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.