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Possibly the most fondly remembered British TV comedy programme
ever,certainly in the UK anyway.MONTY PYTHON received greater
international success,but even to this day,the Python's are not
regarded with as much love and affection in Britain,and several other
countries,as the UK's greatest comic double act,Eric Morecambe and
Ernie Wise.By the time of this BBC series,which started in 1968,Eric
and Ernie were certainly no spring chickens,having made their TV debut
in 1954,with the critically-lambasted RUNNING WILD,made by the same
channel.After several more years in the variety theatres,they returned
to TV in the early 1960's,with a far more successful series for
ITV,which made them national figures.But it is this series,made between
1968 - 1978,at their comedic peak,which turned them into the most
famous,popular and loved comic performers of their generation.
But after the first series,it didn't look as though it would propel them into the comic heights.Shortly after the first series,Eric Morecambe suffered a major heart attack (at the early age of 42),and their scriptwriters,Dick Hills and Sid Green,decided to depart to newer pastures.With Eric still recovering,the outlook was bleak before another comic writer,Eddie Braben,agreed to work for the team for the next series.This decision proved a masterstroke as Braben wrote even better scripts than before,further deepening Eric and Ernie's comic characterisations,and producing some of the funniest comic sketches ever seen on TV;The Grieg Piano Concerto with Andre Previn,Cleopatra with Glenda Jackson,the Stripper theme danced to in a kitchen,and a version of Gene Kelly's Singin In The Rain dance routine(Kelly later saw this and gave it considerable praise)probably the most memorable of many memorable scenes.
After years of treading the boards in many British variety theatres and venues,often empty,sometimes performing to silence with unresponsive audiences,Morecambe and Wise's experiences of both the good and bad side of performing stood them in good stead as they hardly ever put a foot wrong in this BBC series.Eric's extraordinary comic talent,his razor sharp timing,clever ad-libs,wonderful facial expressions and lovable,child-like persona was always a great plus,but the contribution of Ernie Wise was also enormously vital to the programme's success.Though admittedly not possessing his partner's comic brilliance(and frankly,virtually no other British performer before or since has ever matched Eric Morecambe's standards),Ernie was still a very talented comic performer,and his delivery of Braben's superb scripts was every bit as precise and well-timed as his partner's.His characterisation and performance of the egotistical,untalented playwright was nothing more than brilliant,and very accurate(I've met a few in my time!).That he succeeded in still making us like him is a great tribute to his abilities as a performer.They weren't outstanding singers or dancers,but were still very acceptable and always did a perfectly good job when the situation demanded it(Ernie was perhaps slightly better than Eric in these disciplines).
Morecambe and Wise's Tabs (large,theatrical curtains),their catchphrases("What do you think of it so far?","Tea,Ern?","You can't see the join"),their theme tune('Bring Me Sunshine'),their huge array of guest stars,and simply Morecambe and Wise themselves always guaranteed their TV audience a hour or so of great entertainment on many an evening in the 1970's.Their Christmas shows are especially remembered with deep affection,so much so that a family's Happy Christmas in those days depended on if they enjoyed Eric and Ernie's Xmas show! Their very last programme in this BBC series,their Christmas 1977 show,earned a then UK record audience of 28 million viewers.This couldn't be a more apt way to end arguably the most affectionately regarded British TV programme of them all,and the most loved British comic performers of them all.
Shortly afterwards,Eric and Ernie defected to UK commercial TV(Thames) to make a new series,though soon after Eric's health sadly took another turn for the worse(he had a second heart attack in 1979),and they never hit again the comedic heights of their BBC days.The show was still amusing,but much of the material was inferior re-workings from previous,better shows,and Eric no longer was performing with as much comic gusto and precise timing as before;it has since become well documented that he was becoming(justifiably)more concerned about his health rather than this Thames TV series.The series continued until Eric's early death in 1984 at the age of 58;the outpouring of sadness on the day of his death has probably been surpassed only on a few sparse other occasions in Britain.It's understandable;THE MORECAMBE AND WISE SHOW between 1968-1978 set standards that are likely never to be bettered.And in this day and age (Reality shows infesting UK schedules everywhere now,with stupefying non-talents included),I'm pretty confident they never will be.
Morecambe And Wise were THE British comedy double act of all time.
Their influence on British comedy remains as strong, and their
performances will forever be imprinted on the minds of generations of
British TV viewers. With their iconic seventies shows that the "A" list
celebrities of the time were queuing up to get on (Glenda Jackson,
Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and who can forget Angela Rippon), they
achieved what comedians these days seem to shy away from - they
produced classic, family friendly shows that were actually funny,
inventive and entertaining.
They were the absolute (and without a shadow of a doubt) best comedians of all time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I couldn't match 'BJJManchester's detailed and well-presented resume of
Britain's (indeed the world's) finest comedy duo, but I couldn't pass
and say nothing.
Eric & Ernie brought so much 'sunshine' into the lives of a generation that it is nothing less than a disgrace to find their memory so neglected. We Brits really do not value our assets. If they had been American, a university campus would probably have been named after them at the very least.
Their golden decade at the BBC saw them co-opt a host of stars & personalities into hilarious and sometimes slightly surreal sketches. These sketches have now passed into a pantheon of unimpeachably classic comedy entertainment. Andre Previn, Shirley Bassey and many more almost queued-up to lay their careers on the line. Christmas certainly was not complete without their Christmas specials.
When they passed into history, something irreplaceable was lost for ever. Television has never been so funny. Yes; there's been 'Red Dwarf', 'Father Ted' and so on. But these tended to have a cult appeal. they were one-dimensional sit-coms, though hilarious even so.
Eric & Ernie were not just comedians; they were sophisticated show-business personalities. They didn't just tell gags; they were performing clowns who could sing. And they were harmless. Nobody was insulted, their was no foul language. They were professionals through and through.
Look at the present crop of what passes for comedians and weep. Sharp and funny as they may be as stand-up gags-men; that's all most of them can do, and usually with a poisonous string of victimising bile that isn't fit for kids to hear. Eric & Ernie could do everything, cleanly and cleverly.
'Bring me sunshine'; that's exactly what they did.
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