Morecambe and Wise

From Academic Kids

Morecambe and Wise
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's death in 1984.



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.


In the later and most successful part of their career, which spanned 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 Morecambe, Wise and Braben were known as "The Golden Triangle". Morecambe and Wise are considered by many to be one of the UK's favourite all-time comedy acts.

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.

The Show

A typical Morecambe and Wise show, scripted by Braben, was effectively a sketch show crossed with a sit-com, although shows could also include the duo appearing "as themselves" on a mock stage in front of a safety curtain emblazoned with an M and W logo (this was usually to open the show). Braben gave the duo characterisations—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. Wise was the straight-man of the duo while Morecambe was given the funnier lines, usually although not always bouncing them off Wise. It is often speculated that Morecambe was funnier than Wise but others argue that it was Wise who made him funny, typical of the archetypal comedy double-act.

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 that started with Laurel and Hardy. Morecambe had been initially uncomfortable with the bed-sharing sketches but had changed his mind upon being reminded of the Laurel and Hardy precedent. 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 historical drama, which usually parodied genuine historical 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.

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.

Christmas Specials

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 Morecambe 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.")

Catchphrases and Visual Gags

Some of the duo's catchphrases include:

  • "What do you think of it so far?" (said by Morecambe, who would use a prop—such as a statue or stuffed toy—to answer: "Rubbish!")
  • "More tea, Ern?" (a pun on "tea urn", a vessel for serving hot drinks used in workplaces at the time)
  • "[He's got] short fat hairy legs" (said by Morecambe of Wise)
  • "This play what I wrote" (said by Wise of his literary works)
  • "Arsenal!" (said as a stifled cough by Morecambe, implying innuendo around the British swearword "arse")
  • "He's not wrong, you know!" (said by Morecambe)
  • "Wahey!" (said by Morecambe after what he considers is a particularly good joke)
  • "He's still got it, you know" (said by Morecambe, referring to himself, after what he considers a particularly good joke)
  • "You can say that again" (said by Morecambe after anything which could be construed as innuendo; he also said "Pardon?" in a similar way)
  • Making fun of the singer and entertainer Des O'Connor in various disparaging ways

Additionally, there were many repeated visual gags:

  • The duo dressed in overcoats and cloth caps, about to leave the stage at the end of the show
  • Morecambe affectionately slapping Wise's cheeks
  • Wise's hair supposedly being a wig (also the catchphase said by Morecambe: "You can't see the join")
  • Morecambe deliberately making his glasses wonky
  • Morecambe pretending to bully people, usually the star guest, by grabbing them by the collar and pulling them to his face
  • Morecambe reading The Beano, eating crisps, smoking a pipe etc
  • Wise appearing on stage and Morecambe joining him from behind the stage curtain but being unable to find the opening and then trying to fight his way out
  • The duo's dance at the end of each show, which would see them exiting the stage by skipping and putting alternate hands behind their heads and backs
  • Fake title sequences for Wise's plays which satirised current events or popular personalities of the time
  • Visual jokes about Luton Town F.C., a football club of which Morecambe was a director.
  • Eric's prop getting progressively longer during dance sequences

External Links

The Morecambe and Wise Homepage (

See also: Eddie Braben


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