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We interview Martin Wimbush


Martin Wimbush

Playing Rev. Crisparkle
Martin Wimbush is a versatile film, stage and television actor with credits in such productions as Ali G Indahouse, Cape Wrath, Mean Machine and Then Churchill Said To Me. He was also in the original cast of The Mystery Of Edwin Drood along with Lulu and Ernie Wise. This was the first major work Ernie Wise did after the death of Eric. It didn't fair so well and lasted only 10 weeks.

Martin kindly gave us an interview about his memories of the role and how Ernie coped with being back in the public eye again.

Hello and thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Before we get to Ernie, can you tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Martin Wimbush, I'm 58, and I've been a professional actor now for 38 years, earning my living in theatre, TV, films and commercials. I was born and brought up in London and trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, between 1967-69. I then worked extensively in regional theatre, before going into television and then later into film. I live in Wandsworth and Rye, with my partner Marie.

I can remember wanting to be an actor when I was 10 and started to act in school plays and also with groups outside the school and that enthusiasm continued into my teens, when I became an active member of my local amateur theatre club, the Teddington Theatre Club. After a number of years working with them, and in school plays, I finally applied for entrance to Drama School and was thrilled to be accepted, by the Guildhall School, when I was 18. The prospect of studying something that I really loved, I'll never forget.

How did you get the part in Edwin Drood?
I was in a play by Alan Ayckbourn at the time, call Just Between Ourselves at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. My agent arranged an interview for me, to go and meet the producers of the show. It was for the part of Rev. Crisparkle and I think an actor had dropped out leaving the space.

Do you know who it was?
I think it was Sylvester McCoy. He was at the time being considered for the part of Dr. Who which incidentally, I was up for too. I don’t think I was on the shortlist but I had applied very strongly for the part and it a part I wanted my agent to pursue.

I think Sylvester was down to play Rev. Crisparkle, but obviously once he got the part of Dr. Who, he choose that instead.

What happened?
I went along and there was about fifteen prospective candidates in the room. I sang the song Comedy Tonight which is a jolly, happy song, to the producers who seemed to enjoy it. That was on a Friday morning, on Friday afternoon I got a call from them asking if I had a show reel. The director, Wilford Leach, was in America and wanted to see some of my work.

This was the time before we could do things on the internet and send videos in emails or YouTube. I rushed to an editing suite in Soho armed with a load of videos and managed to put something together ready to send on Monday.

Late Monday afternoon, before I’d sent it, I got a call from the agents saying I didn’t need to send it. The director didn’t want the show reel; he was going to go with me anyway – I’d got the part. Oh, wonderful day!

Were you aware that Ernie was in the show at that time?
Yes, it was a great thrill for me. One, to be in this super West End show with a really good part and two, because I was going to work with one of the all time comedy greats.

I had always loved Morecambe & Wise. They had great skill in the way they played comedy and they were an institution. It was so sad when Eric died, it was the only time I ever rang up a radio station. I heard he had died and I was so moved, as were all of us. I felt the only way I could express my grief was to call up LBC in London and express how I felt.

It was a great privilege to work with one of them and also an interesting experience to see how Ernie would manage now. This was Ernie’s great chance to get back into his own, as a performer.

It was Ernie first time back in the West End since 1938 when he was called England’s Mickey Roonie. Do you think he was prepared?
Both Eric and Ernie had the good upbringing through theatre and you can see that in their act. They had this extraordinary and wonderful grounding in variety. That gave them the experience, and in Ernie’s case, in song and dance.

I could see as we approached rehearsals, and as we got into them, that Ernie was much more comfortable with the song and dance aspects of the show as perhaps he was the acting side.

Ernie always said he was a song and dance man..
Yes, I felt that. He was very nimble on his feet and adept as a performer. He could really sell a number and you could feel that in the way he approached his work. He could certainly win an audience over.

I also felt the frustration sometimes of him suddenly being in this large company and having to prove himself. That must have caused him a lot of worry.

So you think he thought he was starting all over again, having to prove himself?
Yes. The spotlight was so obviously on him and it must have been difficult. People always knew him as part of Morecambe & Wise and now here he was on his own. Not so much in the shadow of his partner, but people must have been thinking about it. Even though they were both linked together, they still had separate identities. This was Ernie’s chance to show his own identity.

There was great buoyancy and enthusiasm at the start of rehearsals - a great sense of energy for the whole of the first week.

How was Ernie during the rehearsals?
He was very professional as you would expect. He really wanted to engage with the company, I felt that tremendously.

© 2008
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