Could Eric and Ernie have been another Stan and Ollie? Film critic Tony Earnshaw thinks so.
The creeping proximity to Christmas brings with it the annual trawl through the festive TV schedules.
I’m a sucker for Morecambe and Wise so inevitably I find myself seeking out repeats of their shows. Is it only coincidence that Gold is presenting a five-part tribute to their partnership, key sketches and comedy roots? I suspect not.
Immersing myself in Eric and Ernie prompted me to re-examine their influences and their trilogy of movies, now (and then) much maligned. No-one thinks much of films like The Intelligence Men – even Morecambe and Wise themselves were somewhat embarrassed by them.
So what of a wee gem entitled Simon, Simon? Not heard of it? No reason why you should. It’s a short in the style of Eric Sykes’s The Plank directed by that great comedy stooge Graham Stark. And in amongst the gallery of famous faces – Stark’s mates queued up to lend their celebrity status, among them Peter Sellers and Michael Caine – are Eric and Ernie.
Their scenes are criminally brief. Ernie leans out of a window to accidentally set fire to a ladder with his paint burner; Eric taps away gently at a roof slate with a hammer. Not a word is spoken.
Yet this obscure little vignette hints more at the type of film they wanted to make – and the style they preferred – than their trio of uneven pictures for Rank.
Stark’s film is rooted in observational and situation comedy. It packs mischief, romance, drama and some nifty stuntwork (via slapstick) into its 31 minutes and hints at what Morecambe and Wise might have done if only they could have found the right project.
Scarred and quietly humiliated by their experiences making films for other people, Eric and Ernie harboured ambitions to do their own thing for years. They spoke about it often in the 1970s but no opportunities arose.
In truth, it was more an ambition for Morecambe than Wise. Some insiders point to the carrot of a movie being the primary reason they jumped ship from the BBC to Thames Television in 1978.
The movie wouldn’t materialise until 1983.
Night Train to Murder eventually aired in 1984, after Eric’s death.
It was a cheaply made and unwieldy TV movie unworthy of their talents.
Maybe they should have gone the way of Laurel and Hardy, their predecessors, and made the short form their speciality.
Simon, Simon offers a fleeting glimpse at what could have been… and thank goodness for TV repeats.
TRILOGY CAN BE TRACKED DOWN
Eric and Ernie’s television shows – their Christmas specials, in particular – were by far and away their most successful collaborations.
Morecambe and Wise fans can, however, still track down copies of their three forays into film – The Intelligence Men in 1965, That Riviera Touch in 1966 and The Magnificent Two in 1967.