Morecambe and Wise
Bring You Sunshine
Starline SRS 5066
Today, in the popular imagination, they are inextricably linked with their block-busting 1970s show which broke records and entertained (nearly almost) an entire nation, but Morecambe and Wise had to work long and hard before they became successful and ubiquitous household names. From their first meeting in a touring troupe way back in 1940, the duo served their apprenticeship in a succession of venues all around the UK, touring, struggling and grafting, all the time striving to perfect their act and develop their unique sense of timing and delivery.
Ernie Wise though was an ambitious man, with an eye always firmly set on achieving enduring greatness and he had long coveted a television career. The nascent medium during their early years had appealed to his style of intimate joke telling, a style too subtle to be truly effective on variety stages. As long ago as 1948 he had been writing increasingly insistent letters to the BBC begging for a chance to make a TV show.
After a disastrous, critically-panned television debut back in 1954 with the BBC series Running Wild, a sorry chapter that saw them pleading for the show to be taken off air, the duo had been brave enough to return to television a second time and try to establish themselves all over again. Over the years they made numerous supporting appearances on the likes of The Winifred Atwell Show and the popular variety-fest that was Sunday Night at the London Palladium, diligently working away to establishing their reputation anew.
Finally in 1961, the hard work of Morecambe and Wise was rewarded by omnipotent showbiz mogul Bernard Delfont, who granted them their own ATV series, The Morecambe and Wise Show. It was a brave decision, but I think it is fair to say that Delfont’s impetuous showbiz gamble was vindicated many, many times over. For the next two decades Morecambe and Wise dominated television like few acts before or since, achieving huge viewing figures never likely to be surpassed, and forging the template for a comedy double act, a template that has been copied many times but never bettered.
The material on the album Bring You Sunshine is made up of songs and sketches penned by Morecambe and Wise’s regular scriptwriters Dick Hills and Sid Green. Over six series of The Morecambe and Wise Show, Hills and Green did much to establish the personas and characters of Morecambe and Wise that would last the rest of their career. Ernie Wise, a sensible sort with his ‘short fat hairy legs’ was the butt of many jokes and Eric Morecambe was a wisecracking interfering jester full of witty retorts and mischief. The efforts of Morecambe and Wise and their writers paid off and they duly became bona fide TV stars. By 1968 though their contract with ATV was due for renewal. It was during negotiations over this contract that the particular die was cast which was to change British comedy forever. In an office with Bernard Delfont’s brother Lew Grade, thick with the heady fog of his gargantuan cigars, Eric and Ernie picked a fight with one of the most powerful and obstinate figures in showbiz. And won.
Eric and Ernie insisted that more money should be spent on their show and demanded that all their new shows be shown in colour. This outraged the pug-faced cheroot-chomping mogul. It was rare that Lew Grade made mistakes in business but by refusing to accommodate the artistic and professional ambitions of Morecambe and Wise he effectively released them into the clutches of Bill Cotton over at the BBC. Cotton realised immediately the gift he had received and saw to it that Morecambe and Wise would become the huge stars that they always believed they could be. But there was yet more drama in the offing before they could go on to become true legends of the small screen.
In November 1968, just after their first BBC series had aired, Eric Morecambe suffered a major heart attack. On doctor’s order he was forced to ease back on performing and the second BBC series was postponed indefinitely. It was six months before Morecambe and Wise would appear in public together again, and before their TV series could return they were stunned by the defection of their tried and trusted writers, the reliable and dependable Green and Hill who had done so much to make them stars.
Unsettled by the long period of inactivity and fearful for their own future, Dick Hills and Sid Green were lured away from writing solely for Morecambe and Wise by their arch-nemesis Lew Grade who offered the writers a generous contract to sign exclusively for ATV. They left without informing their former employers in a move which could have easily meant the premature end of Morecambe and Wise as a going concern.
Luckily for them though, a former Scouse market trader turned gag-writer named Eddie Braben was free after being ditched by Ken Dodd. By building on the foundations that Green and Hill had established, the surreal wordplay and comic fantasies of Eddie Braben would make Morecambe and Wise undoubtedly the biggest, most popular comedy stars in the UK.
Bring You Sunshine captures the essence of Morecambe and Wise at this pivotal point in their long comedy career. It was released in 1971 on EMI’s Starline label and gathered together a selection of much-loved comic routines created by Dick Hills and Sid Green for the 1960s TV series. The sketches are, with a few exceptions, fairly insubstantial. Ton Up Boy seems an obvious inspiration for Dick Emery and Tape Recorder is an enchanting piece of domestic comic whimsy. The remaining sketches such as Indians and Get It Right Corporal are so brief as to almost be one line gags. Harmless filler really but not the meaty chunks that Morecambe and Wise fans were after.The meaty comedy chunks in thick marrowbone stand-up jelly were delivered by the comic songs.
As with the sketches, the songs are also written by Dick Hills and Sid Green, with Walter Ridley taking charge of musical duties. They are without exception an absolute joy, full of charm and gentle subtle wit, much like Morecambe and Wise’s TV act. They do not try to force themselves on the audience, instead relying on clever, well rehearsed repartee. Singing the Blues is a faithfully rendered pastiche of white man blues and there is also an early prototype version of Eric’s brilliant mangling of Grieg’s piano concerto to enjoy, a routine which was later resurrected for none other than the great Andre Preview.
I’d love to put the entire album up for you to listen, but for the sake of brevity and bandwidth, I have selected just one track. Bring Me Sunshine was perhaps the obvious choice, played as the end credits rolled on their TV shows and very much the signature theme of Morecambe and Wise. As ever though, I prefer to spin the more obscure and unappreciated tracks. So to play us out, here is Song of Youth, a wonderful comic song full of domestic violence, hard drinking, promiscuity and lunacy. Somewhere in here lurk the spirits of John Osborne and Les Dawson, with perhaps just a dash of Violet Carson. Bring us sunshine lads: