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Date: 21/05/13

All The Laughs What He Wrote

Photo of Eddie Braben

Edwin Braben
Scriptwriter and comedian
b. 31 October 1930, d. 21 May 2013.

Without Eddie Braben, it is highly unlikely that Morecambe & Wise would have reached the same heights of triumph and adulation that they did for much of the 1970s. Although they had been successful at Lew Grade's ATV for much of the previous decade (which led to Bill Cotton Jnr. poaching them for the BBC), they still were not quite the finished article as a double-act, even after over twenty-five years of working together.

Bringing 'The Boys' to the Beeb was not Cotton's greatest move, however; bringing in Eddie Braben - a jobbing scriptwriter who had worked for Ken Dodd amongst many others - was the masterstroke. On the previous occasions that Braben had seen M&W's act, he hadn't been impressed; it was, he felt, too American in style, with Ernie Wise being too hard-edged and Eric Morecambe too gormless. Having spent time in their company (and noting the genuine warmth and affection between them), Braben decided to try to refashion their characters, to make Ernie rather more innocent and less self-aware and Eric - although retaining a sort of child-like innocence - into a more worldly character, protective of his 'little fat friend'.

By about 1971, this new approach had paid dividends and for the next five or six years, Morecambe & Wise's shows were 'must see' programmes; especially the Christmas ones, which would regularly garner close to 20 million households viewing. The strain on Braben's health - particularly his mental health - of having to write such a high-profile show was considerable. When 'The Boys' decamped to Thames Television in 1978, Eddie was unable to follow them immediately for contractual reasons. By the time he did in 1982, Morecambe's health - and the standing of the act itself - was in decline; the magic had faded.

The following sketch comes from late in their 'classic' BBC period (the 1976 Christmas Show), and shows one of Braben's stock settings - Eric and Ernie in the bedroom.

(Morecambe in particular had objected to the idea of he and Ernie sharing a bed, until Braben pointed out to them that it had been good enough for their heroes Laurel & Hardy).

In a way, this sketch encapsulates the relationship between 'The Boys': Ernie self-deludingly trying to write yet another of his awful plays; Eric trying to wheedle his way into getting what he wants; the hints at a 'back story' of their intermingled childhoods; and lines which are in turns surreal, silly and with an undertone of pathos which was Eric's hallmark in particular. Also note at the two-minute mark an apparent ad-lib by Eric which almost throws Ern right off the page. This is golden comedy.

Update: Another one blocked by BBC Worldwide! What the hell do they have to gain from being arseholes like that?

Thanks for all the laughs, Eddie.