Morcambe and Wise: The Garage Tapes documents the rediscovery of 45 hours’ worth of material – including episodes of their first radio show – found last year during a clear-out.
The BBC Radio 4 programme, presented by impressionist Jon Culshaw has been made by Whistledown. The independent radio company was contacted by Doreen Wise, widow of Ernie, after she came across two boxes of reel-to-reel tapes and a leather suitcase packed with 78rpm acetates.
These were passed on to Whistledown radio producer David Prest, who says that “three-quarters” of the old recordings were missing from the archives.
He said: “There were 45 hours of tape and we worked out that three-quarters of this stuff was thought lost. The BBC hadn’t kept much of it, but Ernie had.
“After six months of restoration, we had a little piece of history – the missing link between their stage and TV careers.”
The most important find is a near-complete run of Morcambe and Wise’s first radio show, You’re Only Young Once, made for the BBC BBC Northern Home Service between November 1953 and June 1954.
Also found were the fledgling duo’s appearances on BBC radio programmes Variety Bandbox and Variety Fanfare going back to 1949, sound copies of their Sixties’ Great Yarmouth and Blackpool stage-shows, song demos and audio doodles, and the speeches from a 1974 Variety Club lunch held in their honour.
You’re Only Young Once featured skits, songs and cameos from fellow comics such as Bob Monkhouse and Harry Secombe, and, according to William Cook, author of Morecambe & Wise Untold, are important for illustrating the evolution of their comedy.
He said: “They were never Northern comics in the vein of George Formby. They looked across the Pond to that Abbott & Costello style of quick-fire repartee.
“It’s recognisably Morecambe & Wise. But it’s like The Beatles’ Hamburg tapes. They’re almost playing cover versions, haven’t yet discovered the thing that makes them special.”
The garage tapes are believed to be ‘run off’ copies recorded at 33/4 ips by studio engineers immediately after the recordings, and acetate copies for which Doreen Wise paid the studio engineer a few shillings.
- Morcambe and Wise: The Garage Tapes is broadcast on BBC Radio 4, Tuesday, May 4, 9 – 9.45am. You can read more about the garage tapes over at The Telegraph and also in a BBC Radio 4 Blog by producer David Prest. For earlier coverage of this find, revisit Wiped’s news story from February 2010: Garage Find Brings Us Sunshine.