Our best-loved comedy duo became synonymous with Christmas and The Morecambe & Wise Story: Look Back in Laughter celebrates their extraordinary story. But what really were their key moments? Here’s a countdown of the funniest bits from Eric and Ernie’s blockbuster seasonal specials, which routinely attracted 25 million viewers during the Seventies.
10. Reindeers on the roof
The 1972 Christmas special found the duo donning antlers and furry onesies to play reindeers waiting for Santa on a chilly rooftop. “Wonder how long that white-haired fool’s going to be down there?” tutted Eric, shivering by a chimney. “My fetlocks have frozen together.”
9. “The ‘Des’ is short for Desperate”
One of the pair’s favourite running gags was at the expense of perma-tanned crooner Des O’Connor – actually a friend of Eric’s in real life. For the 1975 special, Eric was horrified by Ern’s Christmas gift to him – a Des O’Connor record. At this point, O’Connor himself turned up, demanding an explanation for years of ridicule.
8. I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat
The later Thames TV specials tend not to be as exalted (or repeated) as the BBC’s. Nevertheless, they threw up the occasional gem – such as 1979’s Looney Tunes pastiche with Eric as sly Sylvester the cat and Ern as cutesy canary Tweety Pie. Slapstick involving dynamite, guns, goldfish and giant dogs ensued.
7. Starkers & Krutch
This 1977 shot-by-shot spoof of American cop caper Starsky & Hutch saw the pair don wigs, speed around in a red-and-white Mini Clubman, frisk suspects on car bonnets, and hurt their hands karate-chopping baddies.
6. Shirley some mistake
In 1971, Shirley Bassey was riding high after crooning the theme song to that year’s Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever, so it was a coup for Eric and Ern to land her for their Christmas special. She gamely sang Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, somehow keeping a straight(ish) face while the boys, clad in brown caretaker coats, frantically rearranged the scenery behind her.
5. There Is Nothing Like a Dame
The show’s highest ratings came in 1977 when a staggering 28.5 million (over half the population) sat down to watch a star-studded show which included the cast of Dad’s Army (“Do you think that’s wise, sir?” “No, that’s Morecambe”) and Elton John (who Captain Mainwaring called “a stupid boy”). The highlight was a sailor-suited South Pacific number featuring Michael Aspel, Frank Bough and Michael Parkinson.
4. Hark the herald Angelas
Newsreader Angela Rippon showed a surprising new side in the 1976 special. During a faux-newsflash, her BBC desk split open and Rippon launched into a high-kicking dance routine. It proved so popular, she returned for a cameo the following year as part of a chorus line.
3. Traffic cones
Sometimes the simplest sketches were the best. The 1973 Christmas special’s six-minute scene in the pair’s shared flat was a case in point. It’s packed with pearls – including Eric’s reaction when a police car speeds past the window: “He’s not going to sell much ice cream going at that speed.”
2. Singin’ in the Rain
The 1976 homage to Gene Kelly’s puddle-splashing, umbrella-wielding number saw Ernie fulfil his leading man fantasies, while Eric played the drenched policeman. Electrical cables meant the production team were unable to safely flood the studio but they cleverly made a comedy virtue of this by replacing artificial rain with direct downpours onto Eric’s head through drainpipes and out of windows.
1. Previn Preview
This 1971 sketch is often hailed as the duo’s finest hour. It finds Eric attempting to play Grieg’s Piano Concerto under the baton of renowned conductor André Previn, who he misnames (“Mr Preview… Privet”), persuades to jump in the air so he’s visible over the piano lid and finally grabs by the tuxedo lapels to snarl: “I’m playing all the right notes – but not necessarily in the right order.”
The Morecambe & Wise Story: Look Back in Laughter is on Friday 23 December on Channel 5 at 9pm