Britain's Most Loved and Best Comedy Double Act

Going to America

Feature from 2008

On the Ed Sullivan Show

Talking to fast?

Quiet audience
Morecambe and Wise, although massively popular in the UK were unknown in America, and like every act at the time, wanted to break into that lucrative market. Their chance came, quite literally, by chance.

During a show at the Palladium with Bruce Forsyth, sitting in the stalls was a certain American entertainment host called Ed Sullivan. Regularly pulling in huge audiences, the largest being 73,000,000, this was a man who could make things happen.

Luckily for Eric and Ern, he liked what he saw and after the curtain had dropped, made a deal for them to appear on three shows. For this he offered them £5,000.

This was extended as Ed grew to like them more, but the audience just didn’t respond. The exact number of shows and routines is hard to trace, but from the shows own archives there are 8 different appearances plus repeats. IMDB (Internet Movie DataBase) has them doing 12, but does not go into details, and some may well be re-runs, and in interview with Michael Parkinson Eric states they did 14.

Despite getting a luke warm response, Ed Sullivan continued to bring the boys back between 1964 and 1968. The last show they did was a huge 90 minute spectacular to celebrate the 80th Birthday of Irving Berlin. Alongside them that night were legends such as Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, this alone showed just how much Ed believed in them.

Although not a complete washout, they never made it big despite doing the shows for Sullivan. Maybe it was the material that the Americans just didn’t get, or the accents, what ever it was the American dream never blossomed.

Ernie was disappointed not to have made a big impression; Eric on the other hand was never keen. He said on many occasions, including the Parkinson interview, that he hated changing the routines to fit the audience. He and Ern had rehearsed and fine tuned sketches and gags, and resented having to change words like pavement to sidewalk, just to ‘fit in’ with America. They were English, and that was that.

Another problem was the dialogue used in some of the routines. Having the kind of viewing figures Sullivan had, meant there was a huge cross section of viewers to cater for, and more importantly, to offend. They had to trim routines down in case they offend anyone. An example of this is the ventriloquist routine.

Ernie: I never you were a ventriloquist. I didn’t know you were interested in it. Eric: I’m not any more. I’m too old. That’s why I took up this.

This was deemed too racy and was removed.

The Ed Sullivan Show was not their only visit to that side of the Atlantic…

In May 1968 the whole team and crew from the Palladium show were asked to do a 2 weeks special in Toronto. This, like the Sullivan Show was not as successful as they had hoped, despite initial acclaim, and again it seemed that America was not ready for them.


Looking at the Sullivan archives now, it is clear what the problem was – time. Each appearance lasted no longer than 8 minutes, with sometimes weeks in between shows. This meant that they could not build up familiarity, and that characters could not come across. In all there is about 45 minutes of material from the Sullivan shows, of which only 5 has been released commercially (on a now deleted DVD of the Beatles).

It seems sad not to have this material available, it may not have suited American audiences, but it would still be worth seeing.

According to IMBD they appeared in 12 shows…
Date Show
1963 - 17 March Season 16, Episode 24
1963 - 24 March Season 16, Episode 25
1963 - 4 August Season 16, Episode 41
1963 - 3 November Season 17, Episode 6
1963 - 23 February Season 17, Episode 21
1964 - 24 May Season 17, Episode 33
1965 - 29 August Season 18, Episode 40
1967 - 7 January Season 21, Episode 18
1967 - 26 November Season 21, Episode 12
1968 - 4 February Season 21, Episode 22
1968 - 3 March Season 21, Episode 26
1968 - 5 May Season 21, Episode 34

According to the Ed Sullivan database they did 8 (plus a repeat)

Date Act Length
17th Mar 1963 Swiss dance routine, Paper bag routine 4m 19s
  Me and my shadow routine 2m 19s
24th Mar 1963 Judo - self defence routine 4m 30s
3rd Nov 1963 Comedy routine with Ed and Ray 7m 42s
23rd Feb 1964 Louis XIV sketch 4m 8s
24th May 1964 Battle of Waterloo/toy soldiers 4m 1s
  Song: Swinging down the lane (comedy) 2m 3s
12th Jul 1964 Battle of Waterloo (repeat?) 4m 3s
  Swinging down the lane (repeat?) 2m 42s
26th Jul 1964 New suit routine 4m 40s
2nd May 1965 Singing routine with Ed & Ray 6m 21s
26th Nov 1967 Ventriloquist routine 6m 47s
Footage: (ex. Repeats) 45 mins (approx)

Confirmed appearences (footage exists)

Date Act Length
17/3/1963 Slapping dance. Paper bag. Talking about each other. Me and my shadow. 4:20
17/3/1963 Talking about each other. Me and my shadow. 3:30
24/3/1963 Judo - self defense. 4:30
4/8/1963 Xylaphone. 5:15
3/11/1963 Boom Oo Yatta Ta Ta (version 1) 7:45
23/2/1964 Louis XIV brandy glasses. 4:30
24/5/1964 Battle Waterloo - toy soldiers. 4:15
24/5/1964 Swinging down the lane (stools) 2:40
26/7/1964 New suit for Eric. 4:40
5/2/1965 Boom Oo Yatta Ta Ta (version 2) 6:30
26/11/1967 [colour] Ventiloquist act. 6:35
7/1/1968 [colour] Stranger / Candid Camera. 2:40
7/1/1968 [colour] Magician act 5:20
4/2/1968 [colour] Moonlight becomes you. 4:50
5/5/1968 [colour] Putting on the ritz. 3:55

© 2008

You may also like:

Bring Me Sunshine
As the successful stage show "The Play What I Wrote" brought praise from anyone who went to see it - in England - how well did it do in America? This review from The New Yorker tells us.

Piccadilly Palace
In the US, the last ATV series, Two Of A Kind, was called Piccadilly Palace.

The Palladium Show - Toronto
The official program for the Palladium Show in Toronto that Morecambe and Wise appeared in.

Ed Sullivan - The Shows
A show by show description of the routines and audience reaction from the Ed Sullivan show.

Audio Features
A growing collection of audio features that you can listen to online or download to your computer or mobile device.