“ Genre: Television - Morecambe & Wise / Universal, suitable for all / Actors: Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise, Angela Rippon, Glenda Jackson, Arthur Lowe ... / DVD released 2001-10-01 at 2 Entertain Video / Features of the DVD: Full Screen, PAL „
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Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, voted number two in a poll of the greatest TV stars (presumably in the UK) by the general public in 2006. The duo worked together in a variety of genres, including stage, film, television and radio, but they are most remembered for their TV show. The partnership lasted from the 1940s through to Eric Morecambe's death in 1984 - the much-loved comedian collapsed after coming off stage and later died in hospital. Ernie Wise retired in 1995 because of his own ill health and later died in 1999 from heart failure in hospital. Yet, Morecambe and Wise are still household names today, in the UK at least, and are frequently shown in re-runs, particularly around the Christmas period.
This 'Best of' DVD shows a selection of their best sketches, rather than episodes and therefore supposedly shows off Morecambe and Wise at their very best. And I think that it really does. Whenever anyone of my age or older thinks of Morecambe and Wise, the sketches that immediately come to mind are 'Singin' in the Rain', the breakfast strip-tease and Anthony and Cleopatra with Glenda Jackson. They are all on this 83 minute DVD, split up with some shorter, but nevertheless funny, sketches. There is, of course, a version of 'Bring Me Sunshine' at the end of the disc, the song that they always performed at the end of the TV episodes. The only clip that is notably absent for me is the Angela Rippon one, where the newscaster shows off her rather lovely legs and was the talk of the country for quite some time afterwards.
The standard of all the clips is high; both Eric and Ernie had excellent comic timing and the lines are incredibly witty and well-thought out. It is perhaps surprising then that my favourite clip is the breakfast strip-tease one, during which neither comedian actually speaks. This is because the constant one-liners, especially when delivered by Eric Morecambe, can become a little tiring after a while. Morecambe plays the deliberately silly one who speaks whatever is in his mind. He is always putting Ernie down and, to a certain extent, bullies him. I find it all gets a little too much at times and so to watch him in a sketch where he uses his perfect comic timing without opening his mouth is a real treat. The sketch involves them making breakfast and taking off their dressing gowns (rather than a full strip-tease!) to the tune of 'The Stripper'. It really is well done and deserves a watch if you haven't seen it. The 'Singin' in the Rain sketch is also funny for the same reason - it's all dance and action, and no talking!
Of the two comedians then, Ernie Wise (known to Eric as the short, fat, hairy one) has always been my favourite. He is the quieter and infinitely more sensible of the two, which sounds boring, but isn't - simply because it is much more noticeable when he finally does get the chance to shine. It is probably also partly that he comes across as being the underdog, and we Brits do love an underdog! However, that is negating his talent to a certain extent, because he clearly is just as talented as Eric Morecambe, it's just that Eric so often talks over him.
Many of the sketches involve reenactments of famous historical situations or characters and, as well as Morecambe and Wise, a number of familiar faces are also present (familar, that is, provided that you were alive in the 70s and early 80s at least!). The Anthony and Cleopatra sketch is a particular beauty. Glenda Jackson plays Cleopatra and is truly superb - as a serious actress, I didn't really expect her to be all that funny. She worked beautifully with the boys though, and their little dance was particularly memorable. Other historical sketches include The Mutiny on the Bounty, which includes Arthur Lowe (Dad's Army), and Byron and Keats during a meeting - in which their lines all rhyme - I hesitate to say they're poetry because they do rhyme hillock with mill-ock (milk)!
Although it is the longer sketches that are the most memorable, I did enjoy the shorter sketches too, probably because I could remember fewer of them - the longer ones are frequently shown on TV. They are, however, probably best seen at leisure, rather than all in one go as on this DVD - many of them concentrate on Morecambe's ability to deliver his lines as quickly as possible and it really can be too much to take in all in one go. They do, however, showcase the ability of the comedians to make comedy out of very little. Whereas the longer sketches tend to have lots of props and costumes and other costumes, the shorter ones often involve just the two of them with the odd prop, and just rely on their innate talent as comedians.
Morecambe and Wise often bring in comments on events that were contemporary to the time, which may be incomprehensible to younger viewers, but are nevertheless hilarious to those who know what they are talking about. The reference to Glenda Jackson's Oscar during the Anthony and Cleopatra sketch particularly makes me chuckle. Another thing that may be hard for younger viewers to process is the portrayal of many of the female characters as big-busted, blonde beauties that Morecambe invariably leers after. One sketch involves naked female tennis players next door, their modesty protected only by a fence, which smacks very much of Benny Hill. This sort of comedy was quite accepted for the time though.
Another thing that is perhaps missing from the DVD (apart from Angela Rippon) is the singing and dancing. Both Eric and Ernie sang and danced, although not brilliantly - they were trying to make people laugh after all. There are some sketches - 'Singin' in the Rain' is an obvious one - that involves them dancing, but apart from the 'Bring Me Sunshine' at the end, there is little of them singing. I didn't particularly mind, it's just it was such a big part of the TV shows that it is rather obvious in its absence.
The extras are deeply disappointing, including nothing more than sketch selection and written artist profiles. There have been so many interviews with both comedians over the years that it really wouldn't have hurt to include a couple of them here. The sketches only last for 83 minutes after all.
I really enjoyed re-watching all the sketches included on the DVD. I think the right choices were made in general and there is no doubt that this comic duo were highly talented - there are certainly few comedians to match them at the moment. Another thing is the cleanness of the jokes in general - apart from some buxom women, the jokes are really very family-friendly - again, unlike many comedians these days. I was, however, reminded of how too much in one go can be annoying - Eric Morecambe in particular needs to be limited. This DVD would be ideal for any real fan of Morecambe and Wise - my only reservation is that the sketches shown here are re-run so frequently that anyone who just enjoys the odd glance will already know them off-by-heart. All in all, recommended.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99. (I picked it up for about 5p in a jumble sale!)
Running time: 83 minutes