Follow TV Tropes


Creator / Morecambe and Wise

Go To

"The play what I wrote"
Ernie Wise

"I'm playing all the right notes — but not necessarily in the right order."
Eric Morecambe

A legendary British comic double act, both of whom got OBEs. Consisted of Eric Morecambe (John Eric Bartholomew, 14 May 1926 28 May 1984), the dark-haired "funny man"; and Ernie Wise (Ernest Wiseman, 27 November 1925 21 March 1999), the blond-haired "straight man". They met as teenagers and learned their skills as a Vaudeville double-act during the 1940s and 50s, so by the time they got to be on TV, they were primed for success — but didn't get it. Their first TV show Running Wild (1954) suffered from what in hindsight was Early-Installment Weirdness, and an early newspaper gag went "Definition of TV: the box in which they buried Morecambe & Wise". Morecambe, the more anxiety-ridden of the two, carried the cutting in his wallet for the rest of his life, as a sort of portable Motivational Lie.

The duo went back to live performance for seven years, before landing a second TV show on the British commercial network ATV, Two of a Kind (1961-1968). This was better-written and made them famous, including a memorable episode where they rubbed up against The Beatles, but there was more to come. In 1968 the writers of Two of a Kind, Dick Hills and Sid Green, quit the show and it was widely felt within British TV that Morecambe and Wise were finished. However, a BBC executive hooked them up with a gifted scriptwriter named Eddie Braben who understood them better than any previous writer, and The Morecambe & Wise Show (1968-1977) was the result.

Full of classic sketches and celebrity guests, and with the central dynamic between the duo brilliantly retooled by Braben, it made them more popular than ever before. A running gag was that Ernie considered himself a talented playwright and would ask the guests to take roles in the latest "play what I wrote". This allowed them to do spoofs of famous plays and films, playing Eric and/or Ernie's Large Ham tendencies for maximum funny. Christmas editions of the show earned the highest viewing figures in British TV history up to that point: 20 million people are estimated to have watched their 1977 Christmas special, making it in turn an integral part of A Very British Christmas. The story goes that the National Grid had to prepare in advance for almost everyone in Britain putting on the kettle at the same time after it finished. The show's success made the duo into national treasures.

The Morecambe & Wise Show had a Channel Hop to commercial TV in 1978, but Braben was left behind, and while the later version of the show contained many classic moments, the duo's final work was in general less brilliant than their 1970s peak.

Morecambe suffered a fatal heart attack after a public performance in 1984. Wise died in 1999. Both of their deaths were front-page news.

YMMV tropes are here.

"What do you think of these tropes so far?"

  • Accidental Misnaming:
    • The "Andrew Preview" sketch, which is the origin of Eric's page quote.
    • Penelope Keith also did it to Eric, referring to him as "Derek Moron".
  • Actor Allusion:
    • In the Anthony and Cleopatra sketch alone, Eric sat on Glenda Jackson's Oscar (and then stole it at the end) and after Eric enters holding a sign reading "SPQR", it flips and changes to "Luton FC" (which he owned at the time).
    • In the 1977 Christmas Special, set on an old Navy ship, they had a cameo from Arthur Lowe and most of the Dad's Army cast. As Lowe's character leaves (after suffering a mutiny), he looks at Eric and says he'll see him hang.
      Arthur Lowe: No, that's Eric Morecambe. (points to Ernie Wise) That's Mr Wise.
      John Le Mesurier: Oh. (they both leave)
    • When they came back to TV after Morecambe's recovery from his first heart attack, they smiled, said hello to the audience and then Eric pulled open the lapel of his jacket and said to his chest "Keep going, you fool!"
  • Affectionate Parody: All of their parodies really, but particularly the musical numbers.
  • Anachronism Stew: Often Played for Laughs, such as having modern technology and pop culture references in the sketches set in the past. For example, one sketch has Lady Hamilton ring up Admiral Nelson on the phone during the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • Aside Glance: Eric played this straight, as you'd expect from an old-school variety performer, but once the duo were on TV he also devised a way to turn it up to eleven: while someone else was talking, he would sometimes glance into another camera, turn to face it, and then just beam foolishly at it without saying anything. After a while Ernie would join him, beaming over his shoulder, and if there was anyone else on stage at the time they would eventually join in too, for as long as Rule of Funny permitted, until they would all go back to the dialogue.
  • Banana Republic: The setting of their early film The Magnificent 2.
  • Berserk Button: Don't ever suggest that Eric is playing all the wrong notes.
  • Butt-Monkey: Des O'Connor in any of his appearances.
    • In the Hills & Green era, Eric tended to be the Butt Monkey of the duo but Braben cleverly reinvented the duo's dynamic, removing Ernie's Mean Boss tendency and turning him into a Ditzy Large Ham; Eric, in turn, acquired jester and invokedStoic Woobie tendencies, the latter exemplified in the "Singin' in the Rain" sketch (actually not written by Braben) in which Ernie dances happily while Eric gets wetter and wetter. The role of Butt Monkey was given to their guests, who put up with endless humiliation in the name of funny.
    • Eric and Ernie actually ended up becoming the Butt Monkey in the tap-dancing sketch where they are repeatedly obscured by their backing dancers.
  • Call-Back: Peter Cushing worked on one of their shows in 1969 which led to a running joke that he was never paid. All told he appeared on the show about six times, but didn't actually get "paid" until 1980. This is also something of a Brick Joke as when he finally does receive payment, he just shouts, "Paid! At last!" without any reference to having been on the show before.
  • Catchphrase: Ernie had "the play what I wrote", Eric had "This boy's a fool!"; "What do you think of it so far? Rubbish!" [with the last word being spoken by an improvised ventriloquist's dummy], and more.
    • One of the most famous derived from a sketch. Ernie pointed out that Eric was going bald and suggested he got a wig, telling him, "Some of your best friends have wigs and you'd never know it." Eric immediately assumed Ernie meant himself and tried to pull his hair off. For the next twenty years, Eric would interrupt whatever they were doing to stare at Ern's hair and comment, "You can't see the join!"
    • Whenever somebody spoke outside of Eric's vision and he was looking at somebody else he'd say: "You said that without moving your lips!"
  • Celebrity Resemblance: Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, a British comedy duo inspired by Morecambe and Wise, played their idols in a BBC biopic in part because they look quite a bit like them. Reeves in particular is a dead ringer for Eric Morecambe.
  • Christmas Special: For years, The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show was quintissential viewing in Britain.
    • The 1969 edition is less frequently repeated than the later shows, a fact that has been attributed to its lack of "big" guest stars. Although all the guests were high profile at the time, they have since become less prominent in the public eye. It is notable for the appearance of Frankie Vaughan who had initially been the butt of many jokes for the duo, although his dislike of this led them to redirect their comments famously to Des O'Connor after this point. Nina van Pallandt performed "Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown?", which had featured in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
    • The 1970 offering saw the return of Peter Cushing who still hadn't been paid (a joke that was to continue well into their Thames Television days); also starring was William Franklyn who, at the time, fronted an advertising campaign for Schweppes tonic water with his "Shhh, You Know Who..." tagline. Much comedy was drawn from this, especially in light of the fact that the BBC was forbidden to advertise products. He appears in one of the duo's legendary plays at the end of the show in which The Three Musketeers are parodied. Edward Woodward also sang "The Way You Look Tonight" rather than appearing within a sketch as he had done in previous appearances. Also features the collapsing Chistmast tree gag with Nina.
    • The festive edition for 1971 contains several memorable scenes, including Shirley Bassey singing "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" whilst the boys re-arrange the scenery, (she also performed the theme song from Diamonds Are Forever), the Hollywood Melody with Glenda Jackson and the BBC newsreaders and André Previn conducting Eric's rendition of Grieg's Piano Concerto. The BBC's other headlining star Dick Emery also makes a brief cameo appearance in the opening spot of the show. This episode is frequently repeated each December and excerpts regularly used as part of compilation shows.
    • No series was produced in 1972 with the duo concentrating on a high-quality spectacular for Christmas Night. Braben had suffered a breakdown and was not credited as working on the special, instead it was penned by John Junkin and Barry Cryer. Several guests from previous shows returned, as well as Vera Lynn singing "Pass Me By" with Eric and Ernie as backing, and Kenny Ball joining in with the Cabaret finale to the Victoria & Albert play with Glenda Jackson. Pete Murray appeared in the play "What Ern Wrote" entitled "Dawn Patrol", a World War One flying aces spoof. The show also featured cameos from various starts who had previously appeared, in pre-filmed inserts where they stated "I worked with Morecambe and Wise, and look what happened to me..." as the camera pulled back to show them in a variety of other jobs; they were:- Ian Carmichael (news vendor), Fenella Fielding (railway guard), Eric Porter (binman), André Previn (bus conductor) and Dame Flora Robson (tea lady)
    • By 1973, an established running gag was the fact that our intrepid duo could not get stars to work with them, and this show features four cameo appearances from Yehudi Menuhin, Rudolf Nureyev, Laurence Olivier and André Previn all making excuses not to appear. Perhaps the most memorable is Lord Olivier who pretends to be a Chinese Laundry attendant over the telephone. Vanessa Redgrave joins in the Latin American Extravaganza, and the Napoleon & Josephine play, with music by John Hanson. Another memorable scene from this show is Hannah Gordon's effort to sing "The Windmills of Your Mind" against a wind generator. This show was interspersed with short film segments from Yehudi Menuhin, Rudolf Nureyev, Laurence Olivier, André Previn. From this show until the final BBC outing in 1977 all shows featured the familiar yellow and brown tabs with the "M" and "W" motif.
    • After no Christmas Show in 1974 and no regular shows during 1975 when the duo had been presenting and appearing in the BBC show It's Child's Play, the pair made a welcome return to their established format with another festive offering; the opening routine which features the much-maligned Des O'Connor is one of the most repeated pieces of material. The show concludes with the historical romp Nell Gwynne which features the first location shots used for an end-of-show play with Diana Rigg in the title role and Gordon Jackson parodying his own character from Upstairs Downstairs. The show is interspersed with Robin Day who, over the course of the programme has his "friendly" discussion turned into a brawl. At the end of the programme, as Morecambe and Wise close with "Positive Thinking", he is seen to stagger past with the aid of a walking stick. The show also features a parody of Big Spender with Eric and Ernie as dancers. This show utilised the opening credits from the following years' series and did not feature the word "Christmas" in the title.
    • The 1976 special featured John Thaw and Dennis Waterman, Elton John, Angela Rippon, plus a cameo appearance by Des O'Connor. This show featured the famous "newsflash" in which Rippon's desk splits in two to reveal her legs, followed by a song and dance routine. The opening credits are in a cartoon style with the duo appearing as caricatures of themselves having a snowball fight, this title sequence was only used once, and the word Christmas does not appear, whilst closing credits featured baby photographs of the cast, a tradition carried on from the previous years' festive special.
    • 1977 saw the final BBC Christmas Show attract audience figures of 27.5 million, a record for the show, although it was beaten in the ratings by The Mike Yarwood Show earlier in the evening schedule: this was also the first time that Christian names were used in the opening titles. The following opening sequence features a parody of Starsky & Hutch, in which the comics star as 'Starkers' and 'Krutch', driving through the streets in a red Mini Clubman emblazoned with the same white vector stripe as seen on the Ford Torino. Boasting the longest guest list of all their shows, stars from the casts of Dad's Army (although Clive Dunn, Arnold Ridley & Ian Lavender are not present and James Beck had died in 1973) and The Good Life appeared, as did Elton John and Angharad Rees (who performed "Baby, It's Cold Outside"). A host of news presenters took part in the "There Is Nothing Like A Dame" routine as listed above. Angela Rippon also made an appearance, which had been intended as a surprise. When news leaked of her contribution days before Christmas, the BBC began an investigation into how the leak occurred and contemporary press reports claimed that staff were fired from the corporation over the leak.
    • 1978's Eric and Ernie's Christmas Show opens with Morecambe being stuck on one side of the stage with his suit on the other, resorting to increasingly absurd ways to cross the stage, whilst Wise reads out messages from Christmas cards received by the duo. The line-up for this first Thames Christmas Show featured several guest stars. A spoof dance routine featuring 'Anna Ford' opened the show, but since Ford herself had refused to appear, a stand in was used, with camera angles and slapstick comedy carefully concealing her face. Leonard Rossiter provided the third Andrews Sister in a "Fabulous Forties" segment; and a spoof This Is Your Life with the Royal Family opening the show. Former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson made a surprise appearance, though this was leaked in the press in advance. In one sequence, Wilson manages to upset Morecambe by joking about his beloved Luton Town Football Club; Morecambe then disappears to the back of the flat, returning with a Maggie Rules O.K. banner, a reference to Conservative opposition leader Margaret Thatcher (who would become Prime Minister the following year). The show was written by Barry Cryer and John Junkin (who also make cameo appearances) with Eddie Braben still under contract to the BBC until the following year. The show closes with a song and dance routine rather than "Bring Me Sunshine".
    • 1979's Christmas with Eric and Ernie was the only television programme the duo made that year, with Morecambe's heart attack ensuing a lull in their activities. To a certain extent, the duo's output was seen to be "playing it safe" by bringing back safe and established guest stars and this edition saw the return of Glenda Jackson and the inevitable Des O'Connor as well as newcomer to the show, David Frost, who interviewed the duo about their long career. The show was more of an interview on the whole, but there was some newly made material, the stand-out section being a mimed version of "I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat" with Morecambe as the mischievous Sylvester the cat and Wise as Tweety Pie. Harking back to the duo's previous incarnation at the BBC the programme also featured Arthur Tolcher (not now, Arthur!) and Janet Webb who had appeared at the end of their show ten years previously as "the lady who comes down at the end." The show played heavily on the pair's previous success with their festive programmes, and further cemented their relationship with the viewing public by appearing despite Morecambe's poor health. As a joke on his recent heart by-pass operation, Morecambe was not permitted to descend the staircase in the studio and this duty was performed by Garfield Morgan. However, when Morecambe did appear, he ran up and down the same staircase several times to prove his fitness. When united with Wise the pair embraced and stated how good it was to be back together again. They returned to form the following year with another full series, their first since 1976.
    • The 1980 special sees further material re-used; the opening spot on-stage is however largely new and sees Eric presenting Ernie with a life-sized monogrammed wallet which he is at times duly trapped inside; following this Mick McManus replaces Henry Cooper in a re-worked sketch, Jill Gascoigne visits the duo for dinner (previously Ann Hamilton had appeared in this sketch), a new Rolf Harris sketch also features, Alec Guinness is the doctor who sees two as one, and Peter Barkworth provides the butt for jokes in the Ernie Wise's Hamlet skit at the end. The show closed with "Bring Me Sunshine".
    • 1981's Eric and Ernie's Xmas Show marked in some ways the fact that the duo were no longer a prime asset; it was the first time in their television careers that their festive offering had not been broadcast on Christmas Night, the schedulers opting instead for 23 December. This was also because, until 1982, Thames Television only operated from Monday at 9.25am until Friday at 7pm; as Christmas Day fell on a Friday, London Weekend Television (LWT) held the franchise to broadcast that evening - in fact, Morecambe actually references the fact the show is not on Christmas Day within one of the sketches, gaining a round of applause from the studio audience. The guest list consisted of Ralph Richardson, Suzanne Danielle doing a Razzle Dazzle routine with the boys (and including future assistant on The Generation Game - Rosemarie Ford - in the dance troupe), a re-hash of the BBC health food shop routine, now featuring Valerie Minfie, and the obligatory play, which was Julius Caesar, a thinly covered remake of the popular BBC sketch Antony and Cleopatra from ten years earlier featuring Ian Ogilvy. This show saw the duo use technology more to gain laughs with blue screen techniques being used in some sketches, and ends with "Bring Me Sunshine".
    • 1982's special saw the return of Robert Hardy, joined by both Rula Lenska and Richard Vernon who had appeared in previous shows; the opening routine perhaps prophetically discussed the retiring of the double act but this in itself was a further reworking of BBC material but somehow the pace of the dialogue was becoming lost. In an update of several older sketches, the Video Shop was offered as well as a Lingerie Shop and a "Chattanooga Choo Choo" routine. The closing play was the Yukon Gold Rush and featured Rula Lenska in another reworking of a BBC idea. Notable of this and many other shows was the absence of the favourite signature tune over the end credits. Again, this show was not broadcast on Christmas Night but two evenings later.
    • 1983 was to be the duo's final festive offering was billed once again as Eric & Ernie's Xmas Show and some re-hashed material from earlier BBC shows despite Eddie Braben's continued input. The most notable re-used ideas were the Harpenden Hot-Shots and the final play "What Ern Wrote" was entitled The Planter's Wife and featured Nanette Newman in the titular role. This sketch was set in Malaysia with the musical ending performed by puppets. The sketch that had aired originally in the 1976 seasonal show with Elton John ("sounds like an exit on the motorway...") was thinly re-worked here with Peter Skellern in the same role. A song-and-dance number of "Swinging Down the Lane" remade from their ATV days closes the proceedings but there's no signature tune to be heard. Following the end of the show, Thames continuity announcer Philip Elsmore appears to introduce the next programme which is to feature Des O'Connor, the duo appear behind Elsmore to make derogatory remarks about the star in a long-standing in-joke; this would be the duo's final appearance as Morecambe died the following year.
  • The Cloudcuckoolander Was Right: Initially Eric was the bombastic fool to Ernie. To make the dynamic more two-way comical however, Ernie was retooled to be more pretentious. Eric meanwhile retained his own clownish side, but became more slick and prone to make quips about Ernie's delusions of grandeur.
  • Corpsing: Many contemporary critics noted how Eric essentially seemed exempt from the usual rules on this—he would regularly laugh at his own jokes and smile when he or Ernie messed up a line. The reason seems to be the 'domestic' dynamic Eddie Braben gave the pair with his flat sketches, letting their real friendship shine through—so the audience accepted Eric laughing at his own jokes the way a witty friend would in a Real Life conversation.
    • On the other hand, in the "Grieg Piano Concerto" sketch, while Eric, Ernie and André Previn all play their parts completely seriously, in the background you can see the orchestra's musicians struggling and failing to keep a straight face.
  • Credits Gag: A common feature when introducing a parody sketch (such as the Napoleon sketch and Anthony and Cleopatra) was to play with the names, saying Actor A was actually played by a second actor and saying that actor was played by a cat who was played by a completely different actor. Example.
  • Curse Cut Short: During "I'm Wishing".
    Ernie/Prince: "Tell me wishing well."
    Eric/Well: "Ask and I will tell."
    Ernie: "Will my wish come true?"
    Eric: "It's entirely up to you."
    Ernie: "With your magic spell."
    Eric: "Why don't you go to he—"
    Ernie: "Will you tell my love one what to do?"
  • Deadpan Snarker: Morecambe was one of these, although as their comedy became more subtle it tended to come out as more of a Stealth Insult. He remains one of the few people ever to outsnark John Lennon, during the Beatles' appearance on Two Of A Kind in 1963:
    Eric: What's it like being famous?
    John: Well, it's not like in your day, you know.
    Eric: Ha! That was an insult, that is! [to Ernie]] You didn't expect that, did you? [to John] What do you mean, "not like in my day?"
    John: Well, me dad used to tell me about you, you know. [John holds his hand down below his waist, to indicate how small he was at the time. Eric looks at it.]
    • As time went on, Ernie & Eric's idiot/bigger-idiot relationship became so strong that the role of Deadpan Snarker was actually handed to their guests; in the Grieg Piano Concerto sketch, Andre Previn is very much the Only Sane Man, complete with Death Glare as Eric's behaviour drives him higher and higher up the wall.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Played for comedic effect in the Grieg Piano Concerto sketch; the first time the performance is attempted, Wise announces it as "Grieg's Piano Concerto by Grieg".
  • The Dog Bites Back: Given all the hassle Eric and Ernie put Des O'Connor through, this had to happen eventually.
    Eric and Ernie, after causing a lot of trouble during World War I, are sentenced to be shot by a firing squad. They're led to the place of execution, and the sound of shots ring out. We then pan down to see who the shooter was...
    Des O'Connor: *laughs maniacally, holding a rifle*
  • Duelling Shows: With The Two Ronnies, although both partnerships were quite friendly with each other.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • There is a very significant shift in tone and format from the Hills and Green-written to the Eddie Braben-written series.
    • Several sketches in the Hills and Green era have the two writers playing a role.
    • Initially Eric and Ernie were confused by the presence of the Lady Who Comes Down At The End, only later smiling and nodding as though her interruption is completely expected.
    • Arthur Tolcher did an actual segment on the show playing progressively smaller harmonicas before accidentally swallowing the last one, prior to the Running Gag of him randomly appearing and starting to play only to be brushed off with 'Not now, Arthur'.
    • Originally, Eric was the idiotic Butt-Monkey and Ernie was the straight man with a Mean Boss trait; when Braben took over writing, he made Eric a zany straight man and made Ernie a ditzy, egotistical ham.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Eric was always claiming that the "Des" in Des O'Connor was short for "Desperate", "Desert", etc.
  • Grand Staircase Entrance:
    • This was sent up when the boys did a big Hollywood-style entrance with their guest, Penelope Keith. Only to discover the staircase set had not been completed and ended abruptly ten feet up. The orchestra stopped playing and they had to scramble down the supporting framework underneath the staircase, the bits TV viewers are not normally intended to see. The sight of the six-foot-tall Miss Keith struggling down the scaffolding in a tight evening dress, aided by the two comics in top hat and tails, was hugely entertaining. In a reprise of this gag, Penelope falls off the back of the set from the top of the stairs whilst making another entrance.
    • Also sent up with Dame Shirley Bassey's appearance on the programme, with Eric and Ernie playing the role of hapless stagehands who can't do anything right. As Dame Shirley makes her dramatic entrance down the stairs, her shoe gets stuck in a faulty step and she has to make do with a workman's boot.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: To the point of sharing a bed. Morecambe was initially dubious about the bed-sharing but agreed to do it on condition that he could have his pipe.
  • Insistent Terminology: Ernie rejected being described as the duo's straight man and insisted that he was the song-and-dance man of the two.
  • Mickey Mousing: The Breakfast Sketch, in which Eric and Ernie making breakfast is synched to "The Stripper".
  • Newscaster Cameo: Trope Codifier. Prior to Morecambe and Wise, newscasters had generally been considered dignified and distant figures in British television. Their number with Angela Rippon started to change this, but it really took off when almost every British newscaster at the time starred with them in "There Ain't Nothing Like A Dame". This started a tradition, which still survives today, of the newscasters indulging in a massive cross-channel crossover musical number, usually for Comic Relief.
  • No Fourth Wall: Obviously, because show was mostly them on stage facing an audience. During the "Singin' in the Rain" sketch, a very wet Eric is being ignored by Ernie so turns to the camera and says, "I'm wet through, folks!"
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: There are a number of hints that Eric is in fact the more intelligent member of the partnership but he acts dumb in order not to disappoint Ernie's intellectual pretensions.
    Ernie: [reading from his latest play]' "Rocky felt a tingle of excitement as his executive jet touched down in Amsterdam. It was his first visit to Italy."
    Eric: [briefly looks away, grimaces, turns back; encouragingly] That's knockout, that, Ern.
  • Oop North: They were from there (Eric from Morecambe, Lancashire and Ernie from Bramley, Leeds) and proud of it.
  • The Perfectionist: Both of them, but Morecambe was notorious for it, especially at the peak of their popularity in The '70s. All those supposed ad-libs, aside glances, even the corpsing? All meticulously rehearsed. Morecambe himself was not the only one to think that his obsession with perfection had something to do with his heart trouble.
    • Producer John Ammonds was also like this. As Eddie Braben put it, "if you sent him a Christmas card, he'd send it back with a note asking for a rewrite".
  • Perspective Magic: After one too many jokes at his expense, Des O'Connor storms onto the show, furious. Eric and Ernie agree they'll do a big musical number to make it up to him. Cue all three of them in top hat and tails dancing down a long staircase... at which point Des's section of the staircase appears to make him vanish. Mission accomplished!
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Towards the end of their time as a double act Eric stopped dancing and doing physical comedy and their ITV show would usually end with Ernie doing a number as Eric walked away with his coat on and bags packed. This was because Eric's ongoing health problems prevented him from doing such things (which was devastating to him because he loved them) lest they caused another, potentially fatal, heart attack.
  • Right Behind Me
  • Running Gags: Many.
    • Repeated Take Thats at Des O'Connor.
    • Morecambe pretending to throw an invisible object in the air and "catching" it in a paper bag.
    • Celebrities shown working in menial jobs with the line "I worked with Morecambe and Wise, and look what happened to me."
    • There were two semi-regular Once an Episode invokedBig-Lipped Alligator Moments: harmonica player Arthur Tolcher would randomly rush on and start to play, only for Eric or Ernie to kindly brush him off with 'Not now, Arthur'; and at the end of many episodes, the "Lady who comes down at the end" (played by Janet Webb) appears to deliver a monologue about her little show, while Eric and Ernie smile and nod along.
    • Ernie's terrible plays.
    • Ernie's height ("he's only got little legs"). Eric would often tell Ernie to stand up when he was already standing.
    • Eric's Cloudcuckoolander tendency to invokedrefer to guests as though they were the other gender: e.g. addressing the young and rather Bifauxnen Glenda Jackson as "young sir".
    • Eric would often look at one person when a second person behind him said a line and he would say "You said that without moving your lips!" to the first person. He would turn to face the second as the first spoke and say "You can do it as well!"
    • "What do you think of it so far?" "Rubbish!"
  • Scenery Porn: Parodied, specifically the glitzy sets of 70s variety shows.
    • In one sketch, Eric, Ernie and guest star Penelope Keith, smiling in immaculate evening wear, elegantly descended a huge flight of stairs as the orchestra played, only to find that it ended with a long drop still to go, so that they had to climb awkwardly down to ground level. This was a Shout-Out to an earlier sketch, in which the three of them had gone to the top of the stairs, only for Keith to fall off the back.
    • Shirley Bassey began a musical number on a revolving stage with rotated her into view, and then out of view again because Eric & Ernie as the stagehands had forgotten to stop cranking the revolve; they looked up, saw the cameras, and furiously cranked in the opposite direction to bring her back again. Bassey then descended the steps to the studio floor, still singing, only for the heel of her shoe to break the bottom step and get caught in it. Eric & Ernie crawled out to investigate, and fixed the problem by removing Bassey's foot from her shoe and giving her one of Eric's boots.
  • The Scrooge: Ernie's other major characteristic besides being a bad playwright.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Ernie.
    Ernie: I'll be doing Singin' in the Rain.
    Eric: Oh, Gene Kelly did that very well...
    Ernie: Yes, well, I'll do it that little bit better, won't I?
    • Again, when Ernie was welcoming Lulu onto the show in effusive tones:
      Ernie: Oh, Lulu, you're one of my biggest fans.
  • Special Guest: One every episode, several in the Christmas specials — not counting the more numerous music spot guest singers/bands.
    • Producer John Ammonds was famous for being able to get anyone as a guest star, no matter how big a star they were or how 'refined' their usual work was; writer Eddie Braben was half-convinced he had a collection of blackmail photographs on the entire membership of Equity. His only failure was when he couldn't get Prince Charles, and even then apparently Charles was willing but the Palace vetoed it as too risky.
    • After a while, the show was so big and beloved that the biggest stars were queuing up to do it.
    • Angela Rippon COULD dance to a professional standard, as she showed in her subsequent cameo with the Tiller Girls. Shakespearean and Period Drama actor Eric Porter, however, one if the biggest names in TV at the time clearly couldnt sing or dance...
  • Spoofing in the Rain: The "Singin' in the Rain" sketch sees Ernie taking Gene Kelly's role (and doing a pretty fantastic job) and Eric as a policeman with the main joke being that it isn't actually raining, but Eric somehow keeps getting soaked anyway.
  • Straight Man and Wise Guy: They started out playing this straight, with Ernie as a bossy straight man and Eric as a ditzy wise guy, but although it made them famous they didn't invokedreally hit their stride until writer Eddie Braben inverted the trope, making Ernie a pompous would-be all-round entertainer and Eric his affectionately snarky but idiotic straight man. The result, as critic Kenneth Tynan observed, was that 'Ernie' was a comedian who wasn't funny, while 'Eric' was a straight man who was funny.
  • Stylistic Suck: Ernie's plays. Ernie in-universe was absurdly prolific, described as writing dozens of plays every day, which both explains and fails to explain why they were rubbish: he didn't spend enough time on each one, but on the other hand he wrote so many that you'd have thought he'd get better at it.
  • Surreal Humour: Not a major focus of their work but glimpses of it often showed up. For example, one episode began with Ernie asking for his violin, being handed a saxophone, nodding thanks and then being about to 'play' it with a violin-bow before being interrupted by Eric.
  • Take That!: Most often at Des O'Connor as noted above, but occasionally aimed at other comedians such as Max Bygraves and Jimmy Tarbuck.
    Eric: Why don't you send that joke to Jimmy Tarbuck?
    Ernie: Do you think he'd use my material?
    Eric: Why not? He uses everyone else's.
    • Earlier in their career they were often compared to rival comedy duo Mike & Bernie Winters. Morecambe & Wise were friendly with them, but it didn't stop Eric coming out with a lethal snark at their expense:
      Interviewer: Who do you think you'd be if you weren't comedians?
      Morecambe: Mike and Bernie Winters.
  • Talking in Bed
  • That's What She Said: On hearing anything that could be misconstrued as an Unusual Euphemism, Eric did a lot of this:
    Ernie: I've extended my repertoire.
    Eric: It doesn't show from back there.
  • Unusual Euphemism: A favourite trope of writer Eddie Braben:
    Ernie: My auntie's got a Whistler.
    Eric: There's a novelty.
  • Ventriloquism:
    • Eric and the giant dummy he couldn't operate properly. He also messed around with puppets a fair bit as well, such as the skull during his Hamlet soliloquy. Nor did he really bother trying to not move his lips (which was half the joke).
    Eric: "What do you think of it so far?"
    Skull: "Rubbish!".
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Only in the show; outside, they were True Companions, and you did not want to try to break them apart.
    • As noted above, although Eric aimed a number of barbs at Des O'Connor, they were good friends in real life.
  • Wrap-Up Song: The end credits of their shows were played over them doing a song-and-dance act to the standard "Bring Me Sunshine".
  • Young Future Famous People: In a segment on one Christmas show, Eric and Ernie play naïve soldiers sent on a suicide mission through German lines in World War I, during the course of which they run a motorbike and sidecar over a young Adolf Hitler and his comrades sitting around a campfire.
  • Zany Scheme: Sometimes there was one running through a whole show, usually about how Eric and Ernie would force a supposedly unwilling guest into a role in one of Ernie's plays or a musical number. On one occasion this was inverted, with Eric's Sitcom Arch-Nemesis Des O'Connor turning up as a guest and Eric and Ernie repeatedly managing to get out of doing a number with him by schemes such as making part of the stairs into a lift that is lowered out of sight with him still on it.