The Morecambe And Wise Show (BBC2, 1968-1971, BBC1, 1969-1977, ITV, 1978-1983)
Here are a couple of things about me. When I was younger, I wasn’t sure why the comedy double-act Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were so revered, because some of their Christmas specials were repeated so frequently, I thought they had only ever made about three shows. Also, I don’t know what people will think of this, but as much as I have enjoyed their work, and I am aware that they weren’t entirely similar, I have always preferred The Two Ronnies.
Morecambe and Wise were always more in the funnyman/straightman style. By the time of the launch of their BBC show in the late-60s, they had already been regulars on the TV and radio in various shows for about 15 years, along with starring in three films. There was no doubt that they had worked hard for their success, and they were fairly popular, but it wasn’t really until this series that they entered the top category of entertainers with viewers.
They had settled into their routine by this point, and the combination of their interplay (with lots of references to “short fat hairy legs” and “a wig so good that you could barely see the join”), along with sketches featuring plays that Ernie supposedly wrote, digs at Des O’Connor, and song and dance routines, meant that their Christmas specials where hugely anticipated, and were among the highest-rated TV shows of the whole year.
A huge amount of celebrity guests were eager to take part, and didn’t mind being made fun of, which led to some rather memorable moments, partly because some of them have been repeated about a million times (a rough estimate). And there was rather a lot of surprise when in 1978 they decided to join (or indeed rejoin) ITV, and their new series would be produced by Thames. Even Bruce Forsyth’s similar move around the same time didn’t cause as much of a stir.
These shows never seemed to be as popular though, and didn’t achieve anywhere near the ratings or popular response as their BBC series did. Well it’s still better work than doing the summer season on a wet Tuesday in Skegness I suppose. And when Eric died in 1984, that brought things to a sombre end, after they had brought sunshine to viewers of all ages for so many years. We can only wonder what would’ve happened if they had carried on into at least the mid-80s though.
Their style probably would’ve become outmoded following the rise of the alternative comedy scene, and Thames might’ve even as gone so far as to drop them, just like they did with Benny Hill in the late-80s. But as it turns out, they are still regarded among the British comedy greats, as the endless repeats, compilations, documentaries, and DVD releases would prove, somehow all these years on they still seem rather familiar. Maybe things are still funny the millionth time you see them.