Lost Morecambe and Wise episode from 1970 to air Christmas Day will be ‘signposted’ as a classic

A long-lost episode of Morecambe and Wise is set to be broadcast in colour for the first time - BBC
A long-lost episode of Morecambe and Wise is set to be broadcast in colour for the first time - BBC

A Morecambe and Wise episode lost for 50 years is to be aired on the BBC on Christmas Day and will be “signposted” as a classic to remind viewers that it was filmed more than half a century ago.

A spokesman for the broadcaster said that the episode airing on BBC Two – in its entirety with no scenes cut and in colour for the first time – will include a guideline that it is a “classic comedy from 1970 for audience context”.

The BBC has been retrospectively labelling classic programmes such as Blackadder with offensive content warnings, but the corporation decided the festive special did not require such a message.

The 45-minute show was the comedy duo’s first for BBC One and dates from October 1970 after they moved from BBC Two.

The episode was discovered in the attic of Eric Morcambe’s widow’s Hertfordshire home, while their son was searching for old scripts last year.

Gary Morecambe told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the unexpected discovery in Harpenden has a “Narnia feel to it” and that he ventured into his mother’s attic to “start going through my father’s old stuff”.

He said: “I thought I’d start going through my father’s old stuff and sure enough, lo and behold, we came across six cylinders of film.”

When his agent told him he had unearthed a missing episode in the plain containers, he said: “I couldn’t quite believe it, it took a few days to sink in, it wasn’t really what I was trying to do. I was looking for old scripts, really.”

He added: “It’s not going to happen again. I don’t think it’s a case of if you keep searching you’ll find something else, I think that’s it.”

The episode had originally been wiped from the BBC archive by the broadcaster so the tape could be reused for other programmes.

Gary Morecambe said the episode, which contains a sketch about a radio call-in challenge, represents “a golden era of television”.

He added: “But I didn’t realise at that point how far the BBC would go to present it. That it would then get colourised, which is fantastic, so it’s been brought bang up to date.

“And also what’s really good is the quality of the show itself, you can see the embryonic Morecambe and Wise come through.”

Eric Morecambe, who died in 1984 aged 58, and Ernie Wise, who died in 1999 aged 73, are among the most popular and enduring comedy stars in British TV history.

Fans of their show have been delighted by the news, with one telling The Telegraph that “there is something about Eric and Ernie on Christmas Day”.

Georgy Jamieson said: “I will be sat there on Christmas night, eager to see some brand new Morecambe and Wise after 51 years. It’s incredible.”

Morecambe and Wise's hit Christmas specials were a staple of festive television during the Seventies - BBC
Morecambe and Wise's hit Christmas specials were a staple of festive television during the Seventies - BBC

The BBC Radio Suffolk presenter and director of The British Comedy Society said she remembers watching the show “as a little girl” and in particular the “big Christmas spectaculars”.

Of the BBC implementing a signpost for “audience context”, Ms Jamieson said: “I think you have to get it in context of when it was for things like cultural references and guest stars and so forth.

“But I can’t say that there weren’t times that they didn’t do things that wouldn’t be acceptable now, but they didn’t swear and if there was a little bit of a ‘wink, wink’ moment…it was very mild.”

She added that some episodes of the show might “contain attitudes that may have been prevalent at the time” but that signposting is not needed for “most of Morecambe and Wise”.

“Sometimes, there are just things that are timeless because they are gloriously silly and slapstick.”

Gary Morecambe said: “These are important pieces from the golden era of television. So to find something that was presumed wiped, and has been sitting in an attic for 50-odd years, that is very exciting and very important.”

The lost episode will air on BBC Two at 7.45pm on Christmas Day. It will be preceded at 7pm by the pair’s 1971 Christmas show, featuring Andre Previn, Glenda Jackson and Dame Shirley Bassey.