Heart to Heart with Doreen
Ernie Wise never forgot his roots, telling many stories to his wife Doreen about his upbringing in East Ardsley and childhood performances in Morley.
Doreen at the unveiling
Doreen Wiseman was guest of honour at the unveiling of her late husband's statue in the town centre and said he had fond memories of the place he grew up and started a career that would span more than 40 years.
"He was a song and dance man, that's how he started," Doreen said.
"His father would enter him into every competition and he would always come first – which upset him!
"First prize was always money, but he wouldn't get to see it, so he wanted to come in second or third place because the prizes were other things like chocolate, which he could keep for himself."
The eldest of five children, one of whom died as a baby, Doreen said Ernie became the breadwinner in the family.
"He remembered the clubs that he started performing in when he was just six and seven years old. He would tap dance in clogs and collect pennies that were thrown at him. He kept them piled up in the corner of a cupboard.
"One year, there was a raffle prize of a budgie in a cage. He thought it was wonderful and was told that the following year he could have one.
"He went back the year after and there it was. He took it home and into his bedroom, which was in the attic, but he didn't like the fact it was in a cage so one morning he let it out to fly around and he went off to school.
"In the meantime, his mum went into his room and opened the window and when he came home it had gone. He had waited a whole year for it and only had it for two days! That's one memory he has of Morley.
"For years afterwards he would always be picking up budgies!"
Melanin Wilks, who sculpted the 7ft statue, said she had depicted Ernie as a song and dance man, something Doreen said he was most happy being.
"When he was 12 he was in a competition and ended up going off to London with Jack Hilton – he was always more interested in music and dancing.
"He worked with choreographer Ernest Maxim and together they would copy dance routines from Hollywood musicals. Singing and dancing was when he was most happy."
From the late 1960s, the Morecambe and Wise Show was watched by millions of fans all over the UK, but Doreen said there was a lot of hard work involved, not only making the shows, but outside work too.
"Back then there were only two or three TV channels and on Christmas Day it would be the Queen's speech followed by the Morecambe and Wise Show.
"It was very hard work for them and they also did many other things outside the theatre too, doing telethons, auctions and working in variety clubs.
"When Eric died, Ernie went to New Zealand twice to do telethons. He would go to open shops and visit hospitals and hospices which were very upsetting. He would talk to the nurses to see how people were doing and it wasn't always good."
In 1990 the spotlight was on Ernie when he was told This is Your Life and handed the famous big red book.
"It was terrible trying to keep the secret," Doreen said.
“There were times I told myself that I was just going to have to tell him! But, I kept it from him and had three weeks to get things together.
“He was told that he was doing an interview with Angela Rippon and he asked me to go along.
He kept asking if I wanted to take my coat off, but I couldn’t because he would wonder why I was so dressed up!”
After speaking to people from Morley and East Ardsley who knew Ernie last week at the unveiling, Doreen said she wished she’d have known about his old friends at that time of his This is Your Life appearance.
“It would have been nice to have known about his friends from his schooldays and spoken to them back then,” she said.
“He remembered those days well, such as eating a stick of rhubarb and sugar from East Ardsley on his way to school.
“Talking to people now, they remember things that I don’t! I must have forgotten a lot of things, but then they remind me. Lots of memories came flooding back from over the years by speaking to people.”
And Morley’s permanent tribute to her late husband has certainly been given her seal of approval.
“It really is very good. It’s a lovely tribute and Melanie has been great.”
Many thanks to Leanne Clarke for allowing us to publish this article.
© Morely Observer 2010