Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

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Simon36
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Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by Simon36 »

This article:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/medi ... 7.html?amp

Sheds a little more info on an event that has always interested me: when ITV tempted away Bruce, Eric and Ernie and Yarwood after the Christmas 1977 ratings triumph.

What’s never been revealed is just how much money Thames were offering. Apparently the BBC did match it but the offer of films too was what swung it. I wonder what they were on at the Beeb and what Thames really did offer them...

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by fatcat »

Slightly OT
but I think the move to Thames proved it was BBC's The Morecambe & Wise Show had been the star and Eric and Ernie
had just been a part of that.

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by Simon36 »

That’s an interesting thought. The traditional narrative is that it was all down to Eddie Brabin not being with them for the first two years, but I remember at the time feeling that the most striking difference was that while the BBC shows were big Saturday night or Christmas events full of occasion and pizzaz, the Thames shows were midweek, humdrum and nothing like as showbizzy.

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by fatcat »

I reckon Morecambe and Wise were one of those comedy acts that relied on the audience being in love with the show
ie so they could get away with most things but obviously the one thing love demands is loyalty and the move away from
the BBC was perhaps seen as adultery LOL.

Benny Hill for example, on the other hand, did not expect anything from his audience, he just put out his wears
every month or so and that was that, so he could hop around the BBC,ATV,Thames and nobody cared because
they knew they were going to laugh at him and not the format.

At the other extreme, Bob Monkhouse was not particularly liked at all at one time, so I am now able to appreciate how hard
he worked to entertain and get a laugh.

I made this observation from a corporate event I was once involved in - a clip of M &W had been bought from the BEEB
to emphasize a message this company was trying to put over. When the clip played the audience just talked amongst themselves
and no laughter.I realised that the audience that had originally fell in love with MW was not there, these were a younger generation.
Although I am pretty sure a suitable Benny Hill clip would have brought howls of laughter.

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by Mark »

Well, their ATV series was very popular, but they obviously soared with the BBC, when they left for Thames ( as good as Thames was) they were not up to the BBC's polished production, and a lot of sketches were re-cycled from the BBC shows.

The promise of films, turned out to be the TV movie, "Night Train To Murder", made on VT, a re-hash of the film, "What A Carve Up" with Kenneth Connor and Sid James, that's a great film, but "NTTM" isn't really, even Eric and Ernie were unhappy with it.

The Thames shows were good, if a little tired looking, but they were still well loved.

I don't think the Beeb were too happy when Benny Hill hopped over to Thames either.
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Post by Brock »

Simon36 wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 10:59 pm
I remember at the time feeling that the most striking difference was that while the BBC shows were big Saturday night or Christmas events full of occasion and pizzaz, the Thames shows were midweek, humdrum and nothing like as showbizzy.
Presumably M&W would have taken this into consideration before moving to a weekday-only broadcaster?

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Post by Simon36 »

Indeed, I think it was simply the lure of huge money and the chance to graduate to movies. The whole thing is a bit bewildering, since the first Bill Cotton knew about it was being told they had gone by his secretary.

Prior to that he had told them he would match Thames’s offer if they’d sign for two more years, and thought no more about it. The mind boggles as to how much money it must have been. Certainly too much for the BBC to want the public to hear of, if that article is to believed.

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by doubleM »

Other factors in play may have included (a) a chance for new horizons/a change after a decade at the BBC (they guested in a couple of 'Look Familiar' specials in primetime and later did a couple of look-back/nostalgia specials in 'Two of a Kind' and 'Eric and Ernie's Variety Days' hosted by Alan Wicker and Michael Aspel) and also (b) the opportunity to work under Thames' Philip Jones who was a favourite with many LE performers in allowing them full reign in doing the type of work they wanted to without the more 'interfering' hand (for good or ill) of Lew Grade or Bill Cotton. M&W hadn't been granted a full series on the BBC for two years before they left, albeit irony led to them waiting 2 years at Thames for their first there - post Eric's second heart attack.

Eric Sykes certainly appreciated the freedom given to him by Jones in his 80s specials including the 'silents' and Variety specials. Dick Emery was given the chance to do some 'Variety' studio specials with guests. Ken Dodd got a series recorded in a London theatre rather than a TV studio etc. There were also some 'thematic' experiments with the Mike Yarwood shows when he arrived in '82.

Despite the often negative press re Thames LE, the ratings for nearly all of these shows ranged from healthy to excellent. 14-15 million viewers was not uncommon, amongst the top 5 programmes in any week. Benny Hill topped 20 million on a number of occassions during his 20 years at Thames.
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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

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Simon36 wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 10:59 pm
That’s an interesting thought. The traditional narrative is that it was all down to Eddie Brabin not being with them for the first two years, but I remember at the time feeling that the most striking difference was that while the BBC shows were big Saturday night or Christmas events full of occasion and pizzaz, the Thames shows were midweek, humdrum and nothing like as showbizzy.
Except the BBC shows, (1971 and 1972 Christmas shows aside), weren’t Saturday night shows.

Graham McCann sums up the change quite well in his book on the pair: from memory, it’s older performers, a shorter running time and special guests not quite as starry as the BBC. Compare the retreads of sketches with their earlier BBC versions, and there’s a hell of a difference in performance and pace.

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by Martin »

ian b wrote:
Sat May 08, 2021 7:38 am
Simon36 wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 10:59 pm
That’s an interesting thought. The traditional narrative is that it was all down to Eddie Brabin not being with them for the first two years, but I remember at the time feeling that the most striking difference was that while the BBC shows were big Saturday night or Christmas events full of occasion and pizzaz, the Thames shows were midweek, humdrum and nothing like as showbizzy.
Except the BBC shows, (1971 and 1972 Christmas shows aside), weren’t Saturday night shows.

Graham McCann sums up the change quite well in his book on the pair: from memory, it’s older performers, a shorter running time and special guests not quite as starry as the BBC. Compare the retreads of sketches with their earlier BBC aversions, and there’s a hell of a difference in performance and pace.
This broadly reflects how I regarded them at the time. The polish of the BBC shows had gone. Right from the cringe-inducing Thames TV ident ("Here they are now, Morecambe and Wise"), and then the ham-fisted musical 'nod' to Laurel and Hardy at the end of the title theme, it's economy-class M&W. I recall that Eric seemed disengaged in some of the sketches, although perhaps this was a legacy of his second heart attack?

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by Simon36 »

ian b wrote:
Sat May 08, 2021 7:38 am
Simon36 wrote:
Thu May 06, 2021 10:59 pm

Except the BBC shows, (1971 and 1972 Christmas shows aside), weren’t Saturday night shows.
Well, weekend shows. Looking at Genome, only a couple of the series originated on a weekday, and quite a few were Saturday nights...

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by fatcat »

The grand BBC musical spots were shot on a closed set over a period of days - I wonder if Thames were able to offer that?

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by ian b »

Simon36 wrote:
Sat May 08, 2021 11:31 am
Well, weekend shows. Looking at Genome, only a couple of the series originated on a weekday, and quite a few were Saturday nights...
All the series premiered on days other than a Saturday - you can’t be discounting repeats.

1) 1968: Mondays
2) 1969: Sundays
3) 1970: Wednesdays
4) 1970: Wednesdays
5) 1971: Thursdays
6) 1971: Sundays
7) 1973: Sundays
8) 1974: Fridays
9) 1976: Wednesdays

It's also instructive that the first five series were on BBC2, before being repeated on the main channel.

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by Brian F »

I'm sure I remember that at the time they said that Thames had promised more overseas sales of the programmes. Of course that would have also meant more money, but possibly as said above the chance of more movies.

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by stearn »

I thought it was all down to the films with Thames offering Euston Films. As has been said, they were on the gradual slide downwards and Eric's heart attack didn't help. For me, there are two musical numbers that stand out from the Thames series and they are at each end of the scale. The low was them miming along to some Jungle Books songs while dressed as characters from the films and the high, a repeat of which that saw the Thames era out, was them with Leonard Rossiter as the Andrew Sisters singing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.

Who can blame them for going after the money and probably thinking of their retirements, but losing Braben as a writer (just like Dodd did before them) was a mortal wound - he'd moulded them into what had made them the most popular and other writers could only emulate that.

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by Simon36 »

ian b wrote:
Sat May 08, 2021 12:39 pm
Simon36 wrote:
Sat May 08, 2021 11:31 am
Well, weekend shows. Looking at Genome, only a couple of the series originated on a weekday, and quite a few were Saturday nights...
All the series premiered on days other than a Saturday - you can’t be discounting repeats.

1) 1968: Mondays
2) 1969: Sundays
3) 1970: Wednesdays
4) 1970: Wednesdays
5) 1971: Thursdays
6) 1971: Sundays
7) 1973: Sundays
8) 1974: Fridays
9) 1976: Wednesdays

It's also instructive that the first five series were on BBC2, before being repeated on the main channel.
I clarified that I meant weekends, and five of the nine series did indeed premier at weekends. All the same, it’s a surprise fo find that none premiered on a Saturday night...

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by ian b »

Simon36 wrote:
Sat May 08, 2021 11:11 pm
I clarified that I meant weekends, and five of the nine series did indeed premier at weekends. All the same, it’s a surprise fo find that none premiered on a Saturday night...
Five? Even if Friday evenings are included as part of “the weekend” that only makes four.

I’m not being overly picky here, but you initially said that ”...the BBC shows were big Saturday night or Christmas events full of occasion and pizzaz”, which another poster picked up on with a comment about transferring over to a weekday-only broadcaster.

But I don’t think that would have been of much consideration, if any, as history shows that the BBC (and presumably the pair themselves) were quite happy to have new shows going out wherever the schedulers/controllers thought fit to put them.* Some repeats aside, they weren’t being used as part of the BBC’s “legendary” Saturday night schedule of the 70s.

And while the Christmas shows were something “big,” (certainly from the 1971 edition on), I don’t recall much over-promotion of the regular series’ at all. That really only came into play with the cross to Thames - and very probably added to the general disappointment when the results were seen.


* the only scheduling “fuss” I recall was in the early 80s, when the press had to change from trying to spoil the contents of that years show to filling a few column inches lamenting the fact that it wouldn’t actually be on the day itself. I wonder if a newspaper search would bring up a few comments about that from Morecambe or Wise?

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

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ian b wrote:
Sun May 09, 2021 11:04 am
Simon36 wrote:
Sat May 08, 2021 11:11 pm
I clarified that I meant weekends, and five of the nine series did indeed premier at weekends. All the same, it’s a surprise fo find that none premiered on a Saturday night...
Five? Even if Friday evenings are included as part of “the weekend” that only makes four.

I’m not being overly picky here, but you initially said that ”...the BBC shows were big Saturday night or Christmas events full of occasion and pizzaz”, which another poster picked up on with a comment about transferring over to a weekday-only broadcaster.

But I don’t think that would have been of much consideration, if any, as history shows that the BBC (and presumably the pair themselves) were quite happy to have new shows going out wherever the schedulers/controllers thought fit to put them.* Some repeats aside, they weren’t being used as part of the BBC’s “legendary” Saturday night schedule of the 70s.

And while the Christmas shows were something “big,” (certainly from the 1971 edition on), I don’t recall much over-promotion of the regular series’ at all. That really only came into play with the cross to Thames - and very probably added to the general disappointment when the results were seen.


* the only scheduling “fuss” I recall was in the early 80s, when the press had to change from trying to spoil the contents of that years show to filling a few column inches lamenting the fact that it wouldn’t actually be on the day itself. I wonder if a newspaper search would bring up a few comments about that from Morecambe or Wise?
Oh, all right, four!

The point is that going from those very glitzy shows, and the huge event that was the Christmas 1977 special, to a midweek and rather prosaic-looking show felt quite a switch. It says something for the feel of their BBC shows that I’m not the only one that in recall is convinced they were Saturday night viewing.

Really though this thread was me being nosey about how much money they got for the move.

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Post by stearn »

There might be something on file at Caversham about what the Beeb were willing to pay, but I would have expected someone to have found it by now, especially as the Indie article was from 2007. I have no idea if paperwork from Thames still exists or where you might go to find it. I doubt the families will disclose the amounts.

It is certainly interesting that there are no Saturday premieres. Sundays were a different beast to Saturday viewing at that time. The idea that they were Saturday fixtures can only have come about from various repeats and the implication that this was the best of the Beeb light ent and that always went out on a Saturday. Genome is such an easy tool to shatter myths though!

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by yellowtriumph »

stearn wrote:
Sun May 09, 2021 10:42 pm
There might be something on file at Caversham about what the Beeb were willing to pay, but I would have expected someone to have found it by now, especially as the Indie article was from 2007. I have no idea if paperwork from Thames still exists or where you might go to find it. I doubt the families will disclose the amounts.

It is certainly interesting that there are no Saturday premieres. Sundays were a different beast to Saturday viewing at that time. The idea that they were Saturday fixtures can only have come about from various repeats and the implication that this was the best of the Beeb light ent and that always went out on a Saturday. Genome is such an easy tool to shatter myths though!
Lest we forget, their (final?) BBC producer John Ammonds joined them at Thames.

Thames would not allow LWT to show their shows at Christmas if it coincided with Christmas, not that a company like LWT would want Thames stuff at peak time as it would not reflect kindly on their own ability to produce top rating programmes during a holiday season.

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It was unfortunate for Thames that the three year period 1981 to 1983 was the only time that they lost three consecutive Christmas Day evenings to LWT - leap years were positioned to reduce it to two every other time*. Given that the hand-over time was still 7pm in 1981, I wonder whether the idea of putting M&W on between 6 and 7 on Christmas Day was ever considered. As it was, M&W didn't even get Christmas Eve in 1981, their show was on 23rd December.

* For anyone wondering, the others were 1970/71 (Fri / Sat), 1976/77 (Sat / Sun) and 1987/88 (Fri / Sun). They would have lost all three again in 1992/93/94 but for the latter two that issue became academic.
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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by Mark »

The film offer obviously had a lot to do with it, but imagine LWT taking them on, and doing one hour specials, looking as lavish as the Stanley Baxter ones.
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Do we know who it was at Thames who signed them? I wonder if Bryan Cowgill was instrumental in it; he left the BBC for Thames in 77, and while there notably got into hot water for breaking the gentleman’s agreement and poaching Dallas off the BBC... only for them to then get it back.

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My subscription to the British Newspaper Archive lapsed a couple of months ago, but even in the cheap seats you can still do a limited amount of searching.

On 2.2.78 ...Billy Marsh said that Morecambe and Wise had been approached by Thames about three or four months ago. But there has been absolutely no disagreement with the BBC, he added. In fact. Thames is offering the same money for the television...

22.6.78 ... at least, of the supporting acts which merely emphasised the incongruity of the remainder. Groomed The defection of Morecambe and Wise to ITV and the simultaneous elevation of Lennie Bennett and Jerry Stevens to their own show, following their joint ...

17.8.78 ... help of Bruce Forsyth. Nor would it have made any sense if Morecambe and Wise had not been utilised following their capture earlier this year from the BBC With Bryan Cowgill standing in as Thames's programme controller, following the resignation of Jeremy ...

7.12.78 ... former years but now presented by Thames, is in the ITV Christmas Day schedule. If viewers really cared which channel they were watching rather than which programme to enjoy there would be confusion indeed. Morecambe Wise are to be the lynch pin of Christmas ...

4.1.79 ... BBC. for if comment is anything to go by, the Thames Morecambe and Wise show was not appreciated nearly as much as in previous years. It will also be interesting to see what this latest survey for Thames means to the joint talks on a common audience ...

So, early 1978 it is reported that Thames were offering the same money as the BBC. Obviously this can work both ways, and the BBC could have matched a larger offer from Thames and would still hold true, but it implies that there was something extra on the table to the cash. This was always my understanding, although I don't know here I read it, that it was the film deal that was the clincher.

Mid year it looks like a sub-heading 'Groomed' could relate to who groomed the defection, but a name is missing for what I can access, or it could just be Bennett and Stevens being groomed to fill M&W shoes. Brian Cowgill is mentioned in the article from August. They were certainly hailed for Christmas that year, but didn't live up to expectation.

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stearn wrote:
Thu May 13, 2021 7:48 am
Mid year it looks like a sub-heading 'Groomed' could relate to who groomed the defection, but a name is missing for what I can access, or it could just be Bennett and Stevens being groomed to fill M&W shoes.
It's the latter, sadly. The former sounds as though it would be more interesting.
The 'defection' of Morecambe and Wise to ITV and the simultaneous elevation of Lennie Bennett and Jerry Stevens to their own show, following their joint compering of BBC-2's International Cabaret, led some commentators to speculate that the latter were being groomed to step into the shoes of the former.
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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by Mark »

Thaw and Watermen's guesting on the 76 Xmas show may have been the initial trigger that opened the door with Thames.
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Post by Simon36 »

[align=left][/alignleft]
Mark wrote:
Fri May 14, 2021 9:14 pm
Thaw and Watermen's guesting on the 76 Xmas show may have been the initial trigger that opened the door with Thames.
I wonder if they were on a golden handcuffs contract with the BBC and so would have been unable to do that Sweeney episode if they’d still be with them in 1978. The idea of them “returning the favour” was the (bloody awful) suggestion of Thaw and Waterman.

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by Mark »

Simon36 wrote:
Sat May 15, 2021 7:59 pm
[align=left][/alignleft]
Mark wrote:
Fri May 14, 2021 9:14 pm
Thaw and Watermen's guesting on the 76 Xmas show may have been the initial trigger that opened the door with Thames.
I wonder if they were on a golden handcuffs contract with the BBC and so would have been unable to do that Sweeney episode if they’d still be with them in 1978. The idea of them “returning the favour” was the (bloody awful) suggestion of Thaw and Waterman.
Unfortunate to say the least!

That episode of "The Sweeney" is generally regarded as the worst one as well.
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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

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It is dreadful. It says something when it’s not the funniest episode despite M and W being in it.

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Re: Morecambe and Wise jumping ship

Post by fatcat »

Simon36 wrote:
Sun May 16, 2021 10:17 pm
It is dreadful. It says something when it’s not the funniest episode despite M and W being in it.
Can't think of many if any performers that were given the number of breaks that they were, even Lew Grade tried to make them international, but it all seems to come back to the 6 or 7 years they were in the BBC machine, and perhaps they should have stuck with it.

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