Eric and Ernie aka Morecambe and Wise were a hugely popular and successful British comic duo institution, whose TV shows spanned 23 years and at one point were watched by over half the nation, including royalty. Their self titled series ran on the BBC and ITV from 1961-1984.
One with short, fat hairy legs and a tall one with glasses.
Why was it so good?
Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were the perfect comic foils for each other. They were national institutions for three decades because of Eric’s anarchic humour and Ernie’s pomposity.
How did it begin?
Eric and Ern began as a variety act in 1941, honing their jokes before a big breakthrough in 1961 when they got their own ITV series. Viewers immediately took to their gags and comic timing. They introduced the Boom-oo-ya-ta-ta-ta song and Eric would try, and fail, to tell his risque joke about two old men sitting in deckchairs… Early guests included The Beatles with the duo referring to Ringo as Bongo Starr!
Why was it so funny?
The duo’s timing and their teaming up with gag writer Eddie Braben from 1968 when they left ITV for the BBC.
Eric’s catchphrases are still memorable. “What do you think of it so far? Rubbish”, was just one. There were running jokes about the singing of Des O’Connor who was never allowed to sing on the show and Eric always said “you can’t see the join”, referring to Ern’s wig!
Wasn’t Ern something of a scribe?
Each week they performed in a play “wot Ernie wrote”. Star names including Elton John, Andre Previn (dubbed Preview), Diana Rigg, Shirley Bassey, Glenda Jackson and Burt Bacharach (Backache) were mocked as they tried to perform. Other victims were Angela Rippon who revealed her legs in a dance sequence of newsreaders, PM Harold Wilson and Peter Cushing – who wanted to be paid!
Was it popular?
The 1977 Christmas special on BBC1 with Penelope Keith was watched by more than 27m people – more than half the UK population. Among their biggest fans were the royal family including the Queen, who unveiled a statue of Eric in his home town, Morecambe in 1999. In the golden years between 1968 and 1978 it was as much a part of Christmas as turkey, and the show inevitably topped the ratings.
What went wrong?
Eric’s health had been failing since a heart attack in 1968 and he had a bypass op after a second attack in the late ’70s. In 1978 the duo returned to ITV but they were hampered by the fact that their writer Eddie Braben couldn’t join them until 1980. With Eric’s workload reduced they never matched their previous success and it all ended when Eric died on stage aged 68 from a heart attack in 1984.
What happened to Ernie Wise after Eric died?
Their last work together, the TV film Night Train To Murder, was aired in 1985 and Ernie soldiered on alone. In spite of becoming a panel member on the revived What’s My Line? Ern refused to take on another comic partner and became an increasingly sad figure. He died aged 74 in 1999. Their legacy is huge with their shows constantly repeated.
Most shows ended with their theme song Give Me Sunshine. Pyjamas – Eric and Ern spent much time sharing a bed in sketches.
The best comedy act ever to grace TV screens.
Do not say
Eric was a comic genius but what did the one with the short, fat, hairy legs do?