Morecambe and Wise
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Morecambe and Wise were a famous British comic double act comprising Eric Morecambe OBE and Ernie Wise OBE. The act lasted for 43 years until Morecambe's death in 1984. They are widely considered to be the most successful double act in Britain for generations. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, The Morecambe and Wise Show was placed 14th. In September 2006, they were voted by the general public as number 2 in a poll of TV's Greatest Stars.
Eric and Ernie first joined forces in 1941 when booked separately to appear in Jack Hylton's revue, Youth Takes a Bow. War service broke up the act but they reunited by chance in 1946 when they joined forces again. Initially appearing in music hall, they made their name in radio, transferring to television in 1954. Their show, Running Wild, was not well received and led to a damning newspaper review: "Definition of the week: TV set - the box in which they buried Morecambe and Wise." Eric apparently carried this review around with him ever after and from then on Eric and Ernie kept a tight control over their material. In 1956 they were offered a spot in the Winifred Atwell show with material written by Johnny Speight and this was a success.
They had a series of shows that spanned over twenty years, during which time they developed and honed their act, most notably with the original move to the BBC in 1968 where they were to be teamed with their long-term writer Eddie Braben and it is this period of their careers that is widely regarded as their "glory days". Their shows were:-
- Two Of A Kind (1961) ( ATV, 1961-1968. Writers: Dick Hills and Sid Green).
- The Morecambe & Wise Show (1968) (BBC, 1968-1978. Writers: Hills and Green for one series and thereafter Eddie Braben).
- The Morecambe & Wise Show (1978) ( Thames Television, 1978 until their final show together at Christmas 1983. Writers: themselves, Barry Cryer, John Junkin, and from 1980, Eddie Braben).
During the 1960s the pair starred in three feature films ( The Intelligence Men (1965), That Riviera Touch (1966), and The Magnificent Two (1967)) but these are not generally considered a great success. However, they also starred in Night Train To Murder in 1983.
In 1976, they were both awarded OBEs.
In the later and most successful part of their career, which spanned the 1970s, they were joined behind the scenes by Eddie Braben, a script writer who generated almost all their material (Morecambe and Wise were also sometimes credited as supplying "additional material") and defined what is now thought of as typical Morecambe and Wise humour. Together Morecambe, Wise and Braben were known as "The Golden Triangle". Morecambe and Wise are considered by many to be one of the UK's all-time favourite comedy acts.
John Ammonds was also central to the duo's most successful period in the 1970s. As the producer of the BBC TV shows, it was his idea to involve celebrity guests. He also came up with the duo's familiar dance.
A typical Morecambe and Wise show, as scripted by Braben, was effectively a sketch show crossed with a sitcom, although shows could also include the duo appearing "as themselves" on a mock stage in front of curtains emblazoned with an M and W logo (this was usually to open the show). Braben gave the duo characterisations—Wise egotistical but naive, Morecambe child-like and cocky—although at other times they relied on their acting ability to appear as characters in sketches. Wise was essentially the 'straight man' of the duo, with Morecambe usually given the funnier lines, usually bouncing them off Wise. Wise's contribution to the humour is a subject of an ongoing debate (to the end of his life he would always reject interviewers' suggestions that he was 'the straight man', preferring to call himself 'the song-and-dance man'); but as the manager of the duo he worked hard to ensure their success.
A central conceit was that the duo lived together as close, long-term friends (references to a childhood friendship were legion) who shared not merely a flat but also a bed -- although their relationship was innocently platonic and merely continued a tradition of comic partners sleeping in the same bed that started with Laurel and Hardy (Morecambe, one gathers, was initially uncomfortable with the bed-sharing sketches, but changed his mind upon being reminded of the Laurel-and-Hardy precedent. Even so, he still insisted on smoking his pipe in the bed scenes "for the masculinity"). The front room of the flat and also the bedroom were used frequently throughout the show episodes, although Braben would also transplant the duo into various external situations, such as a health-food shop or a bank. Many references were made to Ernie's meanness with money and drink.
Another conceit of the shows during the 'Braben era' was Wise's utterly confident presentation of amateurishly inept plays. This allowed for another kind of sketch: the staged 'historical drama', which usually parodied genuine historical television plays or films (such as Stalag 54, Antony and Cleopatra, or Napoleon and Josephine). Wise's character would write a play, complete with cheap props and appallingly clumsy writing ("the play what I wrote" became a catchphrase), which would then be acted out by Morecambe, Wise and the show's guest star. Guests who participated included many big names of the 1970s and 80s, such as Flora Robson, Penelope Keith, Laurence Olivier, John Mills, Vanessa Redgrave, Eric Porter, Peter Cushing and Frank Finlay - as well as Glenda Jackson (as Cleopatra: "All men are fools. And what makes them so is having beauty like what I have got..."). Jackson had not previously been known as a comedienne and this appearance led to her Oscar winning role in A Touch of Class. Morecambe and Wise would often pretend not to have heard of their guest, or would appear to confuse them with someone else (former UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson returned the favour, when appearing as a guest at the duo's 'flat', by referring to Morecambe as 'Mor-e-cam-by'). Also noteworthy was the occasion when the respected BBC newsreader Angela Rippon was induced to show her shapely legs in a dance-number (she had trained as a ballet dancer before she became a journalist and TV presenter), and when Richard Greene of Robin Hood fame played a lost aviator called 'Miles Behind'. Braben later said that a large amount of the duo's humour was based on irreverence. A running gag in a number of shows was a short sequence showing a well-known artist in closeup saying "I appeared in an Ernie Wise play, and look what happened to me!". The camera would then pull back and show the artist doing some low-status job such as selling newspapers, streetwalking, driving a bus, or some other ill-paid employment. However, celebrities felt they had received the highest accolade in showbusiness by being invited to appear in "an Ernest Wide play" as Ernie once mispronounced it during a show's introduction involving 'Vanilla' (Vanessa) Redgrave.
As a carry-over from their music hall days, Morecambe and Wise sang and danced at the end of each show (poignantly, this tradition was abandoned when Eric's heart condition prevented him dancing: the comic solution was to present him walking across the stage with coat and bag, ostensibly to 'wait for his bus', while Ernie danced by himself). Their peculiar skipping dance was an improvised form of the Groucho Marx walk that involved putting alternate hands behind the head. Their signature tune was Bring Me Sunshine. They either sang this at the end of each show or it was used as a theme tune during the credits (although in some of their earlier shows they used other songs as well, notably "Following You Around", "Positive Thinking" and "Don't You Agree"). A standard gag at the end of each show was for a large lady (Janet Webb) to appear behind the pair, walk to the front of the stage and push them out of her way. She would then recite: "I’d like to thank 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, goodnight, and I love you all!" Webb was never announced and never appeared in their shows in any other context. Another running gag involved an old colleague from their music hall days, harmonica player Arthur Tolcher. Arthur would keep appearing on the stage in evening wear and would play a few bars of his mouth organ only to be told "Not now,Arthur!"
During a theatrical tribute to the duo, The Play What I Wrote, many members of the audience wept when their "Bring me Sunshine" theme tune was played. This indicates the popularity and special place Morecambe and Wise hold in the hearts of many British people. In June 2007, the BBC released a DVD of surviving material from their first series in 1968, and the complete second series from 1969.
- The Morecambe & Wise Show (1968)
- The Morecambe & Wise Show (1978)
With the exception of 1974, the show had end-of-year Christmas specials, which became such an institution during the 1970s that few British families would dream of missing them. Braben would comment that people judged the quality of their Christmas experience on the quality of the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. From 1969 until 1980, 1974 apart, the shows were always on Christmas Day. The 1977 Christmas Show attracted 28 million viewers, around half of the total UK population. It was a record for a single light entertainment broadcast in Britain, and one which still stands.
Singin' In The Rain
One of the famous Morecambe and Wise routines was their recreation of the scene from the film. " Singin' in the Rain", where Gene Kelly dances in the rain, and sings the song " Singin' in the Rain". This recreation featured Ernie exactly copying Gene Kelly's dance routine, on a set which exactly copied the set used in the movie, and Eric performed the role of the policeman. The difference from the original was that in the Morecambe and Wise version, there is no water, except for some downpours onto Eric's head (through a drain, or dumped out of a window, etc.). This lack of water was initially because of practical considerations (the floor of the studio had many electrical cables on it, and such quantities of water would be dangerous) — but Morecambe and Wise found a way to turn the lack of water into a comic asset.
Tribute To Flanagan & Allen
Eric and Ernie often cited the earlier comedy team Flanagan and Allen as influences on their own work; although Morecambe and Wise never imitated or copied Flanagan and Allen, they did sometimes work explicit references to the earlier team into their own cross-talk routines and sketches. In the mid-1970s, Eric and Ernie recorded a tribute album, Morecambe and Wise Sing Flanagan and Allen (Phillips 6382 095), in which they performed some of the earlier team's more popular songs in their own style, without attempting to imitate the originals. Fans of either comedy team may be slightly disappointed by this album, since all of the selections are performed absolutely straight, with no comedy except for a brief amount of banter after one of the songs.
Grieg's Piano Concerto
Classic sketches from such shows revolved around the guest stars, such as André Previn (referred to as "Andrew Preview or Privet") in 1971. This sketch showed Eric attempting to play Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto, and after much comic business between Eric, Previn and the orchestra ("Is this the band?"), Eric reduces Previn to exasperation because he is playing it in a jerky, out-of-tempo manner. Eventually Previn tells Eric he is playing all the wrong notes, to which Eric responds by seizing Previn by the jacket lapels and menacingly saying to him the classic line "I'm playing all the right notes... but not necessarily in the right order." This line is still used today by musicians and choir members when humourously responding to critical conductors. (André Previn reminisced later that he was conducting a concert in Britain and the Grieg concerto started but had to be stopped because the audience was giggling. He said he knew what they were thinking about and had to give them several minutes to calm down.)
Catchphrases & Visual Gags
Some of the duo's catchphrases include:
- "What do you think of it so far?" (said by Morecambe, who would use a prop—such as a statue or stuffed toy—to answer: "Rubbish!") Morecambe said later that whenever he was in the directors' box when Luton Town were playing away, and Luton were behind at half-time, the home fans would shout 'What do you think of it so far?'
- "More tea, Ern?" (a pun on "tea urn", a vessel for serving hot drinks used in workplaces)
- "[He's got] short,fat,hairy legs" (said by Morecambe of Wise)
- "You can't see the join!" (said by Morecambe of Wise's alleged wig)
- "The play what I wrote" (said by Wise of his literary works)
- "Arsenal!" (said by Morecambe), dating from a Mastermind sketch in which Morecambe is an incompetent 'Mr Memory' unable to remember anything without unsubtle prompting from Wise. It developed into a running gag, so that whenever Wise coughed, Morecambe would shout 'Arsenal!'
- "He's not wrong, you know!" (said by Morecambe)
- "Wahey!" (said by Morecambe after what he considers is a particularly good joke)
- "He's still got it, you know" (said by Morecambe, referring to himself, after what he considers a particularly good joke)
- "There's no answer to that!" (said by Morecambe after anything which could be construed as innuendo; he also said "Pardon?" in a similar way)
- Making fun of the singer and entertainer Des O'Connor in various disparaging ways, e.g. "If you want me to be a goner, buy me a record by Des O'Connor"
- "That's easy for you to say!" (Morecambe) if anyone fluffed their line.
- Morecambe deliberately getting guest stars' names wrong, e.g. Andre Previn = Andrew Preview, Elton John = Elephant John
- "Just watch it, that's all!" (said by Morecambe when grabbing Wise by the lapels)
- "You said that without moving your lips" (said by Morecambe if someone said a line whilst he was looking at somebody else).
- Eric to Ernie: "I see your fan's in!"
- Eric: "Look at me when I'm talking to you!"
Additionally, there were many repeated visual gags:
- Morecambe dressed in an overcoat and cloth cap and carrying a shopping bag, walking across the back of the stage as Wise sings the duo's theme song, "Bring Me Sunshine"
- Morecambe affectionately slapping the top of Wise's shoulders and then cheeks with both hands
- Wise's hair supposedly being a wig (also the catchphase said by Morecambe: "You can't see the join")
- Morecambe deliberately making his glasses wonky and/or upside down
- Morecambe pretending to bully people, usually the star guest, by grabbing them by the collar and pulling them to his face
- Morecambe reading The Beano, eating crisps, smoking a pipe etc
- Wise appearing on stage and Morecambe joining him from behind the stage curtain but being unable to find the opening and then trying to fight his way out
- The duo's dance at the end of each show, which would see them exiting the stage by skipping and putting alternate hands behind their heads and backs
- Fake title sequences for Wise's plays which satirised current events or popular personalities of the time
- Visual jokes about Luton Town F.C., a football club of which Morecambe was a director.
- Eric's prop - be it a mop, cuffs, a cane or trousers - getting progressively longer during dance sequences. Often, it got so long it became ridiculous (more laughs!), such as when his cane had reached such a length, he knocked Glenda Jackson from the stage.
- Eric would throw a pretend ball in the air and catch it in a real paper bag, watching the invisible ball during its supposed flight and making a sound as though the ball had landed in the bag.
- Eric putting a paper cup over his mouth and nose and performing a brief impersonation of Jimmy Durante; 'Sitting at my pianna the udder day ...'
- Eric noticing the camera and putting on a cheesy grin
- Eric standing in front of stage curtains and pretending an arm comes out from behind the curtain and seizes him by the neck
Famous Guest Stars
Guest Stars & Personalities
- Michael Aspel, Richard Baker, Peter Barkworth, Shirley Bassey, Frank Bough, Peter Bowles, Patricia Brake, Bernard Bresslaw, Richard Briers, Richard Caldicot, Ian Carmichael, Roy Castle, Diane Cilento, Margaret Courtenay, Harry Corbett, Gemma Craven, Peter Cushing, Allan Cuthbertson, Suzanne Danielle, Anna Dawson, Robin Day, Judi Dench, David Dimbleby, Diana Dors, Michele Dotrice, Robert Dougall, Clive Dunn, Paul Eddington, Dick Emery, Trevor Eve, Fenella Fielding, Frank Finlay, Bruce Forsyth, Grazina Frame, William Franklyn, David Frost, Jill Gascoigne, Hannah Gordon, Anita Graham, Hughie Green, Richard Greene, Derek Griffiths, Alec Guinness, Deryck Guyler, Susan Hampshire, Robert Hardy, Anita Harris, George Harrison, Nigel Hawthorne, Denis Healey, Glenda Jackson, Gordon Jackson, Derek Jacobi, Philip Jenkinson, Diane Keen, Felicity Kendal, Ludovic Kennedy, Penelope Keith, Burt Kwouk, Bonnie Langford, John Laurie, Ian Lavender, John Lennon, Rula Lenska, Valerie Leon, Jenny Linden, Arthur Lowe, Joanna Lumley, Fulton Mackay, Magnus Magnusson, Francis Matthews, Paul McCartney, Yehudi Menuhin, Penny Meredith, John le Mesurier, Valerie Minifie, Keith Michell, John Mills, Juliet Mills, Royce Mills, Patrick Moore, Patrick Mower, Barbara Murray, Nanette Newman, Barry Norman, Rudolf Nureyev, Des O'Connor, Ian Ogilvy, Sir Laurence Olivier, Kate O'Mara, Hugh Paddick, Michael Parkinson, Eric Porter, Andre Previn, David Prowse, Michael Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave, Angharad Rees, Cliff Richard, Ralph Richardson, Arnold Ridley, Diana Rigg, Angela Rippon, Flora Robson, Leonard Rossiter, Leonard Sachs, Anthony Sharp, Isla St Clair, Donald Sinden, Wayne Sleep, Ringo Starr, John Thaw, Percy Thrower, Jackie Trent, Frankie Vaughan, Peter Vaughan, Richard Vernon, April Walker, Michael Ward, Eddie Waring, Dennis Waterman, Dilys Watling, Colin Welland, June Whitfield, Richard Whitmore, Barbie Wilde, Harold Wilson, Terry Wogan, Edward Woodward, Susannah York, Jimmy Young, Robert Young, Lena Zavaroni
- The Beatles, The Small Faces, The Hollies, Tom Jones, Lulu, Elton John, Shirley Bassey, Cliff Richard and The Pattersons. Most of the singers also took part in sketches — (for instance, The Beatles acted in a comic version sketch of " Pyramus and Thisbe", as performed within the Shakespearean play " A Midsummer's Night Dream").