September 2, 1968: The Morecambe & Wise Show (1966-1977) first airs on BBC2

Morecambe-&-wise_skip-dance-Wikipedia
Morecambe & Wise

The Morecambe & Wise Show was a comedy sketch show originally broadcast by BBC television and the third TV series by English comedy double-act Morecambe and Wise. It began airing in 1968 on BBC2, specifically because it was then the only channel broadcasting in colour, following the duo’s move to the BBC from ATV, where they had made Two of a Kind since 1961.

The Morecambe & Wise Show was popular enough to be moved to BBC1, with its Christmas specials garnering prime-time audiences in excess of 20 million, some of the largest in British television history.

After their 1977 Christmas show Morecambe and Wise left the BBC and signed with Thames Television, marking their return to the ITV network. The Morecambe & Wise Show title (or close variations thereof) continued to be used for many of these ITV shows.

Initially, The Morecambe & Wise Show showed little difference to their previous series on ITV. Bill Cotton‘s plan was to allow Morecambe and Wise to become comfortable with their new surroundings before implementing his plan to extend the show by an additional twenty minutes per episode. By the conclusion of the first series there was a welcome anticipation for the next series. But, on November 7, just over two weeks after the transmission of the final episode, Eric Morecambe had a serious heart attack while returning to his hotel following a show at the Batley Variety Club. This immediately put any thoughts of a new series on hold; while Bill Cotton said that the BBC would fully honour the contract that they had signed with Morecambe and Wise, with the only proviso that Morecambe take as long as required to fully regain his strength.

The duo’s writing team returned to ATV and Bill Cotton then suggested that the duo talk to Eddie Braben, who had recently stopped working with Ken Dodd. In Braben’s interpretation, he moved away from how Morecambe and Wise had previously been presented, instead creating characters that he perceived as exaggerated versions of their own personas as he had observed them.

The second series eventually began in July 1969 and a tradition that had begun with Two of a Kind to invite special guests and “insult” them was stepped up a gear with the BBC shows. The horror film actor Peter Cushing was one of the first to be so treated beginning the long-running in-joke that he had never been paid. The shows became more structured, with an opening “spot” in front of the curtains in a mock-theatre set-up that they insisted upon having, guest singers and groups, a sketch with the two in their flat, either in the lounge or in bed together, a lavish play “wot Ern wrote” and the final theme song, over the credits.

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