You see, there was once a time when my childhood ambition was solely focused on becoming the comic turn in a double-act. My inspiration was, of course, the hugely popular British TV comedy duo, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. I saw myself more of an Eric, than an Ernie—though one couldn’t work without the other. I watched their shows, their films, read their biography, bought their vinyl and learnt-by-heart the sketches contained therein.
The comedy duo’s original writers were Dick Hills and Sid Green, who claimed they could devise a Morecambe and Wise script in the time it took them to pass each other on opposite sides of a London Underground escalator. Hills and Green’s best known skit is probably “Boom-Oo-Yata-ta-ta,” which still holds-up today. Moving from Independent TV to the BBC saw Morecambe and Wise eventually change writers.
In 1969, they were joined by Eddie Braben, who created the defining Morecambe and Wise Show. Of course, the repertoire and roles were already there, but Braben brought a surreal element to their traditional Music Hall comedy that made Morecambe and Wise the favorite comics of the nation, obtaining viewing figures of around 20-million per show, and a record 27.5 million for their Christmas Show in 1977.
Braben also introduced a series of running gags that started with guest Peter Cushing, who claimed he had not been paid for his last performance; the keen harmonica player Arthur Tolcher who was never allowed to play (“Not now, Arthur”); the regular mini-drama, Ernie’s “the play what I wrote,” which featured such stars as Glenda Jackson, Vanessa Redgrave, Frank Finlay, Edward Woodward, Frankie Vaughan, Diana Rigg, and even Elton John.
I liked Elton John, and the star-crossed mix of Morecambe and Wise, together with “Hercules” was “must see.” Elton had already appeared on the ‘76 Xmas show, and there was much speculation of his return. The skit was okay—a running gag in which he was given the run-around before finally performing his song “Shine On Through” to Morecambe & Wise in drag (as two cleaners), at the very end of the show.
The song was a taster for Elton’s twelfth studio album, A Single Man, which is amongst the most under-appreciated of his recordings. This may, in part, have been because the album marked a break from writing partner Bernie Taupin, who was working with Alice Cooper, and a change of his regular backing band. It was also the first time he collaborated with lyricist Gary Osbourne. However, the album again proved Elton’s genius for crafting word and music together into a beautiful song.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the album, and it is certainly worth time re-evaluating A Single Man.
Below, the whole of Elton’s appearance on The Morecambe & Wise Christmas Special, 1977. The song starts at 5:52.