Eric & Ernie’s Christmas Show (1978)

m&w 78

Having jumped ship from the BBC to Thames in early 1978, this was their second special for ITV (the first was broadcast in October 1978).  Somebody who didn’t travel with them, at least to begin with, was Eddie Braben – so the show was written by Barry Cryer and John Junkin with additional material by Morecambe and Wise themselves.

The lack of Braben, and possibly having to work with producer/director Keith Beckett (who had produced the October special but still must have been an unknown quantity) might explain why everything feels a little laboured.

There’s the occasional ironic nod back to their BBC shows – most notably when they introduce Anna Ford and proceed to indulge in a trademark top hat and tails dance.  The joke, such as it is, is that this isn’t Ford but a lookalike – as becomes obvious when every opportunity is taken to shield her face from the camera.  Given that they were never short of real celebs, it’s an odd sequence – possibly a topical gag that hasn’t travelled down the decades too well?

The biggest waste of talent concerns Leonard Rossiter’s appearance.  Things start promisingly with some decent cross-talk in front of the curtain – Rossiter tells them he’s not working here, just passing through on his way to the BBC.  Eric then mutters they might not be far behind!  All three then drag up as the Andrews Sisters and mime to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.  And that’s it – the mere fact that they’re dressed as the Andrews Sisters is presumably supposed to be hilarious (but alas, no).

It’s not all bad though.  There’s a nice flat scene with Frank Finley and the sequence with Eric, Ernie and the Syd Lawrence Orchestra is good fun.  The big moment is reserved for the end, as Harold Wilson pops round to the flat.  Irrespective of whether he’s funny or not, the novelty of seeing the ex-prime minister is worth the price of admission alone.  The look on Eric and Ernie’s face as Wilson receives a tumultuous round of applause from the audience is lovely to see and Wilson’s a good sport – receiving Eric’s jibe that he’s actually Mike Yarwood (and doing an impression of Tommy Cooper!) with equanimity.

Overall it’s pretty patchy stuff.  M&W still obviously had the audience’s affection, but they weren’t well served by Cryer and Junkin’s material.

 

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Christmas with Eric and Ernie (1979)

eric & ernie

In March 1979 Eric Morecambe suffered his second heart attack.  Told at one point that he only had three months to live, it was a slow road to recovery.  His illness meant that a traditional Christmas Special was out of the question, so instead Thames gave us Christmas With Eric and Ernie.  This was essentially an extended interview conducted by David Frost which also saw a few special guests (Des O’Connor, Glenda Jackson) popping by to indulge in some banter.

It’s probably the best of the Thames specials, mainly because it was always a pleasure to see a relaxed Morecambe and Wise just sitting around chatting.  Eric is quite notably “on” for the early part of the interview, constantly looking to crack gags, but there are a few moments when he’s in a slightly more reflective mood.

“All comedy is based on fear” he says at one point.  Ernie then comments about tough houses – playing the Glasgow Empire and going off to the sound of your own footsteps.  Both of them delight in reminding Des about his disastrous time at the same theatre (he was so intimated by the audience that he fainted).  Morecambe and Wise went on the next week and offered the audience their impression of Des.  “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen <thud>”.

It’s not a detailed career-spanning retrospective, although Frost does ask about the early days, enabling Ernie to give us a rendition of Let’s Have a Tiddly At the Milk Bar, which is a nice moment.  There’s a clip from the ATV years, which sparks some interesting comments from Eric about how his comedy persona had changed over the years.

Des O’Connor is on hand to receive some good-natured abuse from Eric and Glenda Jackson provides a link to the classic BBC years (not surprisingly there’s no clips).

They end with Bring Me Sunshine and the appearance of Janet Webb to take all the applause is a nod back to former glories.  The Parkinson interview from the 1970’s probably has the edge on this one (a pity it wasn’t included on the BBC Christmas Specials DVD) but this is still a joy.

Morecambe & Wise: Two of a Kind to be released by Network – 5th December 2016

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Morecambe & Wise: Two of a Kind  will be released by Network in December.

Morecambe and Wise, undoubtedly the best-loved double act that Britain has ever produced, first achieved their phenomenal television success in the early 1960s with this long-running hit series for ATV. Showcasing their mildly anarchic humour, impeccable sense of timing and keen eye for the absurd in a feast of uproarious sketches, onstage antics and musical entertainment, Two of a Kind propelled Morecambe and Wise towards superstardom in no uncertain terms.

Each show features fast-moving skits and musical parodies, with Eric and Ernie giving us their inimitable versions of television favourites Supercar, Face to Face and Candid Camera – in addition to memorable interpretations of key scenes from Macbeth and Hamlet, Eric’s ongoing battle to get his lines right in Samson and Delilah, and undoubtedly the most ambitious attempt ever seen to recreate the ‘fight sequence’ in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers! Among the many guest stars are Roy Castle, Joe Brown, Kathy Kirby, Susan Maughan, The Bachelors and Acker Bilk.

This eight disc set contains all 48 editions of Two of a Kind (aka The Morecambe and Wise Show) alongside a wealth of special features – including an exceptionally rare early performance from 1957, several appearances on Val Parnell’s Saturday Spectacular and the two surviving editions of Piccadilly Palace.