Having purchased other sketch/variety type shows, I was expecting a slow build up to the comic genius I remembered from my childhood. The surviving material from the duos first BBc series reinforced that expectation. While it is undoubtedly funny, it's just not the M&W I remembered. But with the first colour episode, and the introduction of Eddie Braben as their writer, the series just sort of arrives fully formed. Braben did what no other writers for Eric and Ernie did, he based his whole approach around their own off-stage personalities and the three together raised the bar for TV comedy. All the things we remember so fondly are in place and the leads are firing on all cylinders from the opening credits to the first, dazzling curtain call of Janet Webb. This episode also features the great Peter Cushing's debut and the start of one of the longest running gags in comedy history, "I haven't been paid yet". The rest of season two is just as funny. Even the one or two contemporary references that I couldn't follow still made me laugh with the delivery.
The third series builds on this solid foundation and soars into new realms of comedy inspiration. M&W were always a comedy duo, never a double act, as neither ever acted as the "straight man". Each had their own idiocies and balanced the other perfectly. Ernie, pompous, self congratulatory, but with a childlike glee at times, and Eric, irrepressible, down to earth and taking the mickey out of everyone and everything, but never, ever cruel; often acting as a one man comic greek chorus commenting on the action around him. There is no "fourth wall", they involve the viewer completely and as other reviewers have said, even during their bickering, the affection they had for each other is infectious.
At the risk of sounding an old fogey, the guest stars were proper stars, with a prescence about them that we rarely see today. International stars of stage and screen, serious musicians, you name it, they wanted to be part of the fun. The ultimate must surely be Andre Previn, whose performance is absolutely perfect, it's a real shame that, apart from a couple of cameo appearances later, it was a one off. The guests, appearing as "turns" by themselves and in relation to M&W mean that sheer nostalgia value would earn this collection 5 stars. A particularly surprising moment away from the comedy is when regular guests, folk group "The Pattersons" burst into a song that was incidental music in the ITC serial "Strange Report".