The Morecambe and Wise Story
Feature from 2007Continued…
Moving back to radio, they continued with the act, and took tentative steps back in television with guest spots on the Winifred Atwell Show and Double Six 1956.
Five years later and the boy were ready for a crack at their own show again, and ATV offered them the series Two Of A Kind, initially only set for 9 30 minute episode.
Sid Green and Dick Hills were brought in as writers, producing grand sketches and long complex gags, something not suited to the talents of Eric and Ern. Luckily, Equity, the actors union went on strike, forcing Sid and Dick to trim down their ideas. What they produced was a series short snappy routines that Eric and Ern thrived on. Stepping in as extras, Sid and Dick were forced to play the stooges to the often ad-libbing Eric and Ern. This small change made all the difference, and the genius of Morecambe and Wise was allowed to shine through.
The next logical step from television was movies
The next logical step from television was movies, and they struck a three film deal with Rank. The first, written by Sid and Dick was premiered in 1964 but failed to impress. Blamed on strict shooting schedules, a lack of comic understanding by Rank and poor script, The Intelligence Men did nothing for their reputation. It seemed the studio were just interested in churning out yet more Norman Wisdom type films, even to the extent of using the same team.
Two more films followed, the slightly better That Riviera Touch (1965) that gave Eric and Ern more freedom, but still didn’t perform well, and The Magnificent Two (1966) that fared no better.
In a move that shocked the industry, Eric and Ern moved away from ATV in 1968, tempted by the BBC’s offer of more money and a series in colour. It was also at this time that Eric suffered what Joan later called “A massive heart attack”. It was played down to the public and Eric return to the screen a year later.
Still working as hard (he still had that bad review to spur him on) they were joined by Eddie Braben as Sid and Dick were still on contract with ATV. Eddie saw something in Eric and Ern that he wanted to get across on screen, and in doing so created a slightly different dynamic between them. This changed was the key to their success, and from now on, the only way was up.
Away from work Eric was voted pipe smoker of the year in 1970, and became the director of Luton Town Football club.
The shows grew in popularity and the awards soon followed. BAFTA after BAFTA were handed over and in 1976 they were both awarded OBE’s.
28 million viewers…
A year later in 1977 they enter the Guinness Book of Records for the most watched television programme. 28 million people, including the Queen, all tuned in to their Christmas show.
The grass is greener, or so they say, and Eric and Ern leave the BBC in 1978, and move over to Thames TV. Shortly after in 1979, Eric suffers his second heart attack,
During his recovery, he begins writing to vent his energy, and his first book, Mr. Lonely in published. More books follow with the popular childrens novels The Reluctant Vampire and The Vampire’s Revenge in 1983.
In another attempt at film, they released what was to be their last ever production together, a television movie called Night Train to Murder. Once finished, Eric was so ashamed of how it turned out, that it was not screened until after his death.
Now semi-retired, Eric was coaxed into a one off appearance with Stan Stennet at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury. Those attending were honoured with a fine performance as the relaxed Eric sat and chatted out his life. Leaving the stage the band struck up The Entertainer as a tribute, and Eric, always wanting to please, sprang back on. Grabbing various instruments, he frantically played along as the audience roared with laughter. Finally, he left the stage for the final time, and collapsed with his third and fatal heart attack.
Ernie still continued to perform; Taking his one man show on tour to Australia and doing various shows and pantomimes until he too left us in 1999.
Their legacy lives on with many comedians stating them as their idols or inspiration. More awards have been handed over including the greatest comedian ever for Eric, and numerous books have been written by friends and family.
It only remains for ATV, Thames and the BBC to do them the honour of releasing their full shows on DVD, to ensure their memories will live on for ever. The BBC have made a start on this after years of neglect, so have Network (releasing the early Thames material) - we just need the ATV shows now….
© morecambeandwise.com 2007