Eric and Ernie bring us joy - part 2
When you imagine Eric and Ernie relaxing at home, it is impossible not to picture them prancing around the kitchen in their pyjamas making breakfast to the tune of The Stripper or sitting in bed together. But both women insist their husbands were quite different from their TV personas.
"Ernie wasn't the sort to crack jokes around the house . . . thank God," Doreen says with a smile. "He had a very subtle sense of humour."
Joan adds: "Eric was always very quick-witted and would crack people up. But he never did the things he did professionally, like skew his glasses."
Both Joan and Doreen met their husbands when they were young dancers working the variety circuit. Doreen was 15 when she started dating Ernie while working in Horley, Surrey.
She recalls: "He was six years older than me and seemed like an old man!"
Joan met Eric in 1951 while performing in a variety show where Morecambe and Wise were appearing.
She says: "I can still remember watching from the wings that night. I thought they were very special.
"I met Eric in 1951, we married in December 1952 and I had a baby in 1953 so it was all very quick. In a way it was a shame we didn't have more time to get to know one another. We took an awful chance really."
Doreen laughs: "We always thought we had to get Eric married off first otherwise we would have had three people in our marriage, like Princess Diana. They cancelled a broadcast in Manchester because of our wedding. I was never allowed to forget that!"
Nowadays Joan and Doreen both admit they tend to steer clear of comedy on TV altogether.
Doreen isn't complimentary about the most famous double act of the Noughties, Ant and Dec. "They don't act or perform, they are just presenters."
"I can't understand what they say half the time" she says. But Joan chips in kindly: "They are very modern but very talented."
Thanks to their ingenious sketches Eric and Ernie will always be wedded together in the public consciousness.
Doreen and Joan, now both well into their seventies, insist they were never forced to play second fiddle to their husbands' famous "comedy marriage".
"They were both very faithful," Joan says: "I never had to worry about Eric when he was away and I'm sure Doreen felt the same."
Doreen adds: "A lot of people imagined that Eric and Ernie socialised together. But the truth was they were always working so they spent most days together anyway."
Eric's widow told how her late husband spent every precious moment away from work at home with his family. The couple had two children, Gail and Gary, and adopted a son, Steven, in 1973.
Joan says: "When I had one baby I toured with Eric but it was very hard. I stopped when we had our second."
Life became easier when Eric and Ernie's TV career took off in the late 1960s. Joan says: "Eric had a home life for the first time. He could live with us and drive to work at Elstree studios.
"He loved coming home every evening because it was something he hadn't had before. And he was so glad that he was able to get to know his children."
Doreen, who never had children, still lives in the Berkshire home she shared with Ernie but rarely gets a chance to meet up with Joan, who lives in Harpenden, Herts, and has seven grandchildren. This year Joan will enjoy the kind of family Christmas Eric used to adore.
She says: "Christmas meant so much to him. The Christmas specials were pre-filmed so the worry was behind them and they could enjoy their time off."
And just as families up and down the country would plan Christmas Day around the Morecambe and Wise special, Joan and Doreen did too.
"We all used to sit down and watch it together," says Joan. "I think they heaved a sigh of relief later on if it went down well with the public.
"That was what mattered to them, and I am sure they'd be thrilled, all these years on, that they are still a part of people's Christmases."
© The Sun 2007