The Morecambe & Wise Show (1968)

The Morecambe & Wise Show (1968)

The Morecambe & Wise Show that began airing in 1968 was the second TV series for comedy duo Morecambe and Wise.



The first series of the "new" Morecambe & Wise Show was broadcast in colour on BBC Two in 1968 and was deemed to be a success. Though now established as a popular star, Eric Morecambe felt himself to be placed under a great deal of pressure. At this stage in their careers Ernie Wise was ostensibly still fulfilling the role of straight man. This was reflected in their material and although successful the new show was repeating the formula of their ATV shows; any chance to consider a change in direction was halted when Morecambe suffered a heart attack in November 1968. At this time the writers Hills & Green felt the situation had exhausted itself and it was time to move on to pastures new. It wasn't clear if the double act would ever perform again.

Braben arrives

During the hiatus while he recovered the BBC approached Eddie Braben to write material for the pair and when they returned to the screen for a second series in 1969 their best-known personas began to take shape. Braben attributed the "characters" he created to having studied the pair at rehearsals and said that he merely exaggerated their existing characteristics to best effect. Memorable of their first series was the opening scene of the first episode, where Morecambe, full of his usual nervous energy, pulls open his suit jacket and shouts "Keep going you fool!" in a direct reference to his much-publicised heart attack. It was typical of his humour.

Strength to strength

A tradition that had begun with Two of a Kind was the invite to special guests and the subsequent "insulting" of them, and this was stepped up a gear with the BBC shows. The legendary horror film actor Peter Cushing was one of the first to be so treated (the long-running gag that he had never been paid stretched over ten years to the duo's arrival at Thames Television and was one of their best-known in-jokes). The shows became more structured, with an opening "spot" in front of the curtains in a mock-theatre set-up that they insisted upon having, guest singers and groups, a sketch with the two in their flat, either in the lounge or, memorably in bed together, a lavish play "wot Ern wrote" and the final theme song, over the credits.

List of episodes and guests

Theme tunes

By far the most fondly remembered of the duo's signature tunes was "Bring Me Sunshine" which was written for them by Arthur Kent but it was not the only tune the pair used. The other songs used were "Positive Thinking", "We Get Along So Easily (Don't You Agree?)" "Following You Around" and "Just Around The Corner". The BBC made several compilation programmes and "best of" editions in recent years and favoured the most popular song they used which has made it more consciously associated with them than the other tunes. "Walking Into Sunshine" was introduced to the show in the first Thames special, though that was the only appearance of the song ever.

Running jokes and in-gags

"The lady who comes down at the end"

There were several items that over-ran into other shows and series; the first was the "lady who comes down at the end" (Janet Webb) who, despite having no involvement in the 50-minute programme would stride onto the stage at the very end of the show (after all the guest stars had taken their curtain-call) and take a bow. In later series, this was accompanied by her following speech: "I'd like to thank all of you for watching me and my little show here tonight; if you've enjoyed it it's all been worthwhile. So, until we meet again, goodbye - and I love you all!" after which she would be showered with gifts of champagne, boxes of chocolates, etc. Her presence was never explained on the programme. In one episode she "marries" Arthur Lowe who claims he only agreed to appear on the understanding he could meet her. She does also appear in one of Ern's plays with Robert Morley as "Tutantessie" a clear reference to comedienne Tessie O'Shea who went by the name "Two-Ton Tessie".

"He's Frankie Vaughan's son"

The recurring character, originally billed as Frankie Vaughan's son, appeared regularly in the earlier series and was played by Rex Rashley who also appeared variously as "John Wayne" and "Bob Pope" in a sketch which involves Little Ern thinking he's going to be Bob Hope's script writer, only for the ageing figure of Rashley to appear through the drapes. Again, he also appeared in several of the plays at the end of each show, as a sailor in "Monty on the Bonty", and variously as a butler, etc., in other shows and hilariously as Robin Hood in one episode from the third series.

Des, short for Desperate

The first few series saw singer Frankie Vaughan as the butt of all jokes (on one memorable occasion a decrepit be-suited character shuffled on stage only to be announced as "Frankie Vaughan's Son") and the singer began to take exception to being treated in this way and had a lawyers letter drawn up addressed to the BBC. The answer to this turned out to be very simple; the premise of the joke was simply transferred over to Morecambe's friend Des O'Connor who memorably was the butt of many unkind jokes for several years, culminating in his appearance on both the 1975 and 1976 Christmas Specials to much acclaim. O'Connor did however have an excellent relationship with the pair, and delivered the tribute to Eric Morecambe at the 1984 Bring Me Sunshine tribute concert in aid of the British Heart Foundation which took place at the London Palladium after Eric's death.

"Not now, Arthur"

The veteran harmonica player Arthur Tolcher effectively replaced the Janet Webb role in later series, by appearing when least expected or needed and bursting into the first few bars of a harmonica tune fully dressed in concert attire with white tie and tails; he would usually appear after the titles had rolled, the credits had appeared on-screen and the snatch of a bar would be heard before the screen faded to black. He also enjoyed some bit parts in plays but was never permitted to perform his entire act on the show. It is interesting to note that he appeared (in this guise) at the Bring Me Sunshine tribute to Eric Morecambe after a break of several years not having been associated with the duo.

The Christmas Shows

So enormous became Morecambe and Wise's popularity that their Christmas Shows were almost mandatory viewing in the United Kingdom second only to the Queen's Speech itself. These increasingly lavish affairs provided some of the most memorable moments in the series. For example the Grieg's "Piano Concerto" with André Previn, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" routine with Shirley Bassey and Glenda Jackson's medley of Hollywood tunes all came from the same Christmas Show (1971) and the show was known as introducing newsreader Angela Rippon's legs to the world in 1976, it having previously been a widely regarded joke that newsreaders sitting behind desks didn't have legs! The 1976 Christmas Show was the only one during the BBC years to not be penned by Eddie Braben, instead written by John Junkin and Barry Cryer among others (this was the show to feature John Thaw and Dennis Waterman and Elton John). The following year saw the ratings top 28.5 million viewers, something that has still to be matched today. To out do the previous year's appearance by Angela Rippon, the 1977 special included a version of 'There Is Nothing Like a Dame', performed by a chorus line of male BBC presenters, including Barry Norman, Michael Aspel and Peter Woods. There was no Christmas Show in 1974 instead a special edition of Michael Parkinsons' show was aired in which he interviewed Eric and Ernie interspersed with clips of previous outings.


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