Eric Morecambe told to ditch ‘weak’ Ernie Wise by BBC: ‘Cant see them making it in TV’

Andre Previn stars in hilarious Morecambe and Wise sketch

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Morecambe and Wise, as they were known, were an iconic English comedy double act, working across most forms of broadcast. They were a hit in the UK, touring the country far and wide, their greatest success coming via the medium of TV. Tonight, the pair’s ‘Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show’ will be shown on ITV One, transporting us back to 1971.

It featured the combined talents of pianist Andrew Previn, actress Glenda Jackson, and singer Shirley Bassey.

Guests also included singer Paul Anka, jazz musician Kenny Ball, and actress Janet Webb.

The Christmas special reveals the origins of what became long-running gags involving curtains, paper bags and bed-sharing.

Morecambe and Wise seemed almost inseparable throughout their career.

Friends for 44 years, partners for most of it, many described them as two halves of a whole.

Sadly, Morecambe passed away in 1984, and Wise followed 15 years later in 1999.

While the pair were inseparable, unearthed reports show that some had attempted to split them up.

Prior to their mainstream success, bosses at the BBC were not keen on Wise after a script was sent to them.

They preferred the idea of Morecambe ditching him and going solo as a comic, as was explored during ITV’s series ‘The Lost Tapes’.

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A letter to a scriptwriter dated June 5, 1959, written by one of the BBC’s comedy producers, John Ammonds, laid bare the broadcaster’s concerns.

He wrote: “After seeing Morecambe and Wise the other week in their show [in] Blackpool, I am not at all sure as to their strength on a TV programme.

“They are still working on old gags and in my opinion, frequently working the wrong type of material.

“They are quite a disappointment to me because when I first worked with them in this region on sound, I thought they had a great future.

“It is even more depressing than it seems because they are quite happy to jog along as they are doing at the moment.

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“I always thought Eric Morecambe was a funny man and still think that he could be very successful on vision but only if he could be detached from Ernie, who I think is a big weakness.

“I really cannot see them making the grade in a TV series.”

Morecambe and Wises’ partnership began during World War 2, when the pair started performing in 1941.

They initially enjoyed great success on stage and radio, but soon made the move to TV.

However, their first foray was unsuccessful.

Appearing in the 1954 BBC show ‘Running Wild’, their performance was widely criticised, with one reviewer concluding that the TV set was “the box they buried Morecambe and Wise in”.

Fearing that the show was a dead end, the two considered cutting their losses and quitting before it had had its run.

Frank Pope, their agent, even wrote to the head of light entertainment at the broadcasters, criticising Running Wild himself, and wrote: “I called my clients into my office to see me this morning in view of the television broadcast they did last night and to say in my personal opinion this was the worst performance I have ever witnessed my clients giving, not because of their inability but plainly because the material etc supplied for them to appear in was most unsuitable and inadequate.

“On behalf of my clients, I must refuse them being allowed to appear for the last of the six television broadcasts in their contract.

“You will appreciate, my clients’ main livelihood depends upon theatrical engagements and they cannot possibly afford to jeopardise any further their reputation in this market.”

Following this, the pair kept a tight control over their material, and in 1956 were offered a spot in the Winifred Atwell show with material written by Johnny Speight.

This proved a success, and marked the beginning of an illustrious career.

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