Why the magic of Morecambe and Wise is still bringing us sunshine

Clips and conversation series Trust Morecambe and Wise on NOW brings together the laughter and life lessons of Britain’s greatest TV entertainers.

By Alex Fletcher Published: 5 December 2019 - 3.20pm
Watch Trust Morecambe & Wise on NOW with a NOW Entertainment Membership.

Thirty-five years after the death of his father, Gary Morecambe believes that his dad would be “absolutely staggered” to see Eric and Ernie’s comedy still enduring.

"He said to my sister Gail, not long before he died actually, 'Keep watching the shows, because if you don’t, it’s all been for nothing'. I thought that was so sad and slightly dismissive of his own incredible talents," recalls Gary.

"The irony of it being that they’re not just still shown, they are in many ways still contemporary and shown in prime time. He would be absolutely gobsmacked.

"He thought they would always have a cult following, but he never believed that this would be possible. The fact that I’m here now still talking about his work, he wouldn’t believe it."

Trust Morecambe & Wise sees Gary team up with Lenny Henry to look back at what we can learn about modern life from Eric and Ernie.

With rarely seen archive clips and very special guests such as Glenda Jackson and Angela Rippon, Trust Morecambe & Wise hits all the right notes - and this time, they are in the right order.

Here are three reasons you can’t miss Trust Morecambe & Wise…

1. A fresh perspective on Eric and Ernie

"I don't think it’s a case of never seen before, but speaking from a family’s perspective, we're never sure if there are enough Morecambe and Wise clips shown and if they are, it’s always the same ones," Gary told BT TV.

"You always get the Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Andre Previn and Angela Rippon. This time, to have clips where I had a think and thought, 'Ooh I only vaguely remember that', I thought that was tremendous.

"It’s showing something just a little bit different. The other great thing is that we’re doing the shows thematically. So it might be relationships or money... Eric and Ernie had such an amazing body of work, we could pull together shows around each of these subjects."

One of the recurring themes in Trust Morecambe & Wise is the love and affection that the celebrities who were lucky enough to work with the duo hold for their time together.

"Talking to Glenda Jackson in the dressing room before the show, she said that working with Morecambe and Wise was the happiest moment of her career," says Gary.

"And for someone with an amazing film career in Hollywood, to say that about a couple of comics, it means so much to us.

"We wouldn’t be having this conversation, 35 years after Eric’s death, if this wasn’t something that went right through the psyche of the country. It’s in people’s minds somewhere, whether it’s through watching with parents or grandparents, it never seems to fade."

2. The enduring humour of two bickering middle-aged men

What is it about Morecambe and Wise that means we still fall about with laughter at their antics, decades after they first dazzled the nation?

"I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve analysed and try to answer that question myself," admits Gary.

"The one thing I come back to again and again is that it’s very hard to age, two middle-aged men bickering with each other over who had the best shoes and who teacher liked best. It’s all so wonderfully trivial, but at the same time deep and clever. As Ben Elton said, they were actually surreal comics. It is very hard to age that.

"You get shows like Not The Nine O’Clock News, which is so dated, because it was all about politics and everything going on in that moment. They tended not to do that and kept it about their own conversations. Even when they had guest stars on, they made it timeless, and did a tribute to Hollywood.

"They would never say, ‘Oh, let’s talk about Maggie Thatcher’. They might have referenced her one time, but they would never go on about it. So all people remember is two middle-aged men bickering, which is wonderful and timeless."

Gary believes the only misconception about his dad and Ernie Wise is that everything came naturally to them.

"Someone once said to my father, 'You’re like vicars, you only work once a week'. I thought that was a bit harsh and a bit tough on vicars too," he laughs.

"People liked to believe it just happened on the night. In the same way that people believed Eric and Ernie really did share a bed together.

"They embraced that world of Eric and Ernie and people would come up to him in the street when we were little and ask, ‘where’s Ernie?’

"That must have driven him nuts, but he’d always play along with it and say, ‘He’s here in my pocket’. Or his other classic was, ‘I left him cleaning Lew Grade’s car and his tongue went dry’. He always gave an answer, but it must have driven him nuts on a quiet level."

3. Eric and Ernie's lasting legacy

Gary sees the magic of Eric Morecambe in a couple of contemporary comics.

"Michael Parkinson said that Eric would have liked Peter Kay because they came from similar backgrounds and when you watch Peter Kay there is something of Eric in there," he said.

"Peter’s just a natural and never forcing it. He can just 'hello' and you’re laughing. I can really see the similarities with my father.

"I like to think he would enjoy Lee Mack for similar reasons – I think Lee captures the spirit of Eric. He loved family entertainers, so I think he would like Michael McIntyre. He would be high on the list."

Gary believes there will come a time when Morecambe and Wise become like Laurel and Hardy and only “occasionally on screen” and “not on a huge level”, but the in the meantime he still gets amused by the different reactions to his famous father.

"You get both ends of it. My wonderful hairdresser, she’s only 19 and she’s never heard of them," explains Gary.

"But there was also a time when I was on holiday on the beach when a young woman came up to me – which is pretty shocking in itself – and she said, are you Eric Morecambe’s son? I said yes and thought, how great that someone so young should know that. And then she said, ‘My grandma will be thrilled when I tell her!’ Ha ha. I thought that was great."

Like millions across the country, the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Day tradition still lives on within the Morecambe household, 35 years after Eric's passing.

"My kids have grown up now. But me and my wife will and my mother, who is still ticking on. We used to do that with Eric, so it is a tradition for us. I would never break that," reveals Gary.

"I still find it very hard not to watch the TV whenever they come on. My wife will say, let’s just record it, but I feel almost honour-bound to watch it. It’s funny isn’t it? I feel like my dad is watching over and it doesn’t feel quite right not to watch it."

Watch Trust Morecambe & Wise on NOW with a NOW Entertainment Membership.

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