The Morecambe & Wise Show (1978 TV series)

The Morecambe & Wise Show was a comedy sketch show originally produced by Thames Television and broadcast on the ITV network. The second show to be broadcast under the title,[lower-alpha 1] it was the fourth and final television series by English comedy double-act Morecambe and Wise, and saw their return to ITV after their successful nine-year association with the BBC.

The Morecambe & Wise Show
GenreSketch show
StarringEric Morecambe
Ernie Wise
Theme music composerArthur Kent and Sylvia Dee
Ending themeBring Me Sunshine
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series4
No. of episodes33 (list of episodes)
Production
Producer(s)Keith Beckett (1978–79)
John Ammonds (1980–82)
Mark Stuart (1983)
Running time30–65 minutes
Production company(s)Thames Television
DistributorFremantle
Release
Original networkITV
Picture formatPAL
Original release18 October 1978 (1978-10-18) 
26 December 1983 (1983-12-26)
Chronology
Preceded byThe Morecambe & Wise Show

History

In January 1978, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, just over four weeks after the broadcast of their successful 1977 Christmas Show on BBC1, which attracted an audience of just over 28m,[2] announced that they had signed a contract with Thames Television to produce new shows for broadcast on ITV. This marked a return to commercial television for the pair, who between 1961 and 1968 had produced six series for ATV.[3] While their time at the BBC had been both a critical and ratings success, Morecambe and Wise retained an ambition to make films.[4] This was something that the BBC were not in a position to enable them to do, as, at the time, the Corporation did not have a motion picture production arm.[lower-alpha 2] Although evenly matched in the financial terms that were offered, it was the fact that Thames Television, through its film production company, Euston Films, were able to offer Morecambe and Wise the opportunity to make a film, that persuaded them to leave the BBC.[6]

Although Thames succeeded in persuading Morecambe and Wise to move, they were unsuccessful in their attempt to get the various individuals that worked alongside the duo in their productions to also make the switch; Ernest Maxin, who had been their producer/director since 1975, declined to leave, while Eddie Braben had an exclusive contract and was unable to write for anyone outside the BBC.[7] As a consequence, Thames needed to make other arrangements for the upcoming production of their first shows. Keith Beckett was recruited as producer, while Barry Cryer and John Junkin, who had written sketches for Morecambe and Wise at the BBC, were brought in to do the scripts for their upcoming shows.[8] For the first year with Thames, there was no series planned, with instead a single introductory special, plus the Christmas show, the only shows to be broadcast in 1978, with a plan for a subsequent series.[9]

In March 1979, Eric Morecambe suffered a second heart attack.[lower-alpha 3] Following a heart bypass operation, he was forced into an extended period of recuperation, with the result that there was no series that year, with their only appearance being a low-key Christmas special that was largely an extended interview with David Frost.[10] By February 1980, Morecambe had regained his health sufficiently to start work on the first series for Thames. This saw the duo reunited with John Ammonds, their producer at the BBC from 1968 to 1974, who had agreed to take on the same role for them.[11] Additionally, Ammonds had made an arrangement with Eddie Braben to come and write for them as soon as he was available at the end of his contract with the BBC.[12] However, when the first series, which was eventually broadcast in September 1980, began, its running time had been reduced to 30 minutes, including a commercial break, which Braben found significantly more restrictive than the 45-50 minutes he had had at the BBC.[13] The struggle that Braben had to come up with fresh material led to increasing reuse of old ideas, while both Morecambe and Wise appeared to be less enamoured either with the process or product of their work. Morecambe in particular had intimated that, after nearly fifty years of working together, he wanted to do things away from the partnership.[14] Although they continued to work, producing four series for Thames, by 1983, having completed work on both that year's series and the planned film, which was produced as Night Train to Murder, Morecambe and Wise seemed agreed that the time had come to end their partnership.[15]

List of episodes

Reception

Although the show received healthy ratings from the beginning, they were never at the same level as they had during the latter years at the BBC. The 1978 Christmas Show received in the region of 9.5m fewer viewers than the record-breaking effort of the previous year, while critics were only mildly complementary, with one describing it as "a somewhat grey-haired show".[16] Ratings continued to drop as the series progressed, eventually garnering between 11m to 14m by the fourth and final series. The final Christmas Show, broadcast on Boxing Day 1983, was watched by 11.2m viewers.[17]

Aftermath

By 1984, Eric Morecambe had determined to enter a period of semi-retirement, as, in spite of the success of his heart operation five years previously, there were still worries about the state of his health. Indeed, during production of the 1983 Christmas Show, the filming of a sequence had led to him spending two nights in hospital after his heart went out of rhythm.[18] So, he sought to stop working and spend more time on things he enjoyed. This was especially the case with writing - he had completed and published a novel, Mr Lonely, while convalescing after his operation,[19] and had written two children's books, The Reluctant Vampire and The Vampire's Revenge.[20][21] During the beginning of 1984 he was completing a book about one of his other passions, fishing, and was in the process of writing a second adult novel.[22][23] As the year progressed, concerns about his heart continued, to the extent that in May it was suggested he go for tests at the Harefield Hospital. He agreed to arrange this once he had completed some commitments over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend.[24] It was during one of these, a light-hearted question and answer event with his friend Stan Stennett in Tewkesbury, that, on 27 May 1984, Morecambe suffered his third, and fatal, heart attack.[25]

Unlike his partner, Ernie Wise had little desire to retire, seeking out opportunities to continue working; in 1985, he toured a one-man show in Australia, while in 1987 he made a return to the West End stage after forty-one years in a musical version of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, before subsequently appearing in Run For Your Wife, and writing an autobiography.[26] He was also a regular panellist on the game show What's My Line (on which Morecambe had also made some of his last TV appearances in early 1984), as well as making several appearances in "Dictionary Corner" on Countdown, and writing a column on gardening for the News of the World. In 1993, he suffered the first of two strokes, the second of which, in 1995, led to him deciding to retire from showbusiness.[27] In December 1998, he suffered two successive heart attacks in a week while on holiday in Florida, and underwent a triple heart bypass operation. Having been flown back to the UK, Wise died on 21 March 1999.

Home media releases

In 1980, Thames released a pair of VHS tapes; the first was the complete 1980 Christmas show, while the other was a compilation from the three that Morecambe and Wise had produced for the company at that point.[28][29]

The first shows from the Thames era, including the one-off special from 1978, seasonal shows from 1978 and 1980 and the David Frost programme from Christmas 1979 was released by Network DVD on 11 April 2008 together with a second disc including the first series of Thames programmes from 1980. This was followed by a one-disc release, also by Network, which featured the three seasonal specials 1978-1980 only. No further plans have been announced to release the final three series and seasonal specials from 1981-1983 by Network.[30]

Notes

  1. The duo's first show for ITV was officially called "The Morecambe & Wise Show" but was universally known as "Two of a Kind"[1]
  2. BBC Films was not set up until 1990[5]
  3. Morecambe suffered his first heart attack in November 1968

References

  1. McCann, p. 321
  2. Roberts, Laura (1 December 2010). "Mike Yarwood's 1977 Christmas Show tops the list of 10 most-watched Christmas programmes". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  3. McCann, p. 134
  4. McCann, p. 188
  5. "BBC Films: Outstanding Contribution to British Cinema in 2015". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. 28 January 2015. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  6. Verkaik, Robert (20 January 2007). "BBC wanted ITV penalised when comedy duo switched sides". The Independent. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  7. Quantick, David (21 May 2013). "Eddie Braben: Farewell to the man who brought us sunshine". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  8. Cryer, Barry (1 December 2013). "Barry Cryer on writing for comedy icons Morecambe and Wise". Radio Times. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  9. "The Morecambe And Wise Show". British Classic Comedy. 4 March 2017. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  10. "Christmas with Eric and Ernie (1979)". Archive Television Musings. 11 December 2015. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  11. McCann, p. 280
  12. McCann, p. 281
  13. McCann, p. 284
  14. McCann, p. 290
  15. McCann, p. 292
  16. Day-Lewis, Sean (27 December 1978). "The Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show". The Daily Telegraph. p. 7.
  17. "The Ratings Thread (Part 27) - Page 30".
  18. McCann, p. 294
  19. "Mr Lonely". morecambeandwise.com. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  20. "The Reluctant Vampire". morecambeandwise.com. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  21. "The Vampire's Revenge". morecambeandwise.com. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  22. "Eric Morecambe on Fishing". morecambeandwise.com. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  23. "Stella". morecambeandwise.com. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  24. McCann, p. 296
  25. McCann, p. 299
  26. McCann, p. 304
  27. McCann, p. 308
  28. "Christmas with Morecambe & Wise". morecambeandwise.com. 2007. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  29. "Eric & Ernie's Christmas Show". morecambeandwise.com. 2007. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  30. "The Morecambe & Wise Show - Thames Years". morecambeandwise.com. 2008. Retrieved 11 March 2008.

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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