The Morecambe & Wise Show (1968–1977)

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The Morecambe & Wise Show
Format Sketch show
Written by Hills and Green (1968)
Eddie Braben (1969-1977)
Starring Eric Morecambe
Ernie Wise
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 9
No. of episodes 73
Production
Producer(s) John Ammonds (1968-1974)
Ernest Maxin (1974-1977)
Running time 30–65 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel BBC2
Picture format
405-line Black & White
(4:3 SDTV) (1968–69)
576i Colour
(4:3 SDTV)(1970–77)
Audio format Monaural (1967–1977)
Original run 1 October 1967 (1967-10-01) – 25 December 1977 (1977-12-25)
Chronology
Followed by The Morecambe & Wise Show (Thames Television)
1978-1983

The Morecambe & Wise Show is a BBC television comedy sketch show and the third TV series by English comedy double-act Morecambe and Wise. It began airing in 1968 on BBC 2, specifically because it was then the only channel broadcasting in colour, following the duo's move to the BBC from ATV, where they had made Two of a Kind since 1961.

The Morecambe & Wise Show was popular enough to be moved to BBC 1, with its Christmas specials garnering prime-time audiences in excess of 20 million, some of the largest in British television history. After their 1977 Christmas show, Morecambe and Wise returned to ITV, keeping the title The Morecambe & Wise Show.

History[edit]

Beginnings[edit]

The first series of the "new" Morecambe & Wise Show was broadcast in colour on BBC 2 in 1968 and was deemed to be a success. Though now established as a popular star, Eric Morecambe felt himself to be placed under a great deal of pressure. At this stage in their careers Ernie Wise was ostensibly still fulfilling the role of straight man. This was reflected in their material and although successful the new show was repeating the formula of their ATV shows; any chance to consider a change in direction was halted when Morecambe suffered a heart attack in November 1968. At this time the writers Hills & Green felt the situation had exhausted itself and it was time to move on to pastures new. It was unclear if the double act would ever perform again.

Braben arrives[edit]

During the hiatus while Morecambe recovered, the BBC approached Eddie Braben, then known as a gag writer for Ken Dodd, to write material for the pair and when they returned to the screen for a second series in 1969 their best remembered persona's began to take shape. Braben attributed the "characters" he created to having studied the pair at rehearsals and said that he merely exaggerated their existing characteristics to best effect.[citation needed] Memorable of their first series was the opening scene of the first episode, where Morecambe, full of his usual nervous energy, pulls open his suit jacket and shouts "Keep going you fool!" in a direct reference to his much-publicised heart attack. It was typical of his humour.

Strength to strength[edit]

A tradition that had begun with Two of a Kind was the invite to special guests and the subsequent "insulting" of them, and this was stepped up a gear with the BBC shows. The horror film actor Peter Cushing was one of the first to be so treated beginning the long-running in-joke that he had never been paid. This stretched over ten years to the duo's arrival at Thames Television. The shows became more structured, with an opening "spot" in front of the curtains in a mock-theatre set-up that they insisted upon having, guest singers and groups, a sketch with the two in their flat, either in the lounge or in bed together, a lavish play "wot Ern wrote" and the final theme song, over the credits.

List of episodes and guests[edit]

Theme tunes[edit]

By far the most fondly remembered of the duo's signature tunes was "Bring Me Sunshine" which was written by Arthur Kent but it was not the only tune the pair used. The other songs used were "Positive Thinking", "We Get Along So Easily (Don't You Agree?)" "Following You Around" and "Just Around The Corner".

The BBC made several compilation programmes and "best of" editions in recent years and favoured "Bring Me Sunshine" as the most popular song they used which has made it more consciously associated with them than the other tunes.[citation needed]

"Walking Into Sunshine" was introduced to the show in the first Thames special, though that was the only appearance of the song.

Running jokes and in-gags[edit]

"The lady who comes down at the end"[edit]

There were several items that overran into other shows and series; the first was the "lady who comes down at the end" (Janet Webb) who, despite having no involvement in the 50-minute programme would stride onto the stage at the very end of the show (after all the guest stars had taken their curtain-call) and take a bow. In later series, this was accompanied by her following speech: "I'd like to thank all of you for watching me and my little show here tonight; if you've enjoyed it, then it's all been worthwhile. So, until we meet again, goodbye - and I love you all!" after which she would be showered with gifts of champagne, boxes of chocolates, etc. Her presence was never explained on the programme. In one episode she "marries" Arthur Lowe who claims he only agreed to appear on the understanding he could meet her. She does also appear in one of Ern's plays with Robert Morley as "Tutantessie" a clear reference to comedienne Tessie O'Shea who went by the name "Two-Ton Tessie".

"He's Frankie Vaughan's son"[edit]

The recurring character, originally billed as Frankie Vaughan's son, appeared regularly in the earlier series and was played by Rex Rashley who also appeared variously as "John Wayne" and "Bob Pope" in a sketch which involves Little Ern thinking he's going to be Bob Hope's script writer, only for the ageing figure of Rashley to appear through the drapes. Again, he also appeared in several of the plays at the end of each show, as a sailor in "Monty on the Bonty", and variously as a butler, etc., in other shows and hilariously as Robin Hood in one episode from the third series.

Des, short for Desperate[edit]

The first few series saw singer Frankie Vaughan as the butt of all jokes (on one memorable occasion a decrepit be-suited character shuffled on stage only to be announced as "Frankie Vaughan's Son") and the singer began to take exception to being treated in this way and had a lawyer's letter drawn up addressed to the BBC. The answer to this turned out to be very simple; the premise of the joke was simply transferred over to Morecambe's friend Des O'Connor who memorably was the butt of many unkind jokes for several years, culminating in his appearance on both the 1975 and 1976 Christmas Specials to much acclaim. O'Connor did however have an excellent relationship with the pair, and delivered the tribute to Eric Morecambe at the 1984 Bring Me Sunshine tribute concert in aid of the British Heart Foundation which took place at the London Palladium after Eric's death.

"Not now, Arthur"[edit]

The veteran harmonica player Arthur Tolcher effectively replaced the Janet Webb role in later series, by appearing when least expected or needed and bursting into the first few bars of a harmonica tune fully dressed in concert attire with white tie and tails; he would usually appear after the titles had rolled, the credits had appeared on-screen and the snatch of a bar would be heard before the screen faded to black. He also enjoyed some bit parts in plays but was never permitted to perform his entire act on the show. It is interesting to note that he appeared (in this guise) at the Bring Me Sunshine tribute to Eric Morecambe after a break of several years not having been associated with the duo.

The Christmas Shows[edit]

So enormous became Morecambe and Wise's popularity that their Christmas shows were essential viewing in the United Kingdom. Always broadcast at peak time on Christmas Day,[1] these increasingly lavish affairs provided some of the most memorable moments in the series. For example Grieg's Piano Concerto with André Previn, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes with Shirley Bassey and Glenda Jackson's medley of Hollywood tunes all came from the same Christmas Show in 1971.

The show was known for introducing newsreader Angela Rippon's legs to the world in 1976. This (along with the 1972 special) were the only Christmas shows of the BBC years not to be penned by Eddie Braben, when writing duties transferred to John Junkin and Barry Cryer among others.

The 1977 show saw the ratings reach more than 28 million viewers, making it one of the 25 all-time most watched programmes on British television, as of April 2012.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] The 1977 special included a version of 'There Is Nothing Like a Dame', performed by a chorus line of male BBC presenters, including Barry Norman, Michael Aspel and Peter Woods.

There was no Christmas Show in 1974, when Mike Yarwood filled the peak time slot. Instead a special edition of Michael Parkinson's show was aired late at night in which he interviewed Eric and Ernie interspersed with clips of their previous shows.[10]

DVD releases[edit]

In June 2007 2 Entertain began releasing The Morecambe and Wise Show on DVD in region 2. The first series of the show was wiped from the BBC archives and only 25 minutes of one episode now survives; this was included on the DVD release of the complete second series on 4 June 2007. The complete third series including the Golden Rose Of Montreux episode was released on 6 August 2007.

The complete set of Christmas Shows was released as a three-disc set on 12 November 2007.

The fourth series was released on DVD on 3 April 2008 but does not include the sixth episode of the series, which no longer exists. The fifth series was released on 4 May 2009. The sixth series has been released on 3 August 2009. The seventh series was released on 3 May 2010. The eighth series was released on 5 July 2010, and the ninth series was released on 23 August 2010.

A complete box-set containing all nine series and eight Christmas specials (not included was the 1974 Michael Parkinson Christmas programme) was released on 4 October 2010.

DVD Title Discs Year No. of Ep. DVD release
Region 2 Region 4
Series 1 And 2 2 1967-1968 5 4 June 2007
Series 3 2 1970 7 6 August 2007
Series 4 2 1970 5 3 April 2008
Series 5 2 1971 7 4 May 2009
Series 6 2 1971 6 3 August 2009
Series 7 3 1973 12 3 May 2010
Series 8 2 1974 6 5 July 2010
Series 9 2 1976 6 23 August 2010
The Christmas Specials 3 1969–1977 8 11 November 2007
The Complete Collection 20 1967-1977 62 4 October 2010
The Best of... 1 1 Compilation 1 October 2001

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Morecambe and Wise episode guide". Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
  2. ^ The Guinness Book of Records.
  3. ^ "Eric and Ern – The Morecambe & Wise Show: Series 8". Morecambeandwise.com. Retrieved 2011-08-24. 
  4. ^ "Ernie Wise". The Daily Telegraph. 22 March 1999. Retrieved 2011-08-24. 
  5. ^ Barfe, Louis (22 November 2008). "How John Sergeant revived did-you-see TV". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2011-08-24. 
  6. ^ Rovoir, Paul (29 December 2009). "BBC hit by ratings slump as viewers complain of repetitive scheduling". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 2011-08-24. 
  7. ^ Bushby, Helen (30 December 2010). "Victoria Wood tells all about Eric and Ernie". BBC News. Retrieved 2011-08-24. 
  8. ^ ITV and the BFI quote a figure of 21.3 million. "Features | Britain's Most Watched TV | 1970s". BFI. 4 September 2006. Retrieved 2012-04-28. 
  9. ^ Moran, Joe (22 March 2011). "One nation Christmas television". The Guardian. Retrieved 2011-08-24. 
  10. ^ "UK Christmas TV". Retrieved 1 January 2012. 

External links[edit]