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?
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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