The 1976 Christmas Show was the second that Eddie Braben didn’t write – although it’s certainly better than the previous non-Braben show (1972) and something of an improvement on the 1975 show. Mike Craig, Barry Cryer, Lawrie Kinsley and Ron McDonnell were on writing duties (with additional material from M&W). Although Ern sometimes seems a little dim (not realising that Eric’s Christmas gift was incredibly duff, for example) overall it’s a good attempt at synthesising the Braben style.
There’s a dress-up sketch, similar to efforts from some of the previous Christmas shows (Turkeys/Reindeers). Here, Morecambe and Wise are two members of a table-top football team. Ern’s the new left back, whilst Eric has been there a while. “42,338 consecutive games. And only had the trainer on once. And that was for a coat of varnish.”
The Nolans sing When You Are A King. They’re very pink.
Elton John’s good value. Initially he attempts to provide piano accompaniment for the boys.
ELTON: Do you want this blues, reggae or funky?
ERIC: (looks offstage) Can he say “funky”? No, “funky”. You were close. The studio manager is looking it up. It’s a gift he has.
Eventually Elton gets so frustrated he grabs Eric (although slightly too hard as they bump faces – watch out for Eric and Ernie’s expressions, priceless!). He then appears a few more times, before getting the chance to sing Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word. He obviously made a good impression as he’s back the following year.
By this time, Ernest Maxin had taken over as producer. He had choreographed some of the musical numbers on previous shows – so it’s maybe not surprising that song & dance numbers tended to feature quite strongly during his time as producer. Since M&W (especially Ernie) both loved song & dance, it’s something that plays to their strengths and there’s two good examples in this show.
Ernie performs Singing in the Rain whilst staying bone-dry (it’s Eric who gets wet). As Ernie was always something of a frustrated song-and-dance man, it’s a lovely segment for him. The street set looked very impressive, especially for such a short sequence – which was a clear indication just how highly the BBC rated M&W (clearly money was no objective when crafting the Christmas show).
The play boasts appearances from John Thaw, Dennis Waterman and Kate O’Mara. They help to liven things up – especially John Thaw – but like a number of the other plays it’s just far, far too long. At twenty minutes, it feels very padded out.
Nowadays it’s a common sight for newsreaders to dress up and perform (Children in Need or Strictly Come Dancing, amongst others). Back in 1976, it just didn’t happen – which explains why Angela Rippon’s appearance caused such a sensation. M&W get to dress up in top hat and tails and it provides a nice end to an entertaining show.