Morecambe & Wise - The Lost Tapes

A fine addition to any Morecambe and Wise collection

Reviewed by Brian Slade

Nearly 40 years on from the loss of Eric Morecambe, the thirst for anything Morecambe and Wise related to be released commercially has remained strong. With Network releasing Morecambe & Wise at Thames in 2021 it was generally thought that there was nothing left to get a DVD release. However, to complement the release some years ago of all that remained of the BBC shows, Morecambe & Wise – The Lost Tapes fills in as many of the remaining gaps in the archive as possible.

Morecambe and Wise - The Lost Tapes review

It's well known that the BBC in their lack of wisdom wiped many classic shows in the early decades of television. Many suffered, including Dr Who, Steptoe and Son, Not Only…But Also… and even the jewel in the BBC’s crown, The Morecambe and Wise Show. Series one of Eric and Ern’s time at the corporation was believed lost. When the BBC began releasing their shows series by series, they had only 25 minutes of that first series to offer, planting it into series two’s release. Since then, stories have emerged of discoveries of ‘lost’ episodes in the unlikeliest of places, courtesy of the BBC having despatched recordings of the boys’ first series around the world to such unexpected places as Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Morecambe & Wise – The Lost Tapes is the DVD release of the results of all of the various unexpected finds. It contains all rescued visuals of episodes 5, 6 and 7 of that first series, along with a 1970 special. It even has the partially reconstructed episode 2 from the series, along with information on how the tape found overseas had been scheduled to be tossed away due to seemingly being beyond any worthwhile repair.

Morecambe and Wise - The Lost Tapes review

Episode five’s highlight is the appearance of Michael Aspel, remembered for being one of the newscasters in the classic There Is Nothing Like a Dame routine years later. In this episode he is on excellent form performing a song and dance routine with Ernie, swiftly hijacked by Eric who has previously been sent home by Ernie and who is now trying to force his way back into the sketch. Despite this series being under the penmanship of Dick Hills and Sid Green, there is still a routine in Eric and Ernie’s flat, Eric having won some money on the pools. Ernie, along with Sid and Dick, set about trying to con Eric out of his money, without success but with much humour and the sketch acts as a precursor to the joy the Eddie Braben flat sketches would bring.

Episode six starts unusually with the musical guest, Edmund Hockridge, presumably with the introduction to the show lost. The first we see of Eric and Ern is at an apparent stag do, where Eric is providing the feeble entertainment, a shadow puppet display, much to the frustration of Ern’, Sid and Dick. After a catchy number from regular guests Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen, we get a rarity from the Sid and Dick era - a play of sorts with a special guest, the returning Hockridge, Sid and Dick and Ern’ attempting to salvage the event as Eric and Hockridge battle it out to see who will make the better Red Shadow.

Morecambe and Wise - The Lost Tapes review

Episode seven is more traditional Eric and Ernie, with the pair stumbling through their opening monologue with wonderful ad-libbing as Eric brings his instant camera (“I’ve always been interested in it…then I realised I was getting too old for it so I’ve taken this up now”) There’s a questionable sketch about being Irish with singer Ronnie Carroll, but ignoring Irish stereotyping the rapport between Carroll and the boys, with the corpsing Sid and Dick, makes for a fun sketch, continued in a final sketch musical number.

The 1970 special recently surfaced on television, firstly snipped together with an annoying selection of B-list celebrities, but subsequently in full. It includes Eric sporting a questionable moustache, visiting Ernie in hospital and falling beneath scenery behind the famous gold-coloured curtains. The show being from 1970 means it stands somewhat isolated from the remainder of the shows which were penned by Hills and Green. But it does offer the one missing Eddie Braben show, which means front of curtain routines and the boys in a double bed sketch from their flat as they eavesdrop on the antics of their neighbours.

What makes this DVD such a success is not just the gathering of the recovered episodes. There are a number of extracts of news stories from when the shows were found, and there is a brief BBC2 trailer of one of their classic episodes which neatly summed up the boys’ on-screen characters – Ernie telling the interviewer about what a brilliant Napoleon he was, while Eric is more concerned with sliding off his leather chair. Audio versions of that first series are available for all episodes, along with a fascinating interview snippet between Eric and Marty Feldman, a rare piece in as much as Eric talks seriously about comedy as opposed to attempting to gain laughs from a host.

Morecambe and Wise - The Lost Tapes review
The Lost Tapes is available from Amazon

Perhaps the highlight of the whole package though is a hidden gem. There are few people who will have had the privilege of attending a recording of the Morecambe & Wise Show when the boys were at their peak. Arguably the closest thing to being able to do so now is a fascinating recording made by the sound supervisor on the recording of the 1972 Christmas show. We get to hear the introduction of the recording of the classic Grieg’s piano concerto sketch with Andre Previn. It’s a reminder of the perfection of that sketch, but it’s equally fascinating to hear the minutes before and after the recording with both the warm-up routine, the arrival of the band (‘I’ve seen better bands on a cigar’) and the clear delight of the boys once the recording is in the bag.

Whether this is really the last of Morecambe and Wise remains to be seen. Who knows if video of the first four episodes exist in a dusty screening room somewhere on another continent…or whether somehow the live performance that only surfaced on VHS will ever make it to disc. But the arrival of Morecambe & Wise – The Lost Tapes is a fine addition to any Morecambe and Wise collection, with some quality hidden gems to keep every fan happy.

Published on June 24th, 2022. Written by Brian Slade for Television Heaven.