A few nights ago, The Husband and I watched a TV show that we didn’t really mean to watch. You know what I mean – neither of us was bothered to take control of the remote, and we couldn’t choose a DVD to put on, and we were too tired to think about watching any of the (approximately) ten thousand shows we’ve recorded, so we just kept watching the channel we’d been watching already.
Which is how we managed to take in a documentary hosted by this lady:
about these two fellas here:
The lady is none other than the comedian and actor (or actress, if you prefer) Miranda Hart; I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, but I find her very amusing. I’ve often enjoyed her particularly awkward, slapstick brand of humour without realising that she believes she owes it all to the gents in the second picture – the unmistakeable Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, of course. The TV programme Hart hosted was her homage to the famous Morecambe and Wise, whose comedy she had grown up watching, and whose influence on her, apparently, was incalculable. It was a warm, honest and touching hour of TV, and I’m glad that I watched it. Though, I wish it had been a conscious choice instead of one made for me by my own apathy.
In any case, the point I’m trying to come to is this: Morecambe and Wise are, even now, pretty famous. At least, in my part of the world, they are. They’re known for their timeless comedy double act, their lifelong friendship, their many catchphrases and their still hilarious physical comedy routines. They’re comedy gold. Their very names are shorthand for success and achievement.
But until I watched Miranda Hart’s programme about their lives, I had no idea how much work they had to put into getting noticed and getting gigs, and how young they’d both been when they started their careers. Hart was allowed to look through an archive of letters that Morecambe and Wise had sent to producers and theatre owners all over the UK, begging to be given even the smallest opportunity, or even to be allowed to audition. Nobody was interested. Some of the rejections were polite and helpful, but most were dismissive. It was an eye-opener for me. I would’ve thought that people with the level of talent possessed by Morecambe and Wise would have met with immediate success and acceptance, and that the quality of their ability would have been obvious from the start. But it seems not.
Of course, I know all about authors and their struggles to make it. I’m aware how slow and painful a process it can be to get even a toe onto the publishing ladder, let alone make a living out of words. But for some reason, knowing that other creative pursuits have a similarly punishing induction regime was a revelation. As well as that, it was almost comforting, in an odd sort of way. Morecambe and Wise are deservedly famous, and have left a legacy second to none, because they were both extraordinarily talented in their own right but also because they managed to find each other – their unique ‘hook’ or selling point – and they worked so well as a team. And, also, because they worked – from a very early age, they were plying their trade and learning the ropes of showbiz. But if even people of their talent and ability had to struggle to make it, it makes the mountain facing me seem a little easier to climb. I’m not facing this mountain because I’m stupid, or unable to write, or don’t deserve a chance – I’m facing it because it faces everyone, and everyone finds their own way over it.
And, of course, the lesson is: there are no shortcuts. Good things come to those who wait, but also to those who work. This was true in the 1940s, as Morecambe and Wise were trying to sell their comedy routine, and it’s true now, too. It can be hard to remain patient and focused when you’re watching your email inbox like a hawk, or scouring Twitter for any mention of competitions you’ve entered or shortlists you’re hoping to make, but you just have to put all that to one side and remember to keep writing, and keep breathing. To use another aphorism – Slow and Steady Wins the Race.
I’ve always liked that one, actually.