We all remember the classic Morecambe and Wise sketches and Christmas specials that they made for the BBC, but their first TV success was arguably over on commercial television, at ATV in the 1960s. This series was Two of a Kind and it spawned some of the double act’s most famous routines.
To put the series in context, nearly a decade earlier Eric and Ernie had their first TV series in 1954 on the BBC, Running Wild, but the series was a failure and the duo thought that they might never again get a chance at television. However, by the 1960s things turned in their favour. In 1961, they had their first ATV series, Sir Bernard Delfont Presents Morecambe & Wise, which by the second series became known as Two of a Kind. This is where this collection begins. The series was written by Sid Green and Dick Hills, who also regularly appear in the show playing bit parts.
This eight-disc collection from the distributor Network includes all the episodes between 1962 and 1966, with a selection of extras including episodes from their last ATV series and appearances on other programmes such as The Royal Variety Performance in 1961, and some TV appearances dating as far back as the 1950s.
One of the most interesting elements to Two of a Kind is that this is where some of their most famous routines first appeared on TV. These early routines include Eric’s invisible ball and paper bag gag, and references to Ernie’s short, fat, hairy legs. You also see some of their most famous sketches in their infancy. Two of a Kind was where the Grieg Piano Concerto first appeared, albeit without guests like Andre Previn (or is it Preview?) and with Ernie playing the role of conductor. Another sketch sees the duo singing songs from Hollywood films, with Eric singing songs about rain which result in buckets of water being poured over him – an early prototype of the Singing in the Rain sketch.
We also see them doing material with celebrity guests, and while we remember their famous BBC routines with the likes of Angela Rippon, Shirley Bassey and (God help us) Des O’Connor, in Two of a Kind they were doing sketches with The Beatles. Along with the Fab Four there are a good number of decent guests including Roy Castle, Humphrey Lyttelton and the Beverley Sisters, although admittedly not all of the guests are great. You soon find yourself fast forwarding through the Michael Sammes singers – and you’ll have to fast forward due to a rather limited scene selection.
As far is major issues go, you have to remember that Two of a Kind is very much a product of its time, before political correctness. There is a fair amount of material that would never be shown today, such as Eric’s impression of Al Jolson which involves him needing to black up. In fact today, Eric would be more likely to complete his rather rude gag about two old men sat in deckchairs.
This collection is of interest not just to comedy fans, but anyone interested in the history of TV as a whole. Morecambe and Wise would become the biggest stars of their day, and are still rated as one of Britain’s most loved double acts. Looking back at the early successes is therefore a wise move (no pun intended).
Morecambe and Wise: Two of a Kind is released by Network on DVD.