We’ve seen some of the greatest comedy duos over the years, from Morecambe and Wise to Reeves and Mortimer to Mitchell and Webb and to The Dangerous Brothers (the comedy double act name of Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson), and over the years we’ve seen these double acts and many more perform live with the sort of chemistry that makes it obvious that they loved each other like brothers in real life.
In a lot of cases, behind the scenes looks over the years have shown how close some comedy duos have been. Morecambe and Wise for example were said to be closer than most brothers, before Rik Mayall died, he and Ade Edmondson were best friends for almost all of their adult lives and Vic Reeves has said that Bob Mortimer is “like a brother.”
And it’s always so nice to see that some of the country’s greatest comedy partners really do love each other in real life – there’s something so satisfying about it. But on the other end of things, it’s always so disheartening to hear that comedy stars, that seem to have so much chemistry on screen, actually either hated each other or grew to hate each other in real life.
It sort of feels like warring parents, and we as fans are caught in the middle – wishing that mom and dad would just stop bickering and please get along.
But unfortunately, sometimes the bad blood is never resolved, and the bad feelings are the ones that end up lasting. So with that, here are 12 comedy stars – in six partnerships – that absolutely despised each other.
Can’t we all just get along?!
6.Rodney Bewes and James Bolam (The Likely Lads)
Before the song by The Libertines, the Likely Lads was a staple of British TV for a decade from 1964 to 1974 – starting in black and white and ending up in colour.
It was one of the biggest shows on TV and outside of Morecambe and Wise, they were probably the most well known and funniest comedy partnership on British TV during that time. Everybody remembers the lines of the opening song, but those words become all the more melancholy when you learn about how a friendship ended over the most trivial of things.
“Oh, what happened to you, whatever happened to me? What became of the people we used to be?” Those were the lyrics, and I can imagine that Rodney Bewes and James Bolam asked themselves those very same questions as the years went by, and the pair drifted further apart, each standing at opposite sides of a sea of ill-feeling.
It’s hard to imagine that 40 years of hatred began over something as trivial as an ill-timed joke in 1976 that sparked a row like never before, but that’s what happened.
But it ran deeper than just a falling out and a subsequent loss of contact over the years, it became far more cruel than just a friendship ending – as tragic as that is. In the end, it was over money.
After that phone call, the pair were no longer on speaking terms, and with that, one of the most famous and loved shows on British TV for a decade was no more. But despite Bewes repeated pleas for reconciliation over the years, his former comedy partner never budged, and the pair never made up.
It ended up being a one-sided feud, but it was a feud that cost Bewes dearly over the years, as Bolam refused to give the green light to what would have been an endless slew of reruns of the pair’s show over the years. This denied Bolam years of TV royalties and repeat fees that were estimated to be up to £4,000 per episode, which would have drastically changed Bewes financial situation.
In 2010 he commented that despite being an old man, well into his 70s, he still had a mortgage and an overdraft that could have been wiped out completely with a single run of the 26 episodes of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads, and the lost earnings from what would have been 40 years of repeats have cost him a fortune.
He said that “to stop other people earning money is cruel.”
It all went sour when Bewes made a joke in a newspaper about Bolam’s wife’s pregnancy. Bolam took it badly, and when Bewes rang up to apologise Bolam slammed the phone down and never spoke to his former comedy partner again.
But when he spoke to the BBC, Bolam insisted that the pair had drifted apart due to busy schedules rather than a fall-out.
“This is what happens in acting,” Bolam told BBC Radio Sussex. “You work with people, who get to know them, you like them, we have a great time and the job finishes and you go off and it all starts again with other people and you can’t keep contact with everybody that you know.”
Nevertheless, even when Bewes’ wife, Daphne Black, died in 2015, Bolam did not even get into contact with Bewes to offer his condolences. And now that Rodney Bewes has tragically passed away, they will never get a chance to rekindle their friendship.
All this over a joke.
5.Wilfrid Bramble and Harry H. Corbett (Steptoe and Son)
They say that the best comedy comes from situations in which the characters are trapped, and in the case of the turbulent and complicated history of Steptoe and Son – one of the most famous sitcoms of its age – this was a case of art imitating life like never before.
The Bramble and Corbett couldn’t be more difficult off screen, one was a professional character actor (Bramble) and the other, Corbett, was a radical and serious actor, who acted as the leading light in British Method acting. The writer of Steptoe and Son said that he was “England’s Marlon Brando” and early in his career, he was forging a reputation as one of the country’s best and most intense acting talents.
But the problem was, Corbett – a staunch student of Method – took himself and his work very seriously, and was no happier than when in the theatre. But in Steptoe and Son, a performer once described as one of the leading lights in British acting, fell victim to the trappings of sitcom, and died a bitter and frustrated artist.
Bramble was world’s away from the character that he played on Steptoe and Son, in the show, his character was, basically, a dirty old man. But in reality, Bramble was an elegant and perfect snob, in the visual sense, and was described as being a “very elegant and dapper little man.”
But though he liked to cultivate the image of finery, Bramble was in fact had a serious problem with alcohol that, perhaps, was in part brought on by the frustration and desperation of being gay in a time when at first it was outright illegal (until 1967) and then a career killer.
Because of the success of the show – the pair found themselves linked to each other for most of their remaining careers. For Bramble, it was a chance at financial security, but for Corbett, it was a bear trap that led to being typecast as the scraggly rag-and-bone-man.
But as the years went on, Bramble’s combustible social life made things very difficult for the more serious Corbett. Bramble was an alcoholic, and as such, was as about as reliable as a seaside town’s mobile signal.
And just as Harold and Albert Steptoe were imprisoned together in the sitcom, Corbett and Bramble found themselves typecast and trapped together for much of their remaining careers. And because of their vastly different personalities, not to mention Bramble’s reliance on alcohol making him difficult to work with, Corbett’s patience wore thinner and thinner, until the pair couldn’t stand each other.
It was on a tour to Australia in the late 70s, after the show had ended with the pair unable to find any steady work outside of their much loved characters, that Bramble and Corbett’s relationship finally hit rock bottom. In the end, they spent five and a half months in Australia together, but were barely on speaking terms, and to that matter, were barely in the same room.
4.James Corden and Matthew Horne
As Gavin and Smithy, the pair were best friends on screen and off screen, and at one time, they were tipped to be the next Morecambe and Wise, they were joined at the hip for a long time, but through one thing and another, although ‘despise’ may be an exaggeration, the pair’s relationship slowly fell apart.
Their relationship took a hit when they were riding on the success of Gavin and Stacey, and produced a few missteps in their careers – one of which being the maligned six-part sketch series Horne and Corden.
In 2011, Corden reflected on his relationship with Horne, and said that the relationship was “slowly improving” as he said: “We had such an intense love for each other.
“We never fell out, it was never that. We were one person for a long time.
“Things were offered to us after Gavin And Stacey and we just rushed into them. If I have one regret, it was we just rushed those things.
“We never stopped to think about the work enough.
“We did our own sketch show but the reaction was fierce. It was hard to go through that. We were riding this amazing wave and then it just dropped.
“In one year we spent 263 days together and we went from that to nothing.
“We didn’t speak for a few months. We both had to find and establish ourselves outside the two of us. We never planned to be a double act.
“We talk occasionally. I still count him as a dear friend.
“I love him very much. He is so talented. I love him to bits.”
Though it was received well by some, Horne and Corden the sketch show was trashed by a lot of critics, with one saying per The Guardian: “There’s a sketch about a gay war reporter, a cock-drawing class in a boys’ school, Spiderman and Superman meet in the changing rooms, a bloke takes forever to reach a climax. Clever, see?
“It’s crude, but that’s not the problem; crude can be funny. Not here, though, because of how artlessly it’s done. It looks as if they’ve just thought of these comedy situations, and then not really known how to fill them in. Never has a three-minute sketch felt so long, and the joke inevitably comes down to the fact that James Corden is fat and is happy to show us his wobbly bits. Or one of them gets his butt out.”
Other flops such as including a vampire movie and a disastrous presenting job at The Brits led them to go their different ways, after a strain was put on their bromance, and make it on their own.
But speaking with The Daily Mirror in 2016, Horne said that he and Corden are still friends, and that they have mended their friendship, but he is a bit jealous of his pal’s success stateside: [he] “is still the same old James – he’s just being paid millions to chat to Hollywood megastars”.
And while James has flown off to America, Horne has established himself as one of the most in-demand actors in the country, with turns in Bad Education, Agatha Raisin, Teachers, Doc Martin and Robin Hood.
He concluded: “James remains a friend and never wasn’t a friend. We have remained friends ever since we met.
“We have done various bits of work together and now we are both off doing other things.
“He is still the same old James really – just that he’s now earning millions in Hollywood, meeting mega stars and interviewing them.
3.Peter Kay and Dave Spikey
When you think of the success of the critically acclaimed sitcom Phoenix Nights, then you might think that the brains behind the success was Peter Kay, but that wasn’t exactly the case.
Phoenix Nights was a collaboration between Peter Kay, Dave Spikey and Neil Fitzmaurice (of Peep Show fame, playing Jeff) and are credited equally with the writing of the show.
Before and after the show’s huge success, Spikey and Kay became something of a double act, not in so much as performing together as a double act but they were regular collaborators and had known each other for many years.
However, it seems as though the success that brought them fame also brought about the beginning of the end for their friendship, at least for a while.
Speaking with the Manchester Evening News in 2010, the Bolton born comic Spikey detailed the reasoning behind his fallout with his fellow Bolton native.
Spikey said: “Anything you write, it just sounds like sour grapes.
“I chose not to comment at the time. But now I think that if it’s part of your life, you’ve got to comment on it.
“He rang me and Neil Fitzmaurice, the other writer on Phoenix Nights, and said we’d been nominated for a Writers Guild Of Great Britain award.
“We thought it was fantastic, only for it to go away and for us to discover that actually we hadn’t been nominated, it was only Peter.
“And you think, ‘well, he’s probably not going to accept that because of all the work we did’.
“There were three writers. If you’re talking about the person who sat down at the end and collated everything and wrote it, then that was Peter. If that’s how you qualify, by putting the words on the paper, then so be it.
“But we submitted lots of dialogue and we had brain-storming sessions.
“I did lots of research for it on my own. I took Peter to loads of clubs and I even sent my own wife to an Ann Summers night for research!
“I think credit where credit’s due really. We were the writers of it.”
But thankfully in 2015, after a decade of not being on speaking terms, Spikey said that he was relieved to say that he and Peter Kay are now okay again.
But all of that ill-feeling vanished in an instant when Kay decided to give Spikey a phone call, completely out of the blue.
He said: “Peter’s call came like a bolt from the blue. It really knocked me sideways.
“We hadn’t spoken for over ten years and it had been 12 years since we filmed the last Phoenix Nights. Life had moved on. I always hoped we’d get back together but the longer things went on, the less likely it was.
“It was little awkward at first but then Peter told me he was planning a Phoenix Nights live show for Comic Relief and asked what I thought.
“Without hesitation I said: ‘I’m in!’ I really didn’t have to think twice. Deep down it was what I had always wanted.
“It was nice to hear from Peter. We’d obviously grown apart but within a few moments in the rehearsal room in Wakefield the years just faded away and it was like we’d never been away.
“Deep down he’s a terrific bloke and it was great to be onstage with Paddy McGuinness again. He hasn’t changed. He is same old Paddy as he was all those years ago. Daft as a brush.
“I can honestly say that those 16 live dates were the best couple of weeks of my life, It was really wonderful to have everyone back together.”
It’s nice to see that the pair have patched things up!
2.Cannon and Ball
Whatever you may think about them, make no mistake about it – back in their heyday, Cannon and Ball did huge business and were the biggest double act in the country. They were another duo tipped to the next Morecambe and Wise, but this time the endorsement came from a more credible source – from Eric Morecambe himself.
After hitting it big on the OG talent show Opportunity Knocks, Cannon and Ball toured the country a thousand times over and made not only a huge name for themselves, but an absolute fortune at the box office, as they had become one of the biggest draws in the country – even outselling Bruce Springsteen during his 1985 UK Tour.
And in 1985, they were truly at the peak of their powers. After spending 18 years touring the club circuit, times in Britain began to change, and by the end of the 70s, people stopped going to nightclubs (they weren’t the nightclubs we know now, they were more like variety clubs. Dinner, drinks and a show, that sort of thing) and started going to discotheques instead (or the modern day nightclub).
But after getting their big break on TV soon after – The Cannon and Ball Show – the northern duo were taken into the hearts of the nation, and regularly commanded more than 18 million viewers each week.
And they even had groupies. In an interview recounting their success and the ladies that followed it, Ball said: “Oh aye, there were plenty of women. As many as you wanted. You’d go to a club and stand by the bar and in seconds they’d be around you in droves.”
But it wasn’t all good – even though they were the nation’s favourite double act, and they were making more money than they knew what to do with, the pair’s relationship was suffering, and deteriorated to the point where apart from rehearsals and being on stage, they didn’t speak for three years.
“We started on the shop floor as welders, we went through 18 years in the clubs and then we got big,” says Ball. “We had entourages in those days. We didn’t even know how to check into a hotel. We were surrounded by all these people who were gossiping. They wanted to divide and conquer and instead of sitting down and saying, ‘What’s wrong?’ – we stopped speaking.”
But apart from his indiscretions with women, Ball was also drinking heavily and getting into fights, and needed something to bring him back from the brink before it was too late, and that’s exactly what happened when he had a chance encounter with theatre chaplain Max Wrigley at The Alhambra in Bradford in 1986 that brought him back from the edge.
“I got talking to him and attacked him verbally about God,” says Ball. “But he had a peace about him. I can’t explain exactly what he had but he had something that I didn’t have. One day I asked to speak to him and after a while he said, ‘Let’s pray.’ I’d never prayed in my life but we prayed and it just changed my life – like that [he snaps his fingers].”
And the rest, as they say, is history. Now a changed man, Ball went home and confessed about his behaviour to wife Hazel, and she thankfully forgave him, and he immediately set about repairing his broken relationship with comedy partner.
And now, they are still working, loving every minute of it, and are as close as ever.
1.Matt Lucas and David Walliams
I remember the cultural phenomenon that Little Britain was back in the early 2000s, I was in high school, and you couldn’t turn a corner without hearing one of the hundreds of catchphrases that came from the show echo around the halls.
And it was just that, it was a cultural phenomenon that made Lucas and Walliams, for a brief time, the most celebrated double act in the country.
Matt Lucas and David Walliams met in the 90s, but it wasn’t until Little Britain that they found any major success. Lucas got his start on TV at the age of 21 playing George Dawes in Reeves and Mortimer’s Shooting Stars, but after Little Britain hit the screens, their lives were changed forever.
Initially broadcasting on BBC Three and then moving to BBC One when the ratings became so huge, the show regularly drew upwards of 12 million viewers, which in today’s viewing – even in the early and mid 2000s, is absolutely unheard of for a comedy show.
But it was the trappings of success that ultimately drove the once good friends apart. It start off as small disagreements that would simmer and fill the room with tension, and then it grew into full blown screaming matches as the pair traded insults at each other just before the curtain went up of their sell out live UK tour.
They struggled on while the getting was good – they remade Little Britain in the USA and embarked on their last comedy venture as a double act Come Fly With Me, which received poor ratings at the time, but was absolutely hilarious, and I don’t care what anyone says.
Jealously crept in too, as Matt Lucas had to watch while David Walliams went from being just another comedian to being one of the A-List celebrities in the UK.
And while some other double acts in this list have gotten back together, it seems as though Matt Lucas and David Walliams will probably never work together again, because if Lucas’ autobiography is to go by, things are still quite bitter between the pair.
Maybe it’s for the best, because their brand of comedy – though amazingly popular and funny at one time – could never be done now.