Don’t miss, Morecambe & Wise: The Lost Tapes

Wednesday: Morecambe & Wise: The Lost Tapes; (ITV, 9pm)
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What would British comedy be without Eric and his little Ern?

Rubbish that’s what.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Morecambe and Wise’s TV programmes were much-loved by the nation, while their annual Christmas show was a must-see experience, with many claiming that its standard could make or break a holiday season.

Morecambe and Wise - Ernie Wise and Eric Morecambe, 1967Morecambe and Wise - Ernie Wise and Eric Morecambe, 1967
Morecambe and Wise - Ernie Wise and Eric Morecambe, 1967
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Although times have changed, there are still comics out there who owe a lot to their formula, including those with a distinctly more modern approach, such as Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. Like Eric and Ernie, there’s no ‘straight man’ in their double act – they’re both hilariously funny.

Of course, it’s the routines, written by the amazing Eddie Braben, that live long in the memory.

Who can forget the sight of Shirley Bassey, singing on valiantly while stagehands (played by you know who) swapped her stiletto for a hobnailed boot, or a horrified Andrew Preview (sorry, Andre Previn) recoiling at the hash Morecambe made of Grieg’s Piano Concerto, a sketch that made him more famous than any of his musical accomplishments ever did?

And that’s not all. Other highlights include the truly magnificent, grapefruit-juggling breakfast scene the pair performed to the brassy, brazen sounds of The Stripper, Peter Cushing constantly fretting about his fee and those infamous ‘plays what Ernie wrote’, including Glenda Jackson’s attempts to rise above the chaos caused by her hilarious hosts; her wonderful comedic performance led to her being cast in A Touch of Class, for which she won her second Oscar.

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And then there’s the 1978 Christmas Show sketch that had Michael Parkinson, Eddie Waring, Barry Norman, Michael Aspel and Frank Bough turning somersaults while singing There’s Nothing Like A Dame in front of a record-breaking viewing audience.

These are moments etched into our collective memory; even many of us who weren’t born when they first aired, or are too young to remember, know about them.

Every festive season, without fail, the BBC trots out another tribute or repeats one of their shows – and long may that continue, particularly as they tend to be better than most of the new stuff showing alongside them.

However, their latest appearance on our screens comes on ITV where, incidentally, they ended their TV careers in 1983, just a year before Eric’s death from a heart attack at the age of 58.

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In recent weeks, the broadcaster has been showing a series of programmes subtitled The Lost Tapes; Ronnie Corbett got the ball rolling, followed by Les Dawson. It seems hard to believe that a variety of performers left behind secret recordings which are only now being unearthed, but the shows themselves have proved to be fascinating.

This time attention turns to a mysterious can of film found in the Morecambe family’s attic just last year. It contained the long-lost first episode of their 1970 BBC series, which has never been repeated.

Now we’re getting to view selected highlights, while Eric’s widow Joan and their children Gail and Gary offer their views. Opinion also comes from several celebrity fans, including Jonathan Ross, Ben Miller and Eddie Izzard.

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