Growing up in the 1970s and watching Monty Python, Morecambe & Wise were like the comedy act you hated to love. Yet they were nevertheless very likeable and their shows have actually aged better than much of Monty Python.
With his usual exhaustive detail and indexing, Graham McCann has done the best job yet of chronicling their topsy-turvey career. He can't any more than anyone else distill in print what made Eric Morecambe funny (he just was) but at least he does Ernie Wise the long overdue service of showing what a brilliant foil he was, as well as being a talented performer in his own right. The way he was treated as an embarrassing remnant after Morecambe died was quite staggeringly cruel.
Any failings? Perhaps McCann is too kind at times. Morecambe, a twitchy perfectionist who lived off cigarettes and nervous energy and beat the odds in living to 58, must have been a nightmare to work with at times. And did they really stand so far ahead of all their peers? Maybe so, but this isn't the place to confirm it, because the book has nothing positive to say about them. Admittedly Mike and Bernie Winters were the main rivals at first...!
What is most interesting to note, perhaps, is how, as McCann puts it, they became stars in the '60s while quite obviously not being of the '60s. As middle-aged, happily married, small 'c' - but possibly also large 'C' -conservative figures who did not write their own material, they were right against the ethos of the age yet somehow were accommodated in it. For talent and persistence, they deserved it and this book shows how and why.
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