the same name. As his profile grew, Sykora was seemingly everywhere, hosting BBC programs including Those Record Years, Album Time, Big Band Sound, and Radio Three's Jazz Digest. He also wrote and presented Radio One's first Plain Musician's Guide to the History of Pop, and created Be My Guest, which featured international celebrities ranging from Bing Crosby to Count Basie to Andrés Segovia.

Sykora inevitably moved into television as well, appearing on the BBC, ATV, and Angila networks. He also proved a successful writer, penning features for the British music press as well as travel and wine magazines. But radio remained Sykora's medium of choice, and he embraced new technological advances, helming some of the first experiments in stereo broadcasting and employing radio cars on location. But while hosting the programs You and Yours and Start the Week, in 1972 Sykora abruptly resigned from broadcasting, relocating his family to Scotland to run a hotel. The work proved demanding and tedious, however, and within five years he sold the property, returning to broadcasting full-time on the fledgling Radio Clyde network with Serendipity with Sykora. He later served as the network's head of features, producing community-based series including Clyde Action, School Scene, and Over-Fifties Club. For BBC Radio Scotland, Sykora also won a Glenfiddich Award for best radio program with 1978's Eater's Digest. This foodie series was in many respects his crowning achievement, and in the early '80s he began winding down his broadcasting career, although on occasion he still played guitar at clubs surrounding his Scotland home. Musicians including Diz Disley and Martin Taylor celebrated Sykora's 80th birthday with an all-star tribute concert in 2003. He passed away on March 7, 2006.