Things get off to a bad start almost straight away. Somebody decided that the title music needed rearranging – so it’s gone all funky (wah-wah guitars and saxophone). This isn’t helped by the fact that while the titles are running there’s no clips of what’s to come (everything we see is of past glories – Andre Previn, Shirley Bassey, etc). Watching these brief moments of old classics would really only work if the current show was of a similar standard.
And sadly, it’s not. Eddie Braben’s on writing duties – but he seems to have struggled this year. It opens brightly enough though. Ernie’s less than impressed with Eric’s present to him – a ballpoint pen with a piece of chain still attached (“That’s where I snapped the chain at the post office”). But that’s nothing to the shock Eric receives from Ern’s present – a Des O’Connor record (“God, if you want me to be a goner, get me an LP by Des O’Connor”).
After some more digs at Des (“That’s the best record Des has ever made … You mean there’s nothing on it at all?”) he turns up to demand an explanation for the years of cruel jokes. The byplay between Des and Eric & Ernie is one of the best parts of the show, especially when Des seems to go off script, much to the bewilderment of Eric (“This is all new. You never once said ‘indelible thought’ at rehearsal”).
This then sets up a running gag of Des attempting to sing and getting thwarted each time – until he eventually manages to send the boys off on a wild goose chase, so that he can finally serenade the audience.
Apart from that, there’s not a great deal that’s really memorable. There’s a quick sketch with Robin Day that descends into a punch-up at the end. Periodically throughout the show we cut back to them as the fight gets more intense. One rule of comedy is that something doesn’t necessarily become funnier if it’s repeated – and that’s borne out here.
There is one great sketch though – Eric and Ernie visit a maternity shop to buy a present for Ern’s expectant sister. Ern seems to be totally oblivious to how babies are born (“Hey. Why are those frocks so big?”) and then takes offence to the innocent questions asked by the girl behind the counter (Ann Hamilton).
My sister hasn’t got a husband. My sister’s not married! As a matter of fact, my sister will have nothing to do with men. She doesn’t like men. She wouldn’t let a man touch her any time, I’m telling you! I don’t like that sort of thing meself, either. All that nasty business that goes on. It’s not nice. All that fumbling and crumbling that goes on, I know all about that.
Diana Rigg is the big guest star and rather unusually she first appears, completely unheralded, in a sketch about a psychiatrist before starring in the big end of show play. Ernie is Samuel Pepys, Eric is King Charles II and Diana is Nell Gwynn. It’s long – possibly a little too long – running at just under twenty minutes, but there is some filming to break up the studio stuff as well as an unexpected appearance from Gordon Jackson (who was a favourite with the viewers at the time, thanks to Upstairs Downstairs).
If his final line “What would Mrs Bridges say?” is a little obvious, then that sort of sums up the show. M&W would jump ship from the BBC to Thames a few years later, mainly because they were concerned that their shows were becoming stale and felt that a different network would give them new impetus. Whether the Thames shows were an improvement over the later BBC ones is a debate for another time, but on the evidence of the 1975 Christmas Show, M&W were somewhat treading water.