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The play what I wrote—Ernie Wise
"I'm playing all the right notes -- but not necessarily in the right order."—Eric Morecambe
A legendary British comic double act, both of whom got OBEs. Consisted of Eric Morecambe (John Eric Bartholomew, 14 May 1926 – 28 May 1984), (the dark-haired "funny man") and Ernie Wise (Ernest Wiseman, 27 November 1925 – 21 March 1999) (the blond-haired "Straight Man"). A running trope of theirs was that Ernie considered himself a talented playwright and would ask the guests to take roles in the latest "play what I wrote". This allowed spoofs of various famous plays with Eric always being a Large Ham or otherwise messing the performance up. Generally hilarity ensued
They did a show called The Morecambe & Wise Show (actually two of them via a Channel Hop), full of comedic sketches and celebrity guests. A particularly well-known case involved newsreader Angela Rippon. Rippon starts off in newsreader mode with a faux economic report. Then she starts reciting the lyrics to a famous song (It begins "There may be trouble ahead"). The news desk is pulled apart, Rippon stands up and reveals to everyone watching that she had very nice legs, before doing a dance routine. In the process, she started a British trope.
In the 1970s they had an annual Christmas Special, which was an integral part of A Very British Christmas. It received viewing figures which seem unimaginable now, over twenty million. Apparently the National Grid had to prepare in advance for almost everyone in Britain putting on the kettle at the same time immediately after it finished.
Morecambe died in 1984, from a fatal heart attack after a public performance. Wise died in 1999. Both of their deaths were front-page news.
They contained examples of the following:
- Actor Allusion: In the Anthony and Cleopatra sketch alone, Morecambe sat on Glenda Jackson's oscar ( and then stole them at the end) and after Eric enters holding a sign reading "SPQR", it flips and changes to "Luton FC" (which he owned at the time).
- In the 1977 Christmas Special, set on an old Navy ship, they had a cameo from Arthur Lowe and most of the Dad's Army cast. As Lowe's character leaves (after suffering a mutiny), he looks at Morecambe and says he'll see him hang.
John Le Mesurier: Do you think that's wise, sir?
Arthur Lowe: No that's Eric Morecambe. (points to Eric Wise) That's Mr Wise.
John Le Mesurier: Oh. (they both leave)
- Aside Glance: Eric was fond of using them.
- Berserk Button: Don't ever suggest that Eric is playing all the wrong notes.
- Call Back: Peter Cushing worked on one of their shows in 1969 which led to a running joke that he was never paid. All told he appeared on the show about six times, but didn't actually get "paid" until 1980. This is also something of a Brick Joke as when he finally does recieve payment, he just shouts, "Paid! At last!" without any reference to having been on the show before.
- The Cast Showoff: Ernie's dancing; Eric could dance too of course, but Ernie was a professional, to the point that Gene Kelly once said that his version of "Singing in the Rain" was the closest to the original he'd ever seen.
- Catch Phrase: Ernie had "the play what I wrote", Eric had "This boy's a fool!"; "What do you think of it so far? Rubbish!" [with the last word being spoken by an improvised ventriliquist's dummy], and more.
- One of the most famous derived from a sketch. Ernie pointed out that Eric was going bald and suggested he got a wig, telling him, "Some of your best friends have wigs and you'd never know it." Eric immediately assumed Ernie meant himself and tried to pull his hair off. For the next twenty years, Eric would interrupt whatever they were doing to stare at Ern's hair and comment, "It's amazing! You can't see the join!"
- Whenever somebody spoke outside of Eric's vision and he was looking at somebody else he'd say: "You said that without moving your lips!"
- Corpsing: Many contemporary critics noted how Eric essentially seemed exempt from the usual rules on this--he would regularly laugh at his own jokes and smile when he or Ernie messed up a line. The reason seems to be the 'domestic' dynamic Eddie Braben gave the pair with his flat sketches, letting their real friendship shine through--so the audience accepted Eric laughing at his own jokes the way a witty friend would in a Real Life conversation.
- On the other hand, in the "Grieg Piano Concerto" sketch, while Eric, Ernie and André Previn all play their parts completely seriously, in the background you can see the orchestra's musicians struggling and failing to keep a straight face.
- Credits Gag: A common feature when introducing a parody sketch (such as the Neopolean sketch and Anthony and Cleopatra) was to play with the names, saying Actor A was actually played by a second actor and saying that actor was played by a cat who was played by a completely different actor. Example.
- Dueling Shows: With The Two Ronnies, although both partnerships were quite friendly with each other.
- Embarrassing First Name: Eric was always claiming that the "Des" in Des O'Connor was short for "Desperate", "Desert", etc.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: sharing a bed
- Mickey Mousing: The aforementioned Breakfast Sketch, in which Eric and Ernie making breakfast is synched to "The Stripper".
- My Name Is Not Durwood: the "Andrew Preview" sketch, origin of Eric's page quote
- Writer Eddie Braben reminisces in The Book What I Wrote on how they came up with these names, and suggests some that might be used for modern celebrities, e.g. "Curly Monologue" for Kylie Minogue and "Julian Double-Glazing" for Julio Iglesias.
- Penelope Keith also did it to Eric, referring to him as "Derek Moron".
- Newscaster Cameo: Trope Codifier. Prior to Eric and Ernie, newscasters had generally been considered dignified and distant figures in British television. Their number with Angela Rippon started to change this, but it really took off when almost every British newscaster at the time starred with them in "There Ain't Nothing Like A Dame". This started a tradition, which still survives today, of the newscasters indulging in a massive cross-channel crossover musical number, usually for Comic Relief.
- No Fourth Wall: Obviously, because show was mostly them on stage facing an audience. During the "Singin' in the Rain" sketch, a very wet Eric is being ignored by Ernie so turns to the camera and says, "I'm wet through, folks!"
- Obfuscating Stupidity: There are a number of hints that Morecombe is in fact the more intelligent member of the partnership but he simply choses to act dumb in order not to disappoint Ernie's intellectual pretensions.
- Running Gags: To name but a few: repeated Take Thats at Des O'Conner; Morecambe catching an invisible object in a paper bag; celebrities working in menial jobs with the line "I was a worked with Morecambe and Wise, and look what happened to me."
- There were two that were done as Once an Episode Big Lipped Alligator Moments: Harmonica player Arthur Tolcher would randomly rush on and start to play, only for Eric or Ernie to kindly brush him off with 'Not now, Arthur'; and at the end of many episodes, the "Lady who comes down at the end" (played by Janet Webb) appears to deliver a monologue about her little show, while Eric and Ernie smile and nod along.
- Not to mention Ernie's "bad" dramatic writing that people end up viewing as comic gold and Ernie's height ("he's only got little legs"). Eric would often tell Ernie to stand up when he was already standing, which was partly a joke about his height and partly to do with a broader Cloudcuckoolander thing Eric had going where he would often refer to guests as though they were the other gender.
- The Scrooge: Ernie's other major characteristic besides being a bad playwright.
- Signature Song: "Bring Me Sunshine". Other songs they often performed as outros include "Two Of A Kind", "Positive Thinking" and "Following You Around".
- Small Name, Big Ego: Ernie's character was a brilliant example of this trope.
Ernie: I'll be doing Singin' in the Rain.
Eric: Oh, Gene Kelly did that very well...
Ernie: Yes, well, I'll do it that little bit better, won't I?
- Again, when Ernie was welcoming Lulu onto the show in effusive tones:
Ernie: Oh, Lulu, you're one of my biggest fans.
- Special Guest: One every episode, several in the Christmas specials--not counting the more numerous music spot guest singers/bands.
- Producer John Ammonds was famous for being able to get anyone as a guest star, no matter how big a star they were or how 'refined' their usual work was; writer Eddie Braben was half convinced he had a collection of blackmail photographs on the entire membership of Equity. His only failure was when he couldn't get Prince Charles, and even then apparently Charles was willing but the Palace vetoed it as too risky.
- After a while, the show was so big and beloved that the biggest stars were queuing up to do it.
- Straight Man: Ernie played this straight (hah) in their early work, but particularly after the writers changed from Hills and Green to Eddie Braben, he started getting his own funny lines and foibles. While people still tend to think of Morecambe as 'the funny one', it was this deviation from the old stooge and straight man setup which made Morecambe and Wise so uniquely hilarious.
- Stylistic Suck: Ernie Wise's plays.
- However, Ernie was also absurdly prolific, described as writing dozens of plays every day.
- Surreal Humour: Not a major focus of their work but glimpses of it often showed up. For example, one episode began with Ernie asking for his violin, being handed a saxophone, nodding thanks and then being about to 'play' it with a violin-bow before being interrupted by Eric.
- This part of their humour was a major influence on Reeves and Mortimer.
- Take That: Most often at Des O'Connor as noted above, but occasionally aimed at other comedians such as Max Bygraves and Jimmy Tarbuck
Why don't you send that joke to Jimmy Tarbuck?
Do you think he'd use my material?
Why not? He uses everyone else's.
- Talking in Bed
- That's What She Said: Eric's version was, on hearing anything that could be misconstrued as an Unusual Euphemism, to give the audience an Aside Glance and say "There's no answer to that!"
- Unusual Euphemism: A favourite trope of writer Eddie Braben 'My aunty's got a Whistler.' 'There's a novelty'
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Only in the show; outside, they were True Companions, and you did not want to try to break them apart.
- Young Future Famous People: In a segment on one Christmas show Eric and Ernie play naive soldiers sent on a suicide mission through German lines in World War One, during the course of which they run a motorbike and sidecar over a young Adolf Hitler and his comrades sitting around a campfire.