Still bringing sunshine

Sean Prower pays tribute to Morecambe and Wise

It was Eric Morecambe’s birthday last week – he would have been 83 on Thursday – so I felt the urge to write about how much Eric and Ern made me admire comedy. Not just comedy as pure entertainment; but as an art form. From precise timing of jokes to props and relationships with audience.

The writer of the celebrated BBC shows, Eddie Braben, encapsulated their comedy in two words: Childish innocence. They weren’t slapstick comics. They didn’t rely on witty wordplay. They weren’t clowns and they weren’t rude.

It was an astounding 42-year partnership between Eric and Ernie. Braben said they were so close they could have been brothers.

Anyone who doesn’t like Morecambe and Wise and is willing to say it in public will probably be treated with suspicion. I was nine when I saw my first clip of The Morecambe and Wise Show. It was the Anthony and Cleopatra play what Ern wrote. I laughed at the general larking around and the ‘I’ve had a couple of sheep’s eyes, they’ll see me for the rest of the day’ gag. Of course I didn’t get all of the references then. Well being nine, I wouldn’t.

I didn’t understand the Oscar or even who Glenda Jackson was. What was it with Luton? Never before had I seen corpsing. All of a sudden Glenda Jackson broke a smile. Ernie began giggling and Eric soon followed. Nowhere else could someone get away with it, carry on and be successful. It didn’t ruin the flow of the sketch and it was, most importantly, funny.

I was really excited when I saw the cast of Dad’s Army in another of Ern’s plays, Monty On The Bonty. (‘Do you think that’s wise?’ ‘No, no, that’s Morecambe’) Dad’s Army was the first sitcom I had seen and it was the first Morecambe and Wise sketch where I knew who the guests were.

I asked my parents to buy me the video, Comedy Greats: Morecambe and Wise. As far as I knew, this was the only official release of their BBC material. There were already six video volumes of Two of a Kind but I didn’t know of the show at this time. I was so naïve as a child I assumed that people lived in black and white and that colour was an invention.

That video was a ‘best of’, which was more than enough for me. I watched it over and over until I could say the sketches along with them. But I wanted more.

A couple of years on I began looking around second-hand shops. In one, I found The Best of Morecambe and Wise: Volume 3. Without hesitation I bought it. There were a few minutes on the video I had already seen but otherwise it expanded my collection. If that was volume three, two and one existed and I began to search again.

Thanks to eBay, I managed to get volumes one and two – and volumes four and five too. I watched them. I loved them. I knew there was more I hadn’t seen from the double act but I didn’t realise how much. Radio cassettes of their shows, a rare live show from Croydon and the four feature films – maybe not top-form Eric and Ern, but I still enjoyed them. Now so much more is available on DVD.

In a tribute programme, Jon Culshaw referred to the bed sketches and Eric’s famous line as an ambulance sped by (‘He’s not going to sell much ice cream going at that speed, is he?’) Culshaw said every parent and every uncle will at one point utter those words, because secretly everyone wants to be a bit like Eric Morecambe.

If people cannot resist the urge to recite jokes that people have literally heard hundreds of times before, then surely something is being done right. Something quite magical.

Published: 18 May 2009

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