This ‘lost’ Morecambe and Wise episode is old-fashioned, bawdy Christmas fun

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Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise in a restored episode of their classic show - BBC
Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise in a restored episode of their classic show - BBC

The temptation to romanticise the past is always irresistible at Christmas. We have Slade and Shakin’ Stevens on the radio, and a Bond movie or a classic musical on television; it’s hard not to conclude that things were better – or at least cosier, simpler and more tinsel-hued – in decades long gone.

Which is why so many will be cheered by the news that the BBC is airing a “lost” 1970 Morecambe and Wise episode on Christmas Day. If Eric and Ernie in their prime can’t bring some old-school seasonal sunshine – and add festive lustre to a schedule dominated by overly familiar faces such as Call the Midwife and Mrs Brown’s Boys – surely all hope is lost?

Admittedly, it’s worth noting that this 45-minute serving of British comedy’s greatest duo isn’t inherently very Christmassy. It aired in October 1970, after which the original taping was erased. (This new recording was discovered by Eric’s son, Gary, in his mother’s attic, and has been digitally colourised by the BBC.) Moreover, not all the gags have weathered the years well. Had the cancel police been around in 1970, they would in all likelihood have beaten a hasty path to Eric and Ernie’s door.

And yet, neither of these things can stop 1970: The Lost Tape making for a hugely charming watch. Especially striking is the zingy chemistry between Morecambe and Wise: their unforced mateyness, their obvious comfort in each other’s company.

Their material has a ferociousness that’s welcome, even if it might be regarded today, by some, as too personal or close-to-the-bone. The action opens with Eric modelling a new moustache, which he claims to have grown with seeds “made by a firm in Bushey”. Ernie declares that this is Eric’s way of compensating for his baldness. “You’re losing it on top, so you’re making up for it with that.” Wise may be laughing, but he isn’t exactly holding back.

Morecambe and Wise were on the BBC from 1968 to 1977 - BBC
Morecambe and Wise were on the BBC from 1968 to 1977 - BBC

Elsewhere, the humour is occasionally surreal. In a sketch that could have slotted into a 1990s comedy such as The Fast Show, Eric plays a policeman whose toy dog shoots deadly projectiles from its rear. But more often it’s a classic end-of-pier, Benny Hill-style “naughtiness”. In one scene, Ernie disappears into his shed with a “model kit” and emerges with a beautiful young woman, built from scratch. In another, with Eric and Ernie in their (platonic) shared bed, Eric starts voyeuristically eavesdropping on a couple enjoying their wedding night in the adjoining room.

1970: The Lost Tape is a fascinating window into a long-gone era. It’s a bracing reminder that all humour is of its time: jokes about Harold Wilson and Ted Heath arrived lightly covered in cobwebs. But it also celebrates Eric and Ernie’s towering, and everlasting, comedic talents.

And a warm glow is sure to descend as the final credits loom and Morecambe and Wise duet on Bring Me Sunshine. The past may be a foreign country, but this broadcast is a reminder that sometimes there’s nothing better than paying a visit. This Christmas, above all, it’s the perfect nostalgia-tinged pick-me-up.

The Morecambe and Wise Show 1970: The Lost Tape is on BBC Two on Christmas Day at 7.45pm

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