The Morecambe & Wise Show (1968 TV series)

The Morecambe & Wise Show was a comedy sketch show originally broadcast by BBC television and the third TV series by English comedy double-act Morecambe and Wise. It began airing in 1968 on BBC2, specifically because it was then the only channel broadcasting in colour, following the duo's move to the BBC from ATV, where they had made Two of a Kind since 1961.

The Morecambe & Wise Show
GenreSketch show
StarringEric Morecambe
Ernie Wise
Theme music composerArthur Kent and Sylvia Dee
Ending themeBring Me Sunshine[lower-alpha 1]
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series9
No. of episodes71 (list of episodes)
Producer(s)John Ammonds (1968–74)
Ernest Maxin (1975–77)
Running time30–65 minutes
Production company(s)BBC
Original networkBBC2 (1968–71)
BBC1 (1971–77)[lower-alpha 2]
Picture formatPAL
Original release2 September 1968 (1968-09-02) 
25 December 1977 (1977-12-25)
Preceded byTwo of a Kind
Followed byThe Morecambe & Wise Show

The Morecambe & Wise Show was popular enough to be moved to BBC1, with its Christmas specials garnering prime-time audiences in excess of 20 million, some of the largest in British television history.

After their 1977 Christmas show Morecambe and Wise left the BBC and signed with Thames Television, marking their return to the ITV network. The Morecambe & Wise Show title (or close variations thereof) continued to be used for many of these ITV shows.


In early 1968, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were due to begin negotiations over a new contract with ATV. The duo had starred in their successful television series, Two of a Kind, since 1961, which had proven a significant ratings success for ITV. However, the series was still broadcast in black and white, as ITV had yet to begin colour transmissions.

The managing director of ATV, Lew Grade, made Morecambe and Wise an offer totalling £39,000 over three years, in return for three series of thirteen 25-minute episodes.[1] However, the duo determined that, in order to improve the quality of their product, they would not only need more money, but also access to colour production facilities.[1] Grade's refusal to grant them a series in colour led to their agent, Michael Grade (who happened to be Lew Grade's nephew[lower-alpha 3]) contacting Bill Cotton, the Head of Variety at BBC television.[2] In a short period of time, a three-year deal was negotiated for Morecambe and Wise to move to the BBC. This deal not only encompassed more money than they had been receiving from ATV (and than had been offered by Lew Grade), but also the opportunity to broadcast in colour. At the time, BBC2 was the only station in Britain transmitting in colour, and so the agreement was that the new series would initially be transmitted on BBC2, before receiving a repeat showing in black and white on BBC1.[3]

As part of the deal agreed with the BBC, the duo's regular writers, Hills and Green, were brought in to deal with the scripts. Meanwhile, Cotton recruited John Ammonds to serve as the new show's producer. Ammonds was an experienced producer/director of light entertainment on the BBC, and had worked with Morecambe and Wise on their radio series, You're Only Young Once in the 1950s.[4]

The first episode of The Morecambe & Wise Show was broadcast on BBC2 on 2 September 1968 and, initially, showed little difference to their previous series on ITV. Bill Cotton's plan was to allow Morecambe and Wise to become comfortable with their new surroundings before implementing his plan to extend the show by an additional twenty minutes per episode.[5] By the conclusion of the first series, on 21 October, there was a degree of satisfaction at the finished product, and a welcome anticipation for the next series.[5] But, on 7 November, just over two weeks after the transmission of the final episode, Eric Morecambe had a serious heart attack while returning to his hotel following a show at the Batley Variety Club.[3] This immediately put any thoughts of a new series on hold; while Bill Cotton said that the BBC would fully honour the contract that they had signed with Morecambe and Wise, with the only proviso that Morecambe take as long as required to fully regain his strength, Hills and Green were less sure that Morecambe would be able to return. While Wise was flying to Barbados for a short holiday, he was stunned to hear from one of the cabin crew that the writing pair had elected to end their association with Morecambe and Wise and return to ATV.[3]

The loss of Hills and Green could have ended up being a terminal problem for the duo, but Bill Cotton then suggested that the duo talk to Eddie Braben, who had recently stopped working with Ken Dodd. Although Braben was a very different writer to Hills and Green, with the three all vaguely unsure that any collaboration would work, after a meeting between them and Bill Cotton, the writer submitted first a sample piece for the duo, before writing a full 45-minute script.[6] In his interpretation, he moved away from how Morecambe and Wise had been presented by Hills and Green, instead creating characters that he perceived as exaggerated versions of their own personas as he had observed them.[7]

The second series eventually began in July 1969 and, unlike the previous one, consisted of just four episodes. The opening of the first episode, which would feature the duo in front of the tabs, was particularly memorable as, after Morecambe and Wise came forward, Morecambe pulled open his jacket and told his heart to "keep going you fool".[8]

A tradition that had begun with Two of a Kind was the invitation to special guests and the subsequent "insulting" of them, and this was stepped up a gear with the BBC shows. The horror film actor Peter Cushing was one of the first to be so treated beginning the long-running in-joke that he had never been paid. 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 in bed together, a lavish play "wot Ern wrote" and the final theme song, over the credits.

Over the following years, the success of the show increased, particularly in regard to the Christmas special. The first of these was broadcast in 1969 and, as time went on, proved to be a source of concern in ensuring that each successive show topped the last; indeed, in some years, there would be no series so that the full attentions of writer, producer and stars could be focused on the Christmas show.[9] By 1977, Morecambe and Wise were the most important parts of the BBC's entertainment schedule. That year, they had again not done a series to focus on the Christmas show, which ended up gaining just over 28m viewers.[3] However, just over a month later, in January 1978, an announcement was made that the duo had elected to leave the BBC, having signed a contract with Thames Television.[3]

List of episodes

The Christmas Shows

So enormous became Morecambe and Wise's popularity that their Christmas shows were essential viewing in the United Kingdom. Always broadcast at peak time on Christmas Day,[10] these increasingly lavish affairs provided some of the most memorable moments in the series. For example, Grieg's Piano Concerto with André Previn, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes with Shirley Bassey and Glenda Jackson's medley of Hollywood tunes all came from the same Christmas Show in 1971.

The show was known for introducing newsreader Angela Rippon's legs to the world in 1976. This (along with the 1972 special) were the only Christmas shows of the BBC years not to be penned by Eddie Braben, when writing duties transferred to John Junkin and Barry Cryer among others.

The 1977 show saw the ratings reach more than 28 million viewers, making it one of the 25 all-time most watched programmes on British television, as of April 2012.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17]

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.[18]

There was no Christmas Show in 1974, when Mike Yarwood filled the peak time slot. Instead a special edition of Michael Parkinson's show was aired late at night in which he interviewed Eric and Ernie interspersed with clips of their previous shows.[19]

Theme tunes

By far the most fondly remembered of the duo's signature tunes was "Bring Me Sunshine" which was written 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".

Bring Me Sunshine was used as the title of the tribute show at the London Palladium after Eric Morecambe's death. The BBC made several compilation programmes and "best of" editions in recent years and favoured "Bring Me Sunshine" as the most popular song they used. As a result, it is more consciously associated with them than the other tunes.

Running jokes and in-gags

"The lady who comes down at the end"

There were several items that overran 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, then 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 comedian 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 lawyer's 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. 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.

Archive status

Almost the entirety of The Morecambe & Wise Show from Series 2 onwards has been preserved in the BBC's archives. However, the bulk of Series 1, the only BBC series written by Hills and Green, is missing. A total of 20 minutes of footage from the sixth episode of Series 1 was included on the DVD release of Series 2. This was purchased by a film collector named Tim Disney and subsequently returned to the BBC archive to allow a copy to be made. This copy was a telerecording that had been produced for sale overseas, which had some edits from the original BBC broadcast version.[20]

In 2012, professional film researcher Philip Morris, on an expedition on behalf of the BBC to find missing BBC programmes, encountered a film store in the Nigerian city of Jos. In this, he discovered previously missing episodes of a number of programmes, including episode 2 from the first series of The Morecambe & Wise Show. This copy however was in critically poor condition owing to severe decay of the film stock, and was unable to be used. However, new techniques developed in conjunction with the BBC's archives have seen the footage from this film begin to be restored.[21]

In October 2018, Morris announced the recovery of 16mm b&w telerecordings of episodes 5 and 7, from a disused cinema in Sierra Leone. These prints had been kept in good condition and were subsequently restored and converted back to full colour via the colour recovery process; utilising the colour sub-carrier present on the film prints. The restored episodes were aired on BBC2 on the 26th December 2018.[22]

Additionally, the episode classed as Series 4 (6), broadcast on BBC1 on 8 October 1970, is also missing from the archive.[23]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Nominee Category Result Reference
1970 BAFTA TV Awards Eric Morecambe
Ernie Wise
Best Light Entertainment Personality Won [24]
Writer's Guild of Great Britain Awards Eddie Braben Best Light Entertainment Script Won [25]
1971 BAFTA TV Awards John Ammonds Best Light Entertainment Programme Nominated [24]
Eric Morecambe
Ernie Wise
Best Light Entertainment Performance Won
Writer's Guild of Great Britain Awards Eddie Braben Best Light Entertainment Script Won [26]
1972 Writer's Guild of Great Britain Awards Eddie Braben Best Light Entertainment Script Won [27]
1973 BAFTA TV Awards Eric Morecambe
Ernie Wise
Best Light Entertainment Performance Won [24]
1974 BAFTA TV Awards John Ammonds Best Light Entertainment Programme Nominated [24]
Eric Morecambe
Ernie Wise
Best Light Entertainment Performance Won
Writer's Guild of Great Britain Awards Eddie Braben Best Light Entertainment Script Won [28]
1977 BAFTA TV Awards Ernest Maxin Best Light Entertainment Programme Nominated [24]
1978 BAFTA TV Awards Ernest Maxin Best Light Entertainment Programme Won [24]
Penelope Keith[lower-alpha 4] Best Light Entertainment Performance Nominated

DVD releases

In June 2007 2 Entertain began releasing The Morecambe and Wise Show on DVD in region 2.[29] The first series of the show was wiped from the BBC archives and only 25 minutes of one episode now survives; this was included on the DVD release of the complete second series on 4 June 2007.[29] The complete third series including the Golden Rose Of Montreux episode was released on 6 August 2007. The complete set of Christmas Shows was released as a three-disc set on 12 November 2007. The fourth series was released on DVD on 3 April 2008 but does not include the sixth episode of the series, which no longer exists. The fifth series was released on 4 May 2009. The sixth series has been released on 3 August 2009. The seventh series was released on 3 May 2010. The eighth series was released on 5 July 2010, and the ninth series was released on 23 August 2010. A complete box-set containing all nine series and eight Christmas specials (not included was the 1974 Michael Parkinson Christmas programme) was released on 4 October 2010.


  1. Although Bring Me Sunshine is regarded as Morecambe and Wise's signature tune, there were a number of songs that they used to close their shows, including Positive Thinking (Tony Hatch & Jackie Trent), We Get Along So Easily (Ray Davies/Al Stillman) and Following You Around (Sylvan Whittingham).
  2. The series from 1968 to 1971 were originally broadcast on BBC2 and repeated on BBC1
  3. Michael Grade was an associate of Morecambe and Wise's agent, Billy Marsh, who was unavailable at the time of the negotiation
  4. Penelope Keith was jointly nominated for her performance in the 1977 Christmas Show and the sitcom The Good Life


  1. McCann, p. 195
  2. McCann, p. 196
  3. Marcus, Laurence (2005). "Biography: Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise - 2". Television Heaven. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  4. McCann, p. 198
  5. McCann, p. 201
  6. McCann, p. 210
  7. "How Eddie Braben saved Morecambe and Wise's careers". Retrieved 12 January 2018.
  8. McCann, p. 211
  9. McCann, p. 245
  10. "Morecambe and Wise episode guide". Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  11. The Guinness Book of Records.
  12. "Eric and Ern – The Morecambe & Wise Show: Series 8". Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  13. "Ernie Wise". The Daily Telegraph. 22 March 1999. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  14. Barfe, Louis (22 November 2008). "How John Sergeant revived did-you-see TV". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  15. Bushby, Helen (30 December 2010). "Victoria Wood tells all about Eric and Ernie". BBC News. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  16. ITV and the BFI quote a figure of 21.3 million. "Features | Britain's Most Watched TV | 1970s". BFI. 4 September 2006. Archived from the original on 22 November 2005. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
  17. Moran, Joe (22 March 2011). "One nation Christmas television". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 August 2011.
  18. "The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show 1977 (December 20, 2014)". Archive TV Musings. Wordpress. Retrieved 24 April 2017.
  19. "UK Christmas TV". Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  20. "The Lost Footage". 2007. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  21. Norton, Charles (29 December 2017). "'You Can't See the Join!' - Recovering Morecambe and Wise (Part 1)". BBC Research and Development. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  22. Pilditch, David (27 November 2018). "Morecambe & Wise: Comedy duo's 'lost' shows found after 50 years hidden in Sierra Leone". Retrieved 14 December 2018.
  23. "Morecambe and Wise - Lost Shows". Kaleidoscope Search Engine. Retrieved 21 March 2018.
  24. "BAFTA Awards Search - Morecambe and Wise". BAFTA Awards. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  25. "Writer's Guild Awards 1969". Writer's Guild of Great Britain. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  26. "Writer's Guild Awards 1970". Writer's Guild of Great Britain. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  27. "Writer's Guild Awards 1971". Writer's Guild of Great Britain. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  28. "Writer's Guild Awards 1973". Writer's Guild of Great Britain. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  29. "Get Wise! ...and Morecambe, 29 May 2007". Retrieved 24 April 2017.

Further reading

  • McCann, Graham (1999). Morecambe & Wise. London: Fourth Estate. ISBN 9781857029116.
  • Morecambe, Gary; Sterling, Martin (2001). Morecambe & Wise: Behind the Sunshine. London: Robson Books. ISBN 9781861054623.
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