The grim state of comedy

Veteran writer's outburst

Morecambe and Wise writer Eddie Braben has launched an attack on the state of modern TV.

He dubbed the medium that once delivered tens of millions of viewers to his shows as ‘direvision’ and branded its entire output as ‘a bit grim’.

‘I love the beautiful face of British comedy,’ a disappointed Braben told the Hay Literature festival. ‘But I do not like to see it pick its nose.

‘I doubt if anyone could produce a light entertainment programme now. It’s much easier to make a reality show about effluent going through someone’s house.’

Braben also told fellow comedy writer Laurence Marks how he got into the business because ‘I had this little imp inside of me… I wanted to make people laugh.’

He started by writing up to 400 jokes a week while working on his fruit & veg market stall in Liverpool – where Anne Robinson used to help out on a neighbouring pitch.

“Anyone can write 400 awful jokes a week, and I did,” he said. “But you’ve got to keep at it.”

Eventually he sold his first joke to Charlie Chester for 2/6; and then came the encounter that turned him into a professional writer.

“Ken Dodd was at the Empire, so I sent him some gags, and he liked what I was writing.

“Writing for Doddy you earn your corn as he does six gags a minute, so for a ten-minute slot on Workers’ Playtime, that’s 60 gags.

“But you have to write 300 gags to get to 60 – you always have to overwrite.

“A journalist once worked out than in the 12 years I worked for Ken Dodd, I wrote half a million jokes.

“Then one day I got a call from Bill Cotton, head of light entertainment at the BBC, and he said ‘How would you like to write for Morecambe and Wise?’

“’I don’t think I could,’ I said.


“’I don’t like them.

“I thought they were too abrasive. Ernie was too hard, like an American comic, and Eric was too silly.

“I’d seen them before, when they were about 20 or 21 and so far down the theatre bill I thought  they were the printers. They were learning their trade, and they had a lot to learn. They were terrible.

“But when I met them, I had never seen such love, warmth and affection that existed between two men as Eric and Ernie. I thought ‘if I can capture this…

“I wanted to cram character traits into it, so it could only be Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, rather than it being just gags.”

“I said to the boys I’d write a script that wasn’t like anything they’d done before, but that was based on the way I saw them. I wrote about 100 pages, then tore them up. I ended up with about 30.

“Eric told me, ‘It’s very good, but we can’t do it. We’ve never done anything like this before.’”

But  try it they eventually did, and the rest is comedy history…


Review of Braben's The Book What I Wrote>>

Published: 30 May 2005

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