Britain's Most Loved and Best Comedy Double Act

The Man Who Made Eric and Ernie

On the television...

Sir Bill Cotton

Ronie Corbett

Joan Morecambe
As a tribute to the late great Sir Bill Cotton, the BBC broadcast this fine programme to summarise his outstanding contribution to British variety television.

Despite having the title of The Man Who Made Eric and Ernie, the programme covers all of his greatest shows including The Two Ronnies, The Generation Game, Dads Army and Hi De Hi.

His time at the BBC is regarded as the golden age of television, a time when the heads of programming knew and understood the needs of the viewers and a time of freedom and chance.

Although Morecambe and Wise were the crowning glory of the BBC, many other shows have since gone on to become classics.

The programme begins with a brief history of Sir Bill, touring the variety circuit with his father, Billy Cotton. His big band show also included other acts such as comics and acrobats. During these days he learned a lot about entertainment and how to spot talent.

One of his first shows when he joined the BBC was Top Of The Pops. He knew about the music boom in the 60’s and that there was no show to cover it, so was born the greatest music show the BBC had.

From there he moved on and became involved in entertainment and comedy. He trusted his gut feeling and had a great nose for talent. Disregarding his own likes and dislikes, he was responsible for giving one of the most influential comedy series a start. He didn’t understand it, he wasn’t all that keen on it, but he gave Monty Python the green light.

Michael Palin talks about Bill defending the show despite it being not his cup of tea, and helping it continue. A feeling also voiced by Michael Parkinson.

Satire was also new, and he helped David Frost with his new show, The Frost Report. Bringing together some great comedians, it was also the place where Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett first met.

The Two Ronnies are well covered with anecdotes and information from Ronnie Corbett.

What comes across from all contributors is that he knew what would work and he trusted the people involved. Despite reservations about shows depicting the Home Guard, and senior managers not being happy, he calmed everyone down and let the writers go ahead and make the brilliant Dads Army. He knew it would work because he trusted the writers, and his business was entertainment.

From there he gave the writers free reign and in return they gave him and the nation Hi De Hi.

Now we move onto Morecambe and Wise. Michael Grade talks about how they came to the BBC from ATV and how as their stand-in agent, he got them signed. We all know how successful they became, topping everything with their Christmas show.

Morecambe and Wise crop up often but do not take over the show. There is equal billing to the Two Ronnies, Parkinson, Monty Python, Dads Army, The Generation Game and Hi De Hi.

Throughout the show there are clips from each of the programmes and contributions from the people involved. For Eric and Ern both Joan Morecambe and Doreen Wise talk about the shows and about Sir Bill Cotton.

Other contributions to the legacy of Bill include Bruce Forsyth, Eddie Braben, Ronnie Corbett, David Frost, Michael Palin, David Croft, Jimmy Perry, Michael Parkinson and Paul Jackson.

This is a fitting tribute to a great man. A warm, friendly person who knew television and who loved television. His mark has been left with the shows he supported; his achievements will never be matched and have so much to thank him for.

© 2008

You may also like:

We Interview: Sir Bill Cotton
In 2008, Sir Bill Cotton very kindly gave us an interview. Read about his life, the BBC and Morecambe & Wise.