Watched the BBC 2 television film about the early years of vintage comic duo Morecombe & Wise last night and found it very good. The screenplay was written by Victoria Wood, who also took the role of Eric Morecombe’s mother, Sadie – is there no end to the amazing talent and energy of this seemingly superhumanly smart woman?! Also pleased to see wonderfully funny guy Vic Reeves as Eric’s father. (and I’m going to staunchly resist calling him ‘Jim Moir’ as he was billed in the credits – because to me I know him and love him as Vic Reeves). Ha! Needless to say I also thought the actors who played Eric and Ern (both as children and as adults) were fabulous, too(!)
Given the later renowned success of Eric and Ern – their heyday as the comic show must-see Christmas Day specials of the ‘70s, what most people often forget is that for many years before that they weren’t popular amongst audiences who just didn’t find them funny – probably because their humour was so unconventionally far ahead of its time that all too many people just weren’t ready for it; didn’t understand it and, thus, just didn’t get the joke. In short, it was way too off-beat and surreal – probably especially for a British audience. As a result, they endured a hell of a lot of abuse.
Worse still, when they did finally manage to coax audiences into thinking outside of the box to the extent that they became the gem of 1950s British comic stage acts, they themselves flopped once again as soon as they entered the box that was the relatively new mass medium of television. With an unbelievable irony when considered now in retrospect that they were later to reach the height of their career with television as a medium which may as well have been made specifically for them, their stage act just didn’t translate to small screen and, it seems, they more-or-less considered their act to be over – even to the point of splitting up for a while.
But, fortunately, they didn’t give up and they did get back together again – the catalyst for this being Eric’s mother Sadie and, as the BBC play showed last night, it’s really her to whom – not only Eric and Ernie – but, consequently, so many of us owe a big thanks to for so many years of fun and laughter which will, no doubt, ring out endlessly for generations to come.
But to me, there’s one other realisation that comes from this story: the very fact that Morecombe and Wise had such a tough time getting to the top of the bill probably made them even funnier in the end. Conventional herd of naysayers beware: when you relentlessly tell some people that they’re crap and mad and hopeless and useless then one psychological side effect of this can paradoxically be to not only cause them to become resilient but to nurture and refine an ever more quicker, sharper and bitingly insightful sense of humour.
Because, sometimes, knowing how low you can fall without breaking your neck, gives you the confidence to jump back up even higher than less adventurous folk would ever dare in their wildest dreams; in short it can be kind of liberating.
Sadly, I often think that the very prize of success – that proverbial pot of gold that lay at the end of the rainbow – became a double-edged sword for Morecombe and Wise; particularly for Eric as in television world far different from today where there were only three TV channels, the increased pressure to better the amazingly higher audience ratings they achieved each year unsurprisingly took its toll on Eric’s health and, I think, probably lead to his death from a heart attack at a relatively premature age.
But, of course, in a very real way they’ve achieved their unique immortality and generously passed the gift of it onto the rest of us. And to all those anonymous hecklers who everyone‘s forgotten about – or worst still never even knew existed; I think it’s pretty clear who had the last laugh, eh?
So, thanx to all the stick-in-the-muds and herd creatures who turn out each time so faultlessly to be the best fall guys that the comic geniuses who save our sanity can ever have:)