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Morecambe and Wise
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Morecambe and Wise

Morecambe and Wise were a famous British comic double act comprising Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. The act lasted four decades, until Morecambe died in 1984. In the later and stunningly successful part of their career, which encompases the 1970s, they were joined behind the scenes by Eddie Braben, a script writer who generated almost all their material and defined what is now thought of as typical Morecambe and Wise humour. Together Morcambe, Wise and Braben were known as "The Golden Triangle". Morcambe and Wise are considered by many to be one of the UK's favourite all-time comedy acts.

Eric and Ernie first joined forces in 1941 and rapidly became one of Britain's best-loved comedy acts. Initially appearing in music hall, they made their name in radio, transferring to television in 1955. They had a series of shows over twenty years on both ITV and BBC. In 1976, they were both appointed OBEs.

A typical Morecambe and Wise show, scripted by Braben, was effectively a sketch show crossed with a sit-com, although could also include the duo appearing "as themselves" on a mock stage in front of a safety curtain emblazened with an M and W logo (this was usually to open the show). The duo had characterisations ascribed to them by writer Braben - Wise was naive and egotistical, Morecambe child-like and cocky - although at other times they relied on their acting ability to appear as characters in sketches. A central conceit was that the duo lived together and therefore shared a flat (and even a bed, although this was entirely platonic and merely carried on a tradition of comedians sharing a bed started with Laurel and Hardy). The front room of the flat and also the bedroom were used frequently throughout the show episodes, although Braben would transplant them into various situations, such as a health food shop or a bank.

Another conceit of the shows was Wise's status as an aspiring writer. This allowed for another kind of sketch - the historial drama, which usually parodied genuine historial television plays or films (such as Stalag 54, Anthony and Cleopatra, or Napoleon and Josephine). Wise's character would write a play, complete with bad grammar and cheap props ("this play what I wrote" became a catchphrase), which would be acted out by Morecambe, Wise and a guest star. Guests who participated included many big names of the 1970s and 80s, such as Flora Robson, Glenda Jackson, Peter Cushing and Frank Finlay. Morecambe and Wise would generally pretend not to have heard of the guest, or confuse them with someone else, and Braben would later say that a large amount of the duo's humour was based on irreverence.

The show had end-of-year Christmas specials, which became such an institution during the 1970s that no British family would dream of missing them. Braben would comment that people judged the quality of their Christmas experience on the quality of the Morcambe and Wise Christmas Special. Classic sketches from such shows revolved around the guest stars, such as Andre Previn (referred to as "Mr Preview", and leading to the classic line from Morecambe when Previn complained he was playing the wrong tune on the piano: "I am playing all the right notes... but not necessarily in the right order.")

John Ammonds was also central to the duo's most successful period in the 1970s. As the producer of the BBC TV shows, it was his idea to involve celebrity guests. He also came-up with the duo's familiar dance.

As a carry-over from their music hall days, Morecambe and Wise sang and danced at the end of each show. Their peculiar dance was an improvised form of the Groucho Marx walk which involved skipping and putting alternate hands behind their head. Their signature tune was Bring Me Sunshine. They either sang this at the end of each show or it was used as a theme tune during the credits. During a theatrical tribute to the duo, A Play What I Wrote, many members of the audience wept when the tune was played. This indicates the popularity and special place Morecambe and Wise hold in the hearts of many British people. In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, The Morecambe and Wise Show was placed 14th.

Some of the duo's catchphrases include:

Additionally, there were many repeated visual gags:

See also: Eddie Braben