My Favourite Christmas Special: The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special 1971
I was given the task to decide which Christmas special, which has graced our television screens, is my favourite. For some, this may have been a hard task. For me, it took 20 seconds. When you think of the leading figures for the festive season, you should probably think: the wee baby Jesus, Santa Claus, perhaps Mr Scrooge. Do you know who I think about? Messrs Morecambe and Wise.
I realise that this is not a competition between the other writers on the website to bicker “My Christmas special is better than yours” but which other Christmas special can claim that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II personally watched theirs? I do not think that Her Majesty would stop the turkey dinner to watch Gavin and Stacey or to tell Prince Phillip to save her a glass of wine because the other Royle Family are on.
I probably should explain the circumstances of your writer, dear reader, being introduced to Morecambe and Wise. Like many Lancastrian children, I have spent much of my life in the company of my Nan (grandma, to those well-spoken people out there). This lovely octogenarian whom I call my Nan always blushed when Billy Connolly came on the television screen. She always tutted her disapproval when Victoria Wood would sing a song about middle aged people wanting to ‘do it’. This woman was of the light entertainment era therefore her grandchildren would be brought up on it too.
But that’s the thing about Morecambe and Wise. They could be shown to children, they could be shown to adults and they could be shown to the elderly. It is Peter Kay who says, “Funny is funny” and they were just funny. They follow the structure of a basic double act: one plays it straight (Ernie Wise), whilst the other acts the fool (Eric Morecambe). However, they changed the structure of the double act and it was quite revolutionary at the time: they were both idiots in the act. Ernie would try to be pompous and self-important but failed whilst Eric would try to mock Ernie and at the same time, get mocked himself. The idiots were geniuses.
I could have chosen any of the Christmas specials. For instance, when Elton John gets sent the wrong way round the Television Centre and meets characters from Dad’s Army. Or when Angela Rippon emerged from the news desk to perform a legendary dance routine. I have chosen the 1971 Christmas Special for one reason and one reason only: Andre Previn.
The rehearsal for the show went as this: Andre Previn read the script in a taxi from the airport. Andre Previn performed on the show. The best thing about Morecambe and Wise is that it all seems improvised. But with script writer, Eddie Braben, it was chaos but organised chaos. This could be seen in the infamous sketch where the band members play the appropriate music (organised) but laugh uncontrollably at Morecambe and Wise’s interaction with Previn (chaos).
The sketch spawned one of the most famous lines in British comedy:
“I am playing all the right notes but necessarily in the right order.”
Other memorable moments include their regular interpretation of monks such as bell ringing and then pulling a pint using candle sticks. Their sketch as turkeys was particularly inspired. When Ernie whispers to Eric what humans do to turkeys before they put them in the oven, his reaction is fantastic. “Oh I don’t like that! That’s not right that!”.
It would be very easy and boring to analyse each sketch featuring Morecambe and Wise. It would take the fun away from it. I shall return to thought that “Funny is funny” and this was especially true with Messrs Morecambe and Wise. So my advice to you, dear reader, is to avoid mediocre Christmas films and have a jolly old time by watching Morecambe and Wise Christmas 1971. Go on, you know you want to.
You can view classic clips from the double act here