Today marks the 30th anniversary of the death of Eric Morecambe, one of Britain’s greatest ever entertainers and one of my personal heroes. I was born in the early 1970s, so I was lucky enough to be growing up when The Morecambe And Wise Show was reaching its peak and I even have fond memories of Eric and Ernie’s latter years after they upped sticks for Thames Television in 1978. When I heard Eric had died, I felt like a bit of my childhood had died too – and I was only 12. So, in memory of the one with the glasses, not to mention the one with the short fat hairy legs, here’s a look at a side of Eric and Ernie you might not be familiar with; the eight singles they released between 1961 and 1976.
We’re The Guys (Who Drive Your Baby Wild) / Me And My Shadow
His Master’s Voice 45-POP 957, December 1961
Although they were an established stage act, in 1961 Eric and Ernie’s TV career was only just beginning to take off as they worked to erase memories of their mid-1950s flop Running Wild with the first series of their ATV show Two Of A Kind. This, their first foray onto vinyl, seems somewhat out of character now; a strangely misguided attempt to portray the duo as rock ‘n’ rollers – or, slightly more plausibly, the songwriting brains behind the teenage idols. We’re The Guys (Who Drive Your Baby Wild) is an answer record to Who Put The Bomp (In The Bomp, Bomp, Bomp), a hit from earlier in the year which ponders who might have invented the nonsense lyrics prevalent in many hits of the immediate pre-Beatles era. Could it have been Morecambe and Wise? Eric certainly seems to know what he’s talking about – “Wait a minute,” he protests, “where’s the rama-lama-ding-dong? It won’t sell without the rama-lama-ding-dong!” You won’t be surprised to discover that, after all, Eric and Ernie did no such thing; this was a cover of an American hit for Bob And Jerry. The B-side sees the lads on more familiar ground as Eric messes up Ernie’s attempt at the standard Me And My Shadow.
Boom Oo Yatta-Ta-Ta / Why Did I Let You Go
His Master’s Voice POP 1240, December 1963
Here we have a problem that many comedy performers faced in the days before home video – how to preserve a sketch from a TV show that was too good just to be broadcast once and forgotten about. The TV version has Eric, dressed in leather, singing Are You Lonesome Tonight? on his own before Ernie steps in to provide backing vocals along with the show’s writers and supplementary performers Sid Green and Dick Hills. In the resulting cacophony of “Boom”s, “Oo”s and “Yatta-ta-ta”s, Eric gets confused and is eventually sidelined while the others sing the main part. For tedious copyright reasons, the version of the sketch as released on record uses an original composition which isn’t Are You Lonesome Tonight but could just about pass for it. On the B-side Ernie finally seems to be getting a chance to sing a straight number until Eric turns up to comment on proceedings – “He might not quite reach the high notes, but he goes a beautiful colour.”
A-Wassailing / The Happiest Christmas Of All
His Master’s Voice POP 1373, December 1964
Another comedy sketch committed to record, Eric and Ernie are celebrating Christmas and drinking a toast to everyone they can think of – the joke being that they’re getting very drunk and, er, that’s it. Before long the duo are hopelessly bladdered and incapable of singing (“I’ve had four advocaats!” boasts Ernie. “We haven’t got any advocaat,” Eric unsteadily replies. “What have I been drinking then?” “Custard.”) and the whole thing descends, rather grimly, into a fist fight. (Please do remember to drink responsibly.) The B-side is rather more festive, a fairly typical M&W style song with a brief interlude while Eric sends out his Christmas cards.
That Riviera Touch / Now That You’re Here
His Master’s Voice POP 1518, April 1966
Just like Elvis, Eric and Ernie’s career was temporarily derailed in the mid-’60s by a foray into cinema. The duo made three films: The Intelligence Men (1965), That Riviera Touch (1966) and The Magnificent Two (1967), none of which was particularly well received, although the middle film is probably the best of the three. Ernie sings the title song solo in the film as it plays behind the opening credits, but both Eric and Ernie sing on the single release. Similarly, Ernie sings Now That You’re Here relatively straight in the movie as a favour to Eric who wants to sing it to his romantic interest but is hampered by a total lack of any singing ability whatsoever. In the end Ernie ducks out of sight and sings the song while Eric lip-syncs to it, much to his flame’s bemusement. The single version features attempted backing vocals from Eric and is peppered with Morecambe wisecracks; even the “He goes a lovely colour” line gets another airing.
The Twelve Days Of Christmas / Bingle Jells
Pye 7N 17436, December 1967
Having returned to TV in 1967 for another series of Two Of A Kind, Eric and Ernie had another crack at the Christmas single market with this brilliantly nonsensical pairing. The lads romp through Jingle Bells, making spousands of thoonerisms as they go, in a recording which seems to have been envisaged as the A-side – their assault on The Twelve Days Of Christmas opens with Ernie pleading “Now let’s try and sing one song right.” Instead it descends into chaos as Eric can’t quite get the words out – “On a thirsty day at Christmas my rude one scented me on a part which was bare as can be.” Soon Ernie has given up trying to correct Eric and is resignedly joining in the silliness, although he can’t let Eric have the fifteenth day of Christmas and they eventually haggle it down to the eleventh. It doesn’t seem to be online anywhere else so consider this my Christmas gift to you. In May.
Bring Me Sunshine / Just Around The Corner
Columbia DB 8646, December 1969 (reissued as DB 8753, February 1971)
In 1968 Eric and Ernie famously left ATV for the promise of more money and – gasp! – colour television at the BBC, although both ITV and BBC1 remained resolutely monochrome until November 1969, so the duo’s first two BBC series were only seen in colour by the handful of viewers who were able to receive BBC2 and had a colour set. Series 2 of The Morecambe And Wise Show, broadcast in the summer of 1969, introduced the concept of the duo closing the show with a rendition of Bring Me Sunshine, a song which had recently been recorded in the US by Brenda Lee and also Willie Nelson, who had taken it to the top twenty of the Country chart. Of course the song is now so indelibly associated with Eric and Ernie that to hear anyone else singing the song seems horribly jarring, but it’s often forgotten that it wasn’t the show’s only big closing number. The duo’s next two series, both shown in 1970, alternated Bring Me Sunshine with Just Around The Corner, a much older song written in 1925 by Harry Von Tilzer. A favourite of Vaudeville performers from the late 1920s onwards, it’s likely Eric and Ernie would have heard the song performed by their contemporaries in the early part of their career. The two songs were released as a single at the end of 1969 (interestingly before Just Around The Corner had been used on the TV show) and again in 1971 by which time both songs were familiar to viewers.
Following You Around / Eric And Ernie’s Theme
Philips 6006 069, November 1970
Written by Sylvan Whittingham (then an aspiring pop singer, now a freelance photographer) and produced by her husband Barry Mason (who, ironically, had co-written Des – short for “desperate” – O’Connor’s 1968 hit I Pretend), Following You Around became another of The Morecambe & Wise Show‘s famous closing themes, débuting on Eric and Ernie’s 1970 Christmas special. By the time of the broadcast the song was already in the shops, both on this single and as the opening track of an album Get Out Of That, where it was used to pad out a reissue of material already released in 1966 as An Evening With Ernie Wise At Eric Morecambe’s Place. Following You Around was used as the closing number throughout series 5 (broadcast in spring 1971) and alternated with Bring Me Sunshine in series 6 that autumn.
(We Get Along So Easily) Don’t You Agree / Positive Thinking
EMI 2475, June 1976
Two more songs were added to the repertoire of closing themes for The Morecambe And Wise Show during the mid 1970s. Don’t You Agree was first heard in series 7 (broadcast in 1973) and used interchangeably with Bring Me Sunshine and Following You Around over the course of the series. The following year’s series saw Positive Thinking introduced to the mix, a song written by veteran songwriters Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent, composers of a baffling variety of songs from Scott Walker’s Joanna to the theme from Neighbours. Along with Bring Me Sunshine, Don’t You Agree and Positive Thinking were rotated as closing numbers until the end of Eric and Ernie’s BBC career in 1977 and were coupled together as a single in 1976. As usual Eric plays with the format, ad-libbing asides such as “Who’s the conductor? You said it would be Andrew Preview!” while Ernie struggles on manfully. It’s refreshing – and perhaps a sign of more innocent times – that the “good, strong, positive drinking” line also makes it to vinyl; I’ll certainly be raising a glass to Eric and Ernie tonight.