The Morecambe and Wise BBC Television shows, dozens of which were produced by John Ammonds, are now regarded as leading examples of the golden age of television – especially the Christmas specials, in which all sorts of celebrities were persuaded to engage in any manner of activities.
In addition, Ammonds produced series with the bumbling comic Harry Worth (1960); the chart-topping singer Lulu (1968 and 1973); the impressionist Mike Yarwood (1976-78); and comedians Dick Emery (1976), Bernie Winters (1978-80) and Jim Davidson (1979-80).
Ammonds began his BBC career at the age of 16 as a sound effects boy, often working on comedy programmes, such as the morale-boosting Second World War show ITMA [It’s That Man Again]. These programmes started to teach him the importance of comic timing. The right sound at the right time would raise a laugh. If it came a second earlier or later, it might not.
After the war, Ammonds was a producer in the variety department, often working on programmes that were cobbled together with extraordinary speed. Ammonds could be called upon to rewrite material or even dream up sketches himself.
He first worked with Morecambe and Wise in Manchester, producing two series of their radio show You’re Only Young Once (1954). Ammonds then moved into television, as did Morecambe and Wise, but they appeared in a series for Associated Television – Two of a Kind (1961-68).
At the end of the run, Morecambe and Wise returned to the BBC, and again worked with Ammonds. But now they had a new scriptwriter, the brilliant Eddie Braben, who had previously supplied material for Ken Dodd. During the 1970s, the main BBC Television Christmas show was a Morecambe and Wise special with a star-studded array of guests.
On one show, the somewhat starchy newsreader Angela Rippon emerged from behind her desk to exhibit a shapely pair of legs and prove that she was a terrific dancer. On another, Andre Previn, under the illusion he was going to conduct Yehudi Menuhin, found instead that his soloist was a ham-fisted Eric Morecambe.
In 1974, Ammonds left the show to tend his wife, who had become ill. But the three protagonists were reunited for a Thames Television series that ran from 1979 to 1981. These, however, were pale imitations of the BBC shows.
John Ammonds, who was born on May 21, 1924, died on February 13, aged 88.