The joy of comedy double acts
PUBLISHED: 15:32 12 August 2018 | UPDATED: 15:32 12 August 2018
After the loss of a Chuckle brother, Lynne Mortimer pays tribute to the great comedy double acts.
Children’s entertainer Paul Chuckle said he has “lost his very best friend” after his brother and comedy partner Barry died, in early August, at the age of 73.
The Chuckle Brothers were best known for their BBC show ChuckleVision which ran for 21 series from 1987 to 2009, bringing classic comedy to children’s TV and keeping slapstick fun alive for another generation.
But great double acts never disappear and although one Chuckle Brother is gone the legacy of the duo lives on.
Other great double acts have also gained immortality through their work and, none more so than Morecambe and Wise.
But there is an underlying sadness for a surviving comedy partner because, at a stroke, the double act has gone. But the affection of the public remains.
After the death of Eric Morecambe in 1984, Ernie Wise regularly appeared as a panellist on the ITV revival of the popular panel show What’s My Line? He was a guest several times on Countdown, had a gardening column in the News of the World newspaper and appeared in several West End plays. He also gave talks on cruises about his life as half of one of the most successful and popular British comedy double acts of all time.
Ernie Wise announced his retirement from show business on his 70th birthday in 1995, having remained in the public arena. But he never attempted to recreate a comedy partnership nor did he become a solo comedy performer.
The Chuckle Brothers and Morecambe and Wise are rare because, until one of them was gone, they never stopped working together. A temporary parting of the ways this year occurred for Geordie TV stars Ant and Dec. Seemingly inseparable, Dec had to host the live editions of Britain’s Got Talent alone after Ant became ill and was unable to continue. It has been reported that Ant is likely to be reunited with Dec later this year which will delight their millions of fans. Until this unscheduled break in transmission, many people only knew which was which of the joined-at-the-hip pair because Ant always stands on the left of the screen.
Many other double acts have separated with each half subsequently pursuing a successful solo career.
Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were an irreverent (and very funny) pair, and their work remains the stuff of legend... the National Gallery sketch, for example, where we discovered that Leonardo da Vinci’s cartoon never made Pete laugh. Later, Moore would go on to star in Hollywood movies and play jazz piano. Meanwhile, Cook’s acting career was more limited. His role in the first Supergirl film did not get great reviews although a cameo in The Princess Bride fared better. His main claim to subsequent fame was owning and writing for satirical magazine Private Eye.
Alas Smith and Jones comedy duo Griff Rhys Jones (who has a home in Suffolk) and Mel Smith (1952-2013) were known for their unique head-to-head sketches. The two were to go their separate ways artistically although together they founded the hugely successful Talkback television company. Both men went into film and television acting and Smith also worked as a director. In recent years Jones has done a raft of factual television shows such as Restoration and several travelogues.
One of the most successful separated double acts of all is that of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie who, as A Bit of Fry and Laurie gave us some unforgettable sketches. The pair also starred in Jeeves and Wooster, based on the PG Wodehouse books. Since the mid-90s, however, their solo careers have been triumphant. Laurie starred as the eponymous doctor in the award-winning US series House, has appeared in a number of feature films and is also an author. Norwich City supporter Stephen Fry has achieved a huge body of acclaimed work in the theatre, on film, on television and as an author.
Then there was the formation of The Two Ronnies − already successful in comedy, Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker combined their considerable comic forces to take TV’s Saturday evening prime-time by storm.
Finally, there are the double acts that will never be parted... Fred and Barney Flintstone, Wallace and Gromit, Tom and Jerry, R2D2 and C3PO.
The joy of double acts is watching two consummate performers bat the humour back and forth.
They’ve made us laugh.
Simply the best − Laurel and Hardy
Through film, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were the first double act to gain worldwide fame. It was the fledgling move industry that first brought them together. Previously both had worked separately in vaudeville − Laurel with Charlie Chaplin as part of Fred Karno’s Army and Hardy as a singer. The pair first worked together as a double act in 1926, officially becoming a team in the 1927 silent short film Putting Pants on Philip.
Successful double acts are defined by their relationship − a pompous know-all with an artless and slightly dim friend, in this case. At first their image was created with their stature and their signature hats. Later, when the talkies arrived, they would have their catchphrases. Most famously, Olly’s oft misquoted: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” You often see it as a “fine mess”.
Throughout their 30-year career − comprising 23 full-length feature films, 32 silent shorts and 40 short sound films the slapstick comedy duo remained firm friends.