The 4th best programme of 2011 according to the Radio Times.
This fond look at the early struggles of Morecambe and Wise was no broad-brushstrokes biopic. Rather, it was an accumulation of lovely detail: the down-at-heel venues, the pushy parents, how the double act evolved. Writer Peter Bowker even had room for the duo's harmonica-tootling stooge, Arthur Tolcher. The very definition of "affectionate", Eric and Ernie was a series of revelations: that Vic Reeves ought to take more straight roles; that funny can flip to poignant without being crass; and that Daniel Rigby's Eric wasn't just an uncanny impersonation - it was a stunning performance, full stop.Mark Braxton, Radio Times, 16th December 2011
Say what you will about BBC Drama, they do a very nice line in showbusiness biography. Written by Peter Bowker and based upon an idea by Victoria Wood, Eric and Ernie, exploring Morecambe and Wise's formative years, was one of the best I've seen.
The casting was spot on. Daniel Rigby and Bryan Dick were not just vocally and visually uncanny as the duo, they captured every mannerism and even reproduced their comic timing. Most remarkable of all, their recreation of Eric and Ernie's stage act came over as fresh and genuinely funny.
To see the two great comedians resurrected so comprehensively was almost sufficiently thrilling, but it would be a shame to allow the virtuosity of Rigby and Dick's performances to obscure a beautifully crafted, poignant, witty and gentle drama about friendship, family and showbusiness struggle.
"Big head, short legs" was the young Eric's initial reaction on meeting Ernie Wiseman, already a star on the West End stage and celebrated as "Britain's Mickey Rooney". But from inauspicious beginnings a firm friendship grew, out of which sprang their double act.
Victoria Wood played Eric's pushy mum Sadie, vicariously revelling in her son's onstage success, with Jim Moir - you know, Vic Reeves - as her long suffering and overlooked husband George.Harry Venning, The Stage, 6th January 2011
My expectations were rather high, but they were all met, indeed surpassed.Anna Lowman, Dork Adore, 4th January 2011
As the untold story of the formative years of Morecambe and Wise, Eric and Ernie (BBC2, New Year's Day) ran the risk of telling you more than you ever wanted to know, or of drawing too heavily on the national stockpile of affection for the famous double act. And it came sandwiched in the schedule between the duo's 1976 Christmas special and a documentary about them, so that, even if you'd never heard of Morecambe and Wise, you were guaranteed to be sick of the sight of them by bedtime.
Under the circumstances, Eric and Ernie proved a small triumph - a standalone drama that was never hidebound by its subject. It was by turns charming, moving and disturbing. There is something distinctly creepy about child performers, and Eric and Ernie's partnership stretched back to boyhood, when they toured together during the war, staying in digs during blackouts and, yes, sharing a bed.
Daniel Rigby managed to portray the young Eric Morecambe in a way that was more embodiment than impersonation - occasionally it was a little bit freaky - while Bryan Dick deserves credit for finding the grim application behind Ernie's bland sunniness. Victoria Wood was marvellous as Eric's pushy stage mum; and Vic Reeves (here billed as Jim Moir), who always bore more than a passing resemblance to the adult Morecambe, was an inspired choice to play his dad.
I can't imagine anyone's enjoyment of this being coloured by prior knowledge of the facts, although I can only speak on behalf of the utterly ignorant. The untold story of Morecambe and Wise turns out to be well worth the telling. A clever script illuminated the contrast between the compulsively wise-cracking Eric and the more sober Wise. They were even, when necessary, plausibly funny. I wouldn't go so far as to call this dark, but it was by no means uniformly light-hearted, and the manginess of the postwar variety circuit was nicely evoked, as was the late-50s BBC hierarchy that spawned the pair's first, dismal, and nearly career-terminating small-screen venture, Running Wild. One review contained the line, "Definition of the week: TV set - the box in which they buried Morecambe and Wise." Whoever came up with that has a cheek calling anyone else unfunny, but that's a risk TV reviewers occasionally run.Tim Dowling, The Guardian, 3rd January 2011
I hate that title card which tells you that while a drama is based on a true story, some details have been changed for "dramatic effect". What it means, essentially, is that real life wasn't felt to be exciting enough and it always leaves you wondering about the status of what you're watching. Something of a tribute, then, to Peter Bowker's script (and to an excellent cast) that thoughts of authenticity evaporated fairly quickly as you watched Eric and Ernie, his account of the early career of one of Britain's best loved double-acts.
Bowker's drama was actually a three-hander: Eric's mother, Sadie, didn't get title billing, but turned out to be the core of the thing, a woman whose determination to get her son into showbiz overrode his own indifference. "Never mind, son," Eric's father consoled him as he returned from a talent contest brandishing the winner's trophy, "'Appen you'll lose next time." In that exchange you got a sense of an ordinary boy helplessly caught up in someone else's ambitions; for Sadie, though, this wasn't a career by proxy but simple maternal concern: "You make people laugh," she told her reluctant star, "you're a lovely dancer and you can hold a tune... but more than that - and I mean this as the mother that carried you and bore you and raised you - you aren't any good at anything else." She saw that it was showbiz or nothing.
The partnership with Ernie began in rivalry (fighting over the blankets in a reluctantly shared bed) and then mellowed into a friendship, occasionally tinged with envy or resentment but only suffering one long rift, after their first disastrous foray into television, which was played here as a capitulation to metropolitan arrogance and a betrayal of their own comic instinct, painfully developed on a music-hall circuit of grotty digs and merciless audiences. A betrayal, too, of Sadie, whose shrewd advice was temporarily set aside. In total, six performers played Eric and Ernie, and not one of them let the others down - though the Erics, in the drama as in the original act, seemed to have a lot more fun.Tom Sutcliffe, The Independent, 3rd January 2011
With the film's affectionate focus, though, comes a certain sentimentality, but then, Morecambe and Wise's comedy signature was pretty soft and silly: they wanted to bring us sunshine, after all. And at least it's a change from just repeating the old shows again and again.Andrea Mullaney, The Scotsman, 3rd January 2011
It's one thing to make drama out of big, splashy, life-changing events -- births and deaths and alien invasions -- but there's something special about a writer who can make life's tiny triumphs and disasters sparkle.Helen Lewis-Hasteley, The New Statesman, 3rd January 2011
We have many wonderful hours of Morecambe and Wise shows which will undoubtedly be enjoyed for years to come. This drama devised by Victoria Wood and written by Peter Bowker deserves to be enjoyed along with them. Not only is it a fitting tribute to a great comedy double act, but its the first in such dramas that can be appreciated by the whole family - and that's probably how Eric and Ernie would have wanted it.Andy Howells, Suite 101, 2nd January 2011