Sunday, 23 August 2015

Bring Me Sunshine... (Why I Will ALWAYS Love Morecambe & Wise)

I have always loved comedy.  There was a time in my life where it seemed like every other weekend, I would disappear to some comedy club or other, to see what the stand ups were like there.  When comedy is good, it can make you forget your troubles and you can experience the wonderful freedom of simply letting go and laughing out loud.

I like all sorts of comedy, really.  Of course there are some styles I dislike and some comedians I just don't find funny, but for the most part, I'll give anything a try, from acerbic stand-up, to parody songs, to modern-day sitcoms.

My love of comedy came, as so much of my great loves have, from my childhood.  My sister and I watched a lot of the stuff our parents (and their parents) liked.  We giggled at Carry On films, we watched so many episodes of Dad's Army that we could practically quote scenes and we were introduced, via BBC repeats, to the magic that was Morecambe and Wise.

Eric Morecambe (born John Eric Bartholomew) and Ernie Wise (born Ernest Wiseman) had been child performers on the old UK variety scene.  Eventually, they'd teamed up (whilst still only in their teens) and formed a double-act, which went on to become quite probably the greatest comedy double-act the UK - and possibly the world - has ever seen.  Their television shows attracted enormous audiences 
and their Christmas specials were absolutely not to be missed, featuring big-name stars of stage and screen, practically queueing up to make fun of themselves.  

Tom Jones found himself equipped with a new pair of backing singers...

Of course, the days of Morecambe and Wise dominating the Christmas schedules are, sadly, long gone.  Eric Morecambe suffered his third heart attack in 1984, as he left the stage at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury.  He died a few hours later, aged just 58.  Ernie Wise was devastated at the loss of his oldest and dearest friend and, heartbreakingly, read the lyrics to "Bring Me Sunshine" (the song the double act were famous for singing at the end of their shows) as a eulogy to his comedy partner.  Although he outlived Eric and appeared on stage and television, Ernie suffered a series of mini strokes and heart problems in the years following his partner's death.  He passed away in 1999, aged 73.

So it is, that Morecambe and Wise are something of a memory, now.  But what a memory.

In today's hectic, sharp-tongued world, there are, it seems, hundreds of comedians out there, just waiting to tell us what they dislike about modern life.  And of course, there's nothing wrong with that.  As I said, I find all kinds of different comedy entertaining and I can definitely get on board with the ranty, putting-the-world-to-rights style of many of today's stand-ups.  But Morecambe and Wise weren't about that.  They weren't wanting to moan about the cost of living, or go off on a political rant.  These were two men from a variety hall background - they wanted to sing, dance, tell jokes and make people smile.  They wanted to entertain.

Unlike many modern comics, Morecambe and Wise had no intention of resorting to cruelty or mockery without purpose.  When a guest star was made fun of, the audience could tell that it was never being done with any kind of malice.  It was, simply, just funny.  When the famous conductor & composer, Andre Previn appeared as a guest, he was constantly referred to as "Andrew Preview" and Eric Morecambe delighted in seemingly frustrating Previn with his deliberately bad piano playing.  Whilst Previn was undoubtedly the stooge for Eric and Ernie's comedy, he was never personally insulted or put down.  In fact, his rather superb (and unexpected) comic skills instead meant that the "Andrew Preview sketch" has gone down in history as one of Morecambe and Wise's greatest moments.

Presenting: "Andrew Preview" in all his glory.

Eric and Ernie sometimes told a risque joke, or alluded to adult themes, but they were never, ever crude and their shows were free from bad language, meaning the whole family could enjoy them together.  There was no need for cussing or insulting anyone - they were just happy to make people laugh by doing something silly; performing with the kind of genuine warmth for one another, as well as for their craft and their audience, that endeared them to viewers in their millions.  

Eric and Ernie may have mocked one another on stage, but the many years of friendship behind their eventual television success always shone through and you never felt that the pair were anything but mates as well as colleagues.  Their lampooning of one another simply came across as the kind of harmless banter that is inevitable between two people who know one another very well.  From Ernie's despair at Eric's supposed lack of intelligence, or appreciation for the finer things in life, to Eric's mocking of Little Ern's height and his constant insistence that Ernie wore a wig ("but you can't see the join!"), the pair were always happy to be the butt of their own jokes.

Yes, when you watch some episodes back, a little of the humour is dated.  But there is something genuinely wonderful about stepping back into a time when comedy was simply for fun, without trying to spread a message or cut anyone to the quick.  When you watch Morecambe and Wise, you can see the love for performing that Eric and Ernie both had, as well as the immense skill they had in doing the job.  It's not hard to imagine the enormous amount of work that went into making a show that was adored by millions, yet the boys managed to make it look effortless.

Sometimes, we don't want to think about anything too deeply; we just want to switch off and have a bit of a laugh.  And that's what Morecambe and Wise gave us.  A chance for a good belly-laugh.  An opportunity to enter a world of silliness and fun, in which of course two guys would choreograph an entire dance routine whilst making breakfast!

I was talking about Morecambe and Wise to someone the other day and I described an evening in, watching their old Christmas specials, as being like "a really big, squishy hug."  It's heart-warming.   It's hilarious without being nasty.  It's silly.  It is, at its heart, just very, very funny.  It was after that conversation that I decided to use one of my weekly bedtime stories here on my blog, to pay tribute to the boys.

I may have only been eighteen months old when the world lost Eric Morecambe, but I grew up watching him and Ernie and loving them.  And now, three decades later, they're still bringing me sunshine.

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