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Morecambe and Wise: The Lost Tapes

Benjie Goodhart / 21 July 2021

A lucky find in an attic has brought to light a previously lost episode of Morecambe and Wise.

Morecambe and Wise: The Lost Tapes, Wednesday 28th July, 9pm, ITV

We don’t have an attic, but we have a garage. I say ‘garage’. It’s more like a municipal tip. It is full – can’t-walk-around-in-it-and-can-barely-close-the-door full – of utter garbage that we have accumulated over the years. At least 30% of it is camping stuff. We have fold-away beds, stoves, cooking equipment, Tupperware, chairs, folding tables, sleeping bags, air pumps, mallets, lights, portable barbecues, and tents. So. Many. Tents. In an effort to make camping bearable, we keep buying tents, hoping against hope that they will not be impossible-to-assemble canvas monstrosities that are -10˚C at night and 55˚C by day, and prone to leaking. It doesn’t work. Camping is still hell.

Other than that, we have a lot of books in there. In the house, we have all sorts of biographies and historical books, and high-brow novels, none of which have ever been read. In the garage we have an endless amount of well-thumbed trash that we’ve thoroughly enjoyed, but would never admit to owning. Then we have baby equipment, cupboards, toys, old clothes, tables, chairs and so on, that my wife has been promising to fix up and sell for years. Honestly, we could open our own branch of Oxfam and be trading for a decade.

Occasionally, when I’m rummaging around in there, wondering if I should be wearing a hard hat and a distress beacon in case a tower of junk falls on me, I fantasise about coming across some hugely significant and valuable historical artefact – a piece of the Rosetta Stone or a scroll signed by Henry VIII – but invariably it’s just boxes full of Jackie Collins novels.

But when Gary Morecambe (son of Eric) was poking about in his attic last year, he found something genuinely fabulous: An old piece of videotape in a can, that contained a lost episode of Morecambe and Wise. Filmed in 1970, it was their first ever show on BBC One (they’d previously been on BBC Two) and marked the moment they broke into the mainstream.

This hour-long documentary shows some of the sketches from this historical gem, and intercuts it with interviews with celebrity fans, former guest stars, comedians and family members. It also tells the story of the legendary comedy duo, from how they met, at a talent show in 1939, to the sad day in 1984 when Eric died of a heart attack.

The programme is a welcome reminder of the genius of this pair, who went on to take the nation by storm, cementing themselves as the most popular entertainers in UK television history. Their Christmas show, in 1977, drew in 28 million viewers, 50% of the population. Watching the footage of some of their best sketches, it’s not difficult to see why they were so loved. There is a simple joy to their madcap comedy, material that could be enjoyed by everyone from 8 to 80.

The ‘lost’ sketches include some early versions of what would becoming long-running jokes by the duo: Eric’s baldness, Ernie’s wig, the invisible grape being tossed into the paper bag, the use of the curtain on stage, the pair in bed together. More than 50 years later, it all still works, and is gloriously funny.

It’s also gratifying to see Morecambe’s family – wife Joan, daughter Gail and son Gary – watching the episode for the first time. Their pride and amusement are a happy legacy of Eric’s brilliance. Some of the celebrity appearances are a little peculiar. Why do we need to see what Robert Rinder, Wayne Sleep or Bonnie Langford think of the footage? It feels like filler, and I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the lost episode itself.

But ultimately, this is a delightfully nostalgic trip down memory lane, to a time when the whole nation could sit down on a Saturday night and roar with laughter at the absurd antics of two men who won a place in people’s hearts and shaped comedy for the next generation.

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Chris Packham: The Walk That Made Me, Wednesday 28th July, 8pm, BBC Two

I used to go walking with my dad. Or rather, my dad would go walking, I would go whinging. He’d be striding out, along canal towpaths or up mountains, with a backpack filled with sandwiches and Kendal Mint Cake, occasionally stopping to admire the view, and I’d be huffily stomping along behind him, glaring at the sheep and wondering what the point of a ruddy Volvo was if not to get you from A to B without muddying your boots. One year, my mother and sisters went to Paris, to shop and sightsee and eat chocolate souffle, while my dad took me to the Alps, because nothing in the UK was quite precipitous or exhausting enough. The weather was glorious, the scenery was breath-taking, and I was still in a right huff.

Chris Packham also went walking with his dad, but thankfully for both, was a rather more willing participant. In fact, the young Packham, struggling with as-yet-undiagnosed Asperger syndrome, found nature to be a crucial escape from a world where he struggled to fit in. The walks with his father meant everything to him.

Now, at the age of 60, Packham is retracing their steps, going on a ten mile walk along the Itchen river, starting at Eastleigh and ending in Winchester. Using a state-of-the-art hand-held 360˚ camera, he’s filming himself for this one-off, hour-long special. And special is the word – I cannot recommend this absolute delight of a film strongly enough. Packham is everything you would want in a host – knowledgeable, friendly, eloquent and passionate.

As he sets off, he is in reflective mood. Walks will do that to you, I suppose. “I think it takes a bit of courage to walk in your own distant footsteps. You don’t know what you are going to find, and I haven’t been up here for many years. It’s going to evoke a lot of memories of far-gone times. I’ve got a very good memory, it’s just that I don’t always choose to open the cupboard and look what’s in there.”

The walk is punctuated by Packham’s joyful observations about the flora and fauna he encounters, and by conversations with people who he is supposedly randomly encountering. I suspect this may not be entirely the case, as he seems to meet lots of rather interesting people with stories to tell, but if the worst accusation you can throw at a programme is that the people you encounter are unrealistically interesting, you are probably onto a winner.

First, Packham meets two women out wild swimming in the icy spring waters. I suspect this was a pre-arranged encounter, because as they clamber out of the river, Chris exclaims: “Emerging, nymph-like from the water. It’s like some sort of halcyon Grecian scene.” Ordinarily, that sort of observation of a couple of strangers might earn you a slap.

Among the other people he encounters are a riverside home-owner (with whom he discusses otter poo), a fellow poodle owner, a Paralympic athlete, and a local councillor raising the sluice gates to flood the water meadows. The water meadows sequence is fascinating, using an ancient system built 400 years ago that is still operating today.

But the real delight here is in Packham’s observations about his life, his Asperger’s condition, and his struggles with mental health. He is commendably open, talking about his depression, and his difficulties connecting with the world. He has forged a path through the darkest of times, thanks to a love of the natural world, ownership of some adored dogs, and walking. “These meadows,” he says at one point, “shaped, and possibly saved, my life.”

Towards the end of his walk, he laments not being able to come up here with his father, now in his 80s, anymore. ”You’ve got to push back all the time. You’ve got to live for every moment. You just can’t count on tomorrow.” He wonders, somewhat dolefully, if this will be his last visit here, too. I hope it’s not, but if it is, I’m glad he invited us along for the ride. It is a privilege to spend an hour in the company of someone so inspirational.

The best… and the rest:

Olympics round up:

Hurrah! Let the games commence. Due to the thoughtless Japanese insistence on being in a different time zone to the UK, much of the action over the next 16 games will be on at stupid o’clock, so keep in mind that there’s a highlights programme on BBC One every night at 7:30pm.

Here’s some of the best action from the week ahead:

Saturday 24th July: The tennis first round begins, featuring defending champion Andy Murray, Dan Evans and Heather Watson. Team GB also has great strength in the Men’s Cycling Road Race, if you’re keen to get up at 3am.

Sunday 25th July: Jade Jones begins her Olympic defence in the Taekwondo first round. The Women’s Cycling Road Race is at 5am.

Monday 26th July: Adam Peaty is the red hot favourite for the Men’s 100m Breaststroke Final at precisely 3:11am. Tom Daly and Matty Lee should be in the Men’s 10m Synchronised Diving Final at 7am. The Men’s Triathlon takes place at 10:30pm. The Men’s Gymnastics Team Final starts at 11am, and the Men’s Triathlon Final is at 10:30pm.

Tuesday 27th July: The Women’s Team Gymnastics Final starts at 8:45am, and the Equestrian Dressage Team Final is at 9am.

Wednesday 28th July: The Men’s Four go in the rowing final at 2:10am, then there’s time for a quick kip before the Cycling Men’s Time Trial at 6am. The Individual Dressage Final, featuring Charlotte Dujardin is at 9:30am, and the Rugby Sevens Gold Medal Match is at 10am.

Thursday 29th July: Helen Glover and Polly Swann go for glory in the Women’s Pair Finals in the rowing at 1:30am, and the Gymnastics Women’s All Round Final is at 11:50am, featuring the legendary Simone Biles.

Friday 30th July: And so to the Athletics stadium, where Dina Asher-Smith goes in the 100m heats at 3:40am. The Rowing Men’s Eight final is at 2:25am.

Away from the Olympics…

Saturday 24th July

Michael McIntyre’s The Wheel, 8:30pm, BBC One: The comedian returns with his gameshow series which sees members of the public take on a colossal spinning wheel and answer questions in an attempt to win big money prizes.

Pavarotti in Hyde Park, 9:30pm, BBC Two: The 1991 concert by the operatic great, performed to an audience of 125,000 in torrential rain, featuring arias by Puccini, Verdi, Bizet and Wagner (Richard, not Robert).

Meghan at 40, 9:30pm, Channel 5: Feature-length profile of the sometimes-polarising and often mistreated Duchess of Sussex on the occasion of her milestone birthday.

Monday 26th July

How to Save a Grand in 24 Hours, 8pm, Channel 4: Anna Richardson and a team of experts return for a second series of the show where they help families to save money by making some instant lifestyle tweaks. Tonight, a family in Blackburn needs help after running up credit card debts during the pandemic.

Wednesday 28th July

Fake or Fortune 1/4, 9pm, BBC One: Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould investigate potentially valuable works of art. Tonight, is a sculpture from a Norfolk garden actually a Henry Moore worth £1 million?

Thursday 29th July

Yorkshire Firefighters 1/4, 8pm, BBC One: A new series taking viewers on to the frontline of the West Yorkshire fire service. How will lockdown, and the absence of public displays, affect a normally busy fireworks night? And a huge fire shuts down the centre of Bradford.

A Year in the Beacons 1/4, 830pm, ITV: New series following life in the Brecon Beacons National Park across the four seasons, starting tonight with autumn.

No Body recovered, 9pm, ITV: Documentary examining the disappearance of father-of-three Mike O’Leary in January 2020, in what quickly became a gruesome murder investigation in spite of the absence of a body.

Friday 30th July

BBC Proms: First Night of the Proms, 8pm, BBC One: Katie Derham presents the first of the season’s concerts live from the Royal Albert Hall, featuring Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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