After the disappointment of the 1972 Christmas Show, Eddie Braben was back on writing duties for 1973, so there’s a definite upswing in the quality of the material. The show opens with Eric advising Ernie to check the Stop Press of The Harpenden Bugle and Advertiser. Ernie has been awarded the following title – Lord Ern of Peterborough (“She was going to make you a sir, but she didn’t think knights were that short”). There’s some more choice lines, such as –
ERIC: You’ll realise you’ll have to have a monogram?
ERNIE: I’ll have no time for playing records
It’s this sort of banter that was largely absent from the previous Christmas Show. Of course, there’s the inevitable disappointment for Ern when he realises that Eric’s put his new present of a typewriter to good use by typing in the Stop Press of The Harpenden Bugle and Advertiser ….
When Ernie introduces John Hanson as England’s number one musical comedy star, that gave me pause for thought. If that was so, time hasn’t been kind to him as he’s pretty much forgotten today. But his M&W appearance will probably continue to keep his name alive, and he does work well with Eric & Ernie. His chat with them in front of the curtain is a joy.
Eric’s in a particularly playful mood, especially when John has trouble saying The Chocolate Soldier. Ernie asks him if he meant The Chocolate Soldier, just to make things clear for the audience, but Eric’s not going to let the moment pass, “No, what he said … Socolate Choldier”. After some more good-natured banter with M&W he gets the chance to sing, backed by Eric & Ernie, who are joined by Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Jeremy Thorpe and Enoch Powell!
Hannah Gordon’s up next, but she’s surprised to find that she’s not been hired to act – instead they want her to sing, which concerns her (“I can’t sing a note”). But she’s game, so has a bash at The Windmills of Your Mind. M&W have built a set for her, which should strike a note of caution for anybody who’s watched the previous Christmas Shows. It boasts a very impressive windmill which picks up Ern (or at least his stunt double) and whirls him around.
Up next is a flat sketch. It lasts for just over six minutes and I think out of everything they ever did, it’s my favourite bit of Morecambe and Wise. Virtually every line is a winner –
ERN: Have you cut yourself?
ERIC: No, no no. My face is a bit sore, thanks to that new bathroom cabinet.
ERN: Why, what’s wrong with it?
ERIC: It’s all those fancy designs on the mirror.
ERN: What do you mean?
ERIC: I’ve just spent the last 20 minutes trying to shave a seagull off me left cheek
ERN: You’ll have sciatica in the morning.
ERIC: I won’t, I’ll have shredded wheat like everybody else.
And the best line (as a police car races past the window) from Eric – “He’s not going to sell much ice cream going at that speed, is he?”
No Kenny Ball alas, but The New Seekers aren’t too bad. The last twenty five minutes or so feature Vanessa Redgrave and they get good value from her in both a musical number as well as a play. She’s suitably vampish in the musical number (the part where she makes Eric’s maracas drop off never fails to make me laugh) and playing Josephine she attempts to seduce Eric’s Duke of Wellington. Ernie is a suitably diminutive Napoleon with a fondness for concealing rabbits in his tunic.
If somebody was compiling a Morecambe & Wise best of, possibly only the flat sketch would make the grade. But the rest, whilst not hitting the heights of 1971, is consistently good – which makes this show a pleasure from beginning to end.