Jonathan Ross presents a three part series charting the hitherto-untold story of Morecambe and Wise’s work on American television in the 1960s.
Episode One outlines how in March 1963 Eric and Ernie made their first trip across the Atlantic to appear on CBS’s live variety show The Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan had seen Morecambe and Wise performing at The London Palladium on one of his talent-spotting trips to Europe, and booked them for three performances. For their first appearance, the American studio audience weren’t sure what to make of Eric and Ernie, and their act was watched in virtual silence. For their second performance a week later, they chose to make their performance more physical and featured more slapstick, and the reaction was significantly better.
Episode Two details how after their first performances on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963, they were invited back to New York City the following year to appear on the same night as The Beatles, and their performance was seen by over seventy million viewers – Morecambe and Wise’s highest ratings in their whole career. They realised that to appeal to the American viewing audience they needed to concentrate on visual comedy rather than the ‘cross talk’ so loved by their British fans. On their return to Britain the opportunity to become movie stars is presented to them when Rank offered them a three picture contact. Would this be their fast track to Hollywood?
Episode Three explains how Morecambe and Wise were given the chance to work on colour television for the first time on an Ed Sullivan Tribute to Irving Berlin special alongside stars like Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Having worked only in black and white in Britain, they saw the creative potential of working in colour and pushed for the same back in the UK. An ill-fated endeavour to record a series designed for both British and American audiences at the same time proved to be a disappointing end to their time working with ATV, and drove them into the waiting arms of the BBC – and working in colour on BBC2 – where they went on to deliver the best and most memorable work of their careers.
The programmes feature performances by Morecambe and Wise never previously seen by a British audience.
Produced for UKTV Gold