Tag Archives: London’s Burning

Eric and Ernie: Sunshine duly brought

New Year’s Day, always the most inert day of the year, both in the VG household and seemingly also in telly programming land. Endless repeats of lower-rung kiddie films here, a dash of The Sound of Music there. But step away from the Potter, people, there is shockingly something new yet still decent on. Let joy (and the last of the selection box) be unconfined!

Eric and Ernie (BBC2) is a biopic (the type of thing which I have loved ever since an unfortunate collision with Abba: The Movie at the age of 7 from which I shall most likely never fully recover) depicting Morecambe and Wise’s meeting on the child performers circuit and eventual mutation into the double act that proved them so much well-deserved success (I laughed more at their sketch with Elton John in the Christmas Special shown before Eric and Ernie than I have at almost anything else throughout the year).

Daniel Rigby and Bryan Dick as Eric and Ern, with Victoria Wood as Mother Morecambe

The script is probably the best I’ve seen in any drama in months. It manages to be poignant without being too sappy and deeply witty without being irritating. It is also sadly old-fashioned by modern telly standards in that every line is there to furnish the story and flesh out the characters, rather than just to fill time or pile on the cliché (controversially, I won’t even exclude Downton Abbey from that stinging criticism. Whilst hardly of the London’s Burning standard, the excellent Upstairs Downstairs only served to highlight Downton’s total lack of historical linguistic accuracy. But that’s another blog, I suspect…). “You can’t play Cowboys and Indians all your life, Eric!” “Can’t I?” This being a portrayal of Morecambe and Wise’s early years before their untold success in the 1960s and 1970s, there are also clever little nods to the future without overdoing it in that way that biopics often do, such as the scene where young Eric and Ernie are forced to top and tail in bed whilst both wearing matching striped pyjamas and also the derogatory reference to Des O’Connor.

Along those lines, the interplay between the characters is excellent too. I really believed in how fond Eric and Ernie were of each other. Daniel Rigby (Eric) and Bryan Dick (Ernie) are both absolutely outstanding. It seems unfair to pick one out over the other, but the way in which Rigby captures Morecombe’s vocal tics (“haa-heeey!”) and mannerisms bordered on frightening at times. In fact, all of the performances in this drama are faultless. Jim Moir (aka Vic Reeves, though using his real name for acting purposes here) does funny and thoughtful in equal measures. And nobody does good-natured bonhomie fuelled by quiet sadness like Victoria Wood, whose idea this drama was in the first place. The scene where Eric waved her off on the train having just dispensed with her services as their manager had me in absolute pieces, yet didn’t resort to the histrionics that so often stain modern television programmes. There’s also a nice turn from Reece Shearsmith as Ernie’s thwarted father, though his black face (stage make-up, I hasten to add) made it seem as if he’d popped out during his tea break from his League of Gentleman days as Papa Lazarou. The shouts of “Hallo Ern! You’re mah wife now!” still resonate around VG Towers 24 hours on. Continue reading

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Ashes to Ashes (3.3): Ask not for whom the bell tolls

Normally British TV drama and a serious ‘issue’ are a bad mix. Of course, the normal rules can be pretty much suspended for Ashes to Ashes, so that even an episode taking a dark look at the realities of war doesn’t turn into a clunking great disaster.

The episode is, of course, peppered with the ongoing elements of mystery (how weird is it that Shaz is seeing stars too? Is this going to be like the end of series 4 of Doctor Who with the boundaries between worlds breaking down?) but the meat of the story is the hunt for a serial arsonist who’s at work on the eve of the 1983 General Election, and the effect it has on Ray.

Ray often feels the most caricatured of the team, but last night we really discovered his depths. When the team are called out to another arson attack (which in turn brought back memories of the fabulous London’s Burning) Ray dashes into the burning building to rescue a trapped woman. He in turn is rescued by one of the firemen and when offered the kiss of life by Chris manages to stick two fingers up at the suggestion.

The hero fireman, Andy Smith,  is a Falklands War survivor too and Ray is typically respectful of this military history. It goes without saying that he buys Andy and his fireman brother Steve, a pint or two.

Sadly it’s not long before Andy Smith is chief suspect – he has the technical expertise and motive (he’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which feels a bit like calling a migraine a headache to be honest). Ray is deeply unhappy at the turn of events, and when another polling station goes up in flames, is relieved to be able to let Andy out of the cells.

All the while Jim Keats is trying to pull Ray’s strings, not to mention needling Gene and Alex unnecessarily. I know I’m not meant to like him (otherwise they wouldn’t be asking him to smile like Eugene Tooms from the X-Files), but he’s really starting to annoy me now. Nobody likes a gloater.

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