In March 1979 Eric Morecambe suffered his second heart attack. Told at one point that he only had three months to live, it was a slow road to recovery. His illness meant that a traditional Christmas Special was out of the question, so instead Thames gave us Christmas With Eric and Ernie. This was essentially an extended interview conducted by David Frost which also saw a few special guests (Des O’Connor, Glenda Jackson) popping by to indulge in some banter.
It’s probably the best of the Thames specials, mainly because it was always a pleasure to see a relaxed Morecambe and Wise just sitting around chatting. Eric is quite notably “on” for the early part of the interview, constantly looking to crack gags, but there are a few moments when he’s in a slightly more reflective mood.
“All comedy is based on fear” he says at one point. Ernie then comments about tough houses – playing the Glasgow Empire and going off to the sound of your own footsteps. Both of them delight in reminding Des about his disastrous time at the same theatre (he was so intimated by the audience that he fainted). Morecambe and Wise went on the next week and offered the audience their impression of Des. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen <thud>”.
It’s not a detailed career-spanning retrospective, although Frost does ask about the early days, enabling Ernie to give us a rendition of Let’s Have a Tiddly At the Milk Bar, which is a nice moment. There’s a clip from the ATV years, which sparks some interesting comments from Eric about how his comedy persona had changed over the years.
Des O’Connor is on hand to receive some good-natured abuse from Eric and Glenda Jackson provides a link to the classic BBC years (not surprisingly there’s no clips).
They end with Bring Me Sunshine and the appearance of Janet Webb to take all the applause is a nod back to former glories. The Parkinson interview from the 1970’s probably has the edge on this one (a pity it wasn’t included on the BBC Christmas Specials DVD) but this is still a joy.