When Steve North, general manager at flagship UKTV channel Gold, proudly announced the start of an exciting new series about Morecambe and Wise, featuring previously unseen material, we all got very excited indeed. What better way to spend a Wednesday evening than to see brand new sketches from these two national treasures of British comedy.
In the first programme there was indeed material we’d never seen before, and it was great to watch it. A real find. Unfortunately, there was also a huge amount of completely unnecessary recapping and repetition of familiar clips. I lost count of how many times we were shown the clip of Eric sitting holding a long, extended prop leg. First, they told us that the clip was coming, then they showed us the clip itself, then on at least two further occasions they reminded us that we had seen the clip earlier. I, for one, never want to see that clip again, as long as I live.
This particular example of amateurish, lazy editing set the tone for the abysmal way the entire programme was put together. Because this masterclass of television comedy was continually interrupted by pointless, vacuous banter from a gaggle of grinning, self-publicising celebrities.
Morecambe and Wise were brilliantly funny. We really don’t need to see Chris Tarrant laughing out loud and telling us just how funny they were, over and over again. To make matters worse, many of the “celebrities” who appeared in the programme were people we had never actually heard of.
Comedy is all about timing. So the worst thing you can do with a sketch is to cut-away from it, then cut back to it later. It destroys the rhythm. It disrupts the flow. It makes it less funny. Eric Morecambe would turn in his grave if he could see how UKTV are now mindlessly hacking his finely crafted routines to pieces, just so that we can hear what Tamzin Greig thinks about them.
Producers and editors who don’t understand comic timing should not be let anywhere near the BBC’s priceless comedy archives. They may think they are breathing new life into this material, but all they are doing is vandalising it in the edit suite, then introducing it to a new generation of viewers in a criminally damaged state. The only way to watch the Morecambe & Wise and Andre Previn sketch is from beginning to end, with no cut-aways. Comedy works in real time, not sliced into little pieces and liberally scattered. Will someone please, please tell that to Steve North, general manager at Gold.