Why do we still love Morecambe and Wise?
Feature from 2009
Especially around Christmas time, this is probably the question we get asked the most. Journalists and radio presenters seek to know just what it is that after 25 years, we still find the tall one with glasses, and the small one with short fat hairy legs, endearing and funny.
Eric and Ern
It was a question I was asked recently for a radio show in Ireland and my answer was, although long, encompassed why they are, and will continue to be, Britain’s best loved comedy double act.
They transcend generations. You don’t need to be a certain age to appreciate the humour. You don’t need to be educated to a given level, you don’t need to know about politics or current affairs. Their humour had no agenda, no message and no malice; it was there pure and simply, to be funny.
The guests that came on the show had nothing to plug, no movie, book or television show. They wanted to be there because it was Eric and Ern and because they knew they would come out of it looking good.
The key word was trust. Eric trusted Ernie to always keep things on track, Ernie trusted Eric to always be on top form with pin sharp timing and should the need arise, a quick adlib, they both trusted the producers (John Ammonds and later Ernest Maxin), and the guests trusted all of them.
From the top down, from Bill Cotton to camera men, the only thing everyone wanted was the show to be funny.
No one was looking to take scalps and everyone was looking out for each other.
Out of this environment, when there were other concerns; mainly money and reputation, and things didn’t quite work, as the Rank films clearly demonstrated.
The humour in general could be enjoyed on different levels, which is why the whole family could sit down and watch together. There was no chance of swearing or crude jokes, no reason to send the children to bed and no reason that granny wouldn’t understand the slang or the language of ill-educated youth.
As a youngster you would enjoy the antics of Eric, often dressed in outrageous costumes, fooling around in his own elegant way. He was having fun and you were invited to join him.
As an adult you appreciated the subtle humour, the looks to camera, the double meanings and the clever word play. You could laugh at the same joke for a completely different reason to children.
As an older member of the family you could hark back to the old variety days, enjoy the cross talk and the dance routines, and feel comfortable to let them into your living room every week.
Words too were important, and Eric and Ern themselves admit to studying and in their early days, stealing material from the great cross-talkers. For those old enough, the classic “Who’s On First” routine by Abbott and Costello would fit perfectly into Eric and Ern’s repertoire.
If you ever get a change to listen, or even see this routine, I would recommend it. Despite Lou and Bud not getting on in real life, this brilliant routine outshines much of their work, with Lou playing the ‘fool’ to perfection.
Another facet, if indeed we can say that, to Eric and Ern’s performance was Pathos. The audience immediately would sympathise with a character; whether it was Eric’s fool or Ernie’s ignorant writer. This aspect of the act was taken directly from their idols, Laurel and Hardy.
Stan Laurel was one of the all time great comedy movers. With or without sound he could portray a huge range of emotions, something embellished by his time as understudy to Charlie Chaplin.
All of these elements came together to produce and act that we all genuinely loved. We didn’t just like them, we loved them, we felt for them and we were allowed to participate in their lives.
Eric and Ernie gave a lot, more than many people realise, and as Eric once said; “You will keep watching the shows won’t you, or it will all have been for nothing.”
© morecambeandwise.com 2009