Bing Crosby went on first and kept going wrong

Morecambe & Wise on the Ed Sullivan Show. Watch the sketch on YouTube.

At its peak in 1977, with a primetime slot on BBC1, The Morecambe & Wise Show, its Christmas special specifically, was watched by 28 million people across the UK, and its hosts, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, were bona fide national treasures. This diary entry was written nine years earlier, seven months before that now-legendary series debuted, at which point the comedy duo were in New York filming an appearance on the U.S.’s biggest variety show, The Ed Sullivan Show—this was their twelfth since first being invited in 1963, and despite the warm reaction and an open invitation to return, it would be their last. Nine months later, Morecambe suffered a near-fatal heart attack; by the time he had recovered, the pair’s focus had shifted.

The Diary Entry

Saturday 10 February

New York. Had a band call this morning and rehearsals. Hung about the theatre till Fred came with his nephew. Spent the afternoon with them in a bar on Broadway, telling stories. At five o’clock we came back to the theatre, to get ready for the show. Bing Crosby went on first and kept going wrong. They had to do his bit three times. Even then he sang White Christmas wrong, but they let it go. The show is an Ed Sullivan tribute for Irving Berlin’s 80th birthday. We followed Bing Crosby and did our Fred Astaire skit. It was one of the best things we have done here. Bob Hope followed us, and started to do jokes about heart transplants. Not really in good taste, and also had idiot boards [autocue] all over the front rows. Flew back to England with David Frost, who fell asleep as soon as he sat down. I woke him up about five minutes before landing. He was coming home for three hours, then flying back to New York.

Further Reading

If you’d like to read more of Eric’s diary, get hold of Eric Morecambe Unseen: The Lost Diaries, Jokes and Photographs, written by William Cook and published by HarperCollins in 2005. Three of its chapters are dedicated to his diary entries from 1967, 1968 and 1969. In the appendix they’ve also reproduced some handwritten pages from his notebooks, and there are some letters too. It’s a lovely book.

Diary entry reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. © 2005 William Cook.

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