Britain's Most Loved and Best Comedy Double Act

Garage Tapes In-Depth

Feature from 2010

David Prest


They were sat in the eaves of a garage for over 50 Years, hidden comedy gold from the era of variety and black and white television sets.

Tucked away in an old cardboard box and two dusty suitcases, waiting for the time when they could delight audiences again.

The garage belonged to Doreen Wise, Ernie’s widow, and the comedy gold is years of long lost and long forgotten material, meticulously recorded by Ernie himself.

During a recent house move, Doreen discovered this hoard and handed it over to a friend of Morecambe & Wise’s agent, Billy Marsh. It sat in their offices until someone noticed them and contacted David Prest.

David runs Whistledown Productions, one of Britain’s leading radio production companies and also the company behind the recent radio documentary about Arthur Tolcher.

He was keen to see what the contents were and to see what they contained anything worth preserving.

Inside he found stacks of old 78 acetate records and hundreds of feet of reel to reel tape, some from studio engineers, recorded at the request of Ernie, others produced by Ernie himself.

The condition of the items varied from very bad to unrecoverable. Some of the acetates had a thin layer of white fungus eating into the surface. Being stored in an out building, some of the tapes had succumbed to damp and had to be carefully prised apart.

In this day and age, very few people have record players that play 78 records, let alone tape to tape reel players, so it wasn’t easy to just switch on and listen.

David, using his own equipment was amazed when he first heard the contents of these musty smelling boxes; material dating back to 1949, some of which has never been heard since its original broadcast.

Checking the BBC archive produced another surprise, most of the material was not there. After 6 months of preservation work, the cleaned up and restored audio can at last be heard in something like the same quality it was broadcast in.

So, what did the suitcases contain?

A complete series of Morecambe and Wise’s very first radio series from 1953, Your Only Young Once, or YOUYO for short. This was thought lost, and only a few copies are known to exist in private collections. Now we have the full, restored series.

Going back a bit further we find one-off appearances in Variety Bandwagon and Variety Fanfare from 1949. Clearly Morecambe and Wise, but clearly very much still in the learning process.

Bob Monkhouse, then the big new star is heard doing a routine with the boys, and yet they steal the show and the gags. Something hints that they knew, even then, that they were good things to come. This routine was very reminiscent of the way they treated Des O’Connor in later years.

The boxes also contained other oddities too, like the speeches at the Variety Club of Great Britian in honour of Morecambe and Wise in 1972/3. This features speeches by Glenda Jackson, Graham Hill, Robin Day and Andre Previn of course Eric and Ern.

Stage work was a large part of the young Eric and Ern’s life, and this too got the recording treatment.

Not professional by any means, but Ernie placed his tape recorder by the wings and left it recording, capturing the live Morecambe and Wise on more than one occasion.

It is clear that some of the recordings were done just like we all used to, placing the recorder close to the television, and in some clips you can even hear Ernie laugh in the background.

But what of the material?

To be honest, the material is not the best. Yes there are some funny moments, usually because of Eric’s delivery and timing, which even back then was top class. The jokes were average, but the double act was there in its infancy.

Cross talk and banter raises a smile as do the fore-runners to Ern’s plays in which Eric and Ern participate in routines such as Robin Hood.

In general it is typical variety comedy, but looking deeper there is something there that resembles the duo as we knew them at the height of their fame. Something comes across, maybe the something that Eddie Braben saw when he first met them many years later.

Whatever it is, you can tell it was special, as is this material. It sheds light on previously unheard episodes of their lives, about things we only knew by word of mouth.

Morecambe and Wise are like a good book, only half read. We know a lot about them from 1961 onwards with the ATV shows and beyond. We have heard about their past and have heard snippets of old material.

Now we get a chance to read a few more chapters in full, and can understand and appreciate where they came from. It is like working backwards as new unheard routines are being discovered, restored and released. Its new and yet old at the same time.

The completed audio will be handed over to the BBC, hopefully they will take a little more care of it this time, and to their agent Billy Marsh. As to the question, will we ever hear it?, no one is yet quite sure. There is still some material to finish, so we may even get more surprises.

Let’s hope there is some way we can get to hear more of this gold, it’s part of our heritage after all.

© 2010

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Morecambe and Wise - The Garage Tapes
Press release following the discovery of rare tapes by Doreen Wise.

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