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Your Wednesday Night In… March 1979

Wednesday, 28th March 1979


Here’s a top bit of sour grapes and no mistake. The Beeb were absolutely devastated when Eric and Ern defected to Thames, doing so when Bill Cotton was in bed with ‘flu to boot, and certainly it was the biggest telly story of the year. Cotton refused to even watch the pair’s first shows on ITV (“I was watching my own lot!”), and we don’t doubt there was much glee at the Beeb when their first Thames offerings weren’t really all that spectacular. But even if they were out of the door, the Beeb still had the back catalogue, and hence came this “series”, billed as “a season of shows celebrating Eric and Ernie’s successful years with the BBC” – ie, just a load of rebadged repeats. All pretty shameless, to be honest, but obviously still ace, with the Mastermind sketch among those getting an outing tonight. But hang on… what’s this?


Yes! It’s a party political broadcast on behalf of Eric and Ern as the pair are on two channels at once for 10 minutes, surely one of the most bizarre bits of scheduling imaginable (and it was ITV’s fault, as the Beeb had been running their repeats for several weeks). In fact even though the pair had only been on the light channel for about six months, they’d already started on the repeats, this being the second screening of the show that launched them on ITV back in October 1978. Every schoolboy knows that it wasn’t a patch on their Beeb work, not least because Eddie Braben wasn’t on writing duties – but then, he didn’t do the 1976 Christmas special either and there wasn’t much wrong with that – but it was still big news. And despite 18.7 million people watching it six months previously, 18.3 million people watched it again this time around, placing it at number one in the ratings yet again and blowing the Beeb out of the water. Mind you, this one had Derek Griffiths in it.

10.10pm TONIGHT, BBC1
And while the BBC vs ITV battle was in full effect earlier this evening, a slightly more important clash was going on in the House of Commons that night, as Jim Callaghan’s government faced a vote of no confidence, as covered live (in sound only, of course) both on News at Ten and the dimly-remembered proto-Newsnight BBC current affairs show which was coming towards the end of its life. In the event the government fell by one vote and an election was called, which among some other slightly longer-reaching effects across the world also meant the following week’s first episode of Not The Nine O’Clock News was cancelled and the scheduled repeat of the Mike Yarwood Christmas Show had to be dropped for being too political. That ended up being rescheduled for election night itself, billed as “The Show We Couldn’t Show”, which makes it sound dead daring and exciting. Except they’d already shown it once. And it was Mike Yarwood.



  1. THX 1139

    March 28, 2018 at 10:23 am

    Did the Eric and Ern Thames show have the lady in the blue hat and coat in it? Always unsettling, she was.

  2. Richard16378

    March 28, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    I guess the comedy writers at Thames weren’t up to the job, eventually they managed to sign Eddie Braben.

  3. Glenn Aylett

    March 29, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    @ Richard 16378, things were to only get worse in 1979 for Morecambe and Wise. Their Christmas special was the worst thing they’d ever done, a completely unfunny mixture of an interview with David Frost and some black and white clips, and viewers switched over in droves. Fortunately Thames gave them one last chance, obtained the services of Eddie Braben, and a new series in the fall of 1980 was far better than their last three outings for Thames, although still not quite up to their BBC standards. Also mercifully for Thames, 16 million viewers were prepared to give Eric and Ern one last chance, and the station managed to get another three series out of them, although their last series set in a flat was poor.

    • Jeremy Panze

      March 30, 2018 at 11:15 am

      Well of course the 1979 Christmas special came off the back of another very serious heart attack so he was on doctors orders not to do the big song and dance numbers, and I daresay was hastily put together post-October because of the ACTT strike. Possibly worse to follow even with Braben in tow because Christmas Day 1980 would be their last ever Christmas Day show. Thames and LWT refused to work together on scheduling (even though they had done half a decade earlier when mounting All Star Comedy Carnival – a sort of Christmas Night with the Stars spoiler, with no company branding used) as LWT owned Xmas Day in 1981, 1982 and 1983. And so by the time Christmas Day 1984 returned to Thames broadcasting hours, Eric was dead.

  4. Glenn Aylett

    March 30, 2018 at 4:39 pm

    @ Jeremy Panze, it was still a very poor show and even if Eric was unwell and ITV was still recovering from a massive strike, he could have vetoed the show, or billed it as an interview with David Frost, as people were expecting a Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show.
    Yet back on topic to March 1979, it did seem BBC One in those days often put on decent competition to Coronation St, and a compilation of Morecambe and Wise clips would have pulled in a healthy audience. I twas only when The Street became all conquering in the eighties that they waved the white flag.

  5. Richard16378

    March 30, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    Blake’s 7 often managed to get some decent ratings against Coronation Street on a monday night, with the last episode getting 10 million.

  6. Glenn Aylett

    March 30, 2018 at 11:14 pm

    @ Richard 16378, the BBC had some strong imports like The Rockford Files that always did well on Monday nights. Wednesdays could have been weaker, but there was a considerable audience of men and kids who wanted something different.

  7. Glenn Aylett

    March 31, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    Auntie was never that strong on Wednesday nights in the seventies, when ITV had Coronation St, variety shows and Benny Hill as alternatives. You had to remember even a mediocre variety show like Wednesday at 8 attracted 18 million viewers.

  8. Richardpd

    August 28, 2022 at 3:40 pm

    The BBC managed to bounce back in the 1980s on a Wednesday night, with Dallas & Juliet being in the 8 o’clock slot for most of the early 1980s.

  9. Glenn Aylett

    August 28, 2022 at 4:46 pm

    On another note, a government in disarray, a PM who was a lame duck after a vote of no confidence, soaring inflation and a wave of strikes, 1979 sounds very familiar. Rather like Boris, Jim Callaghan fancied himself as a wit with a positive outlook, although I doubt he was smiling after he was forced into an election that he knew was lost.

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