This Is Their Life
Ern in the Navy
“Historically,” says Ernie Wise, “it is the comic who dies first, Eric is the comic.”
“I don’t want to do a Sid James and die during a performance.” Says Morecambe.
All this is prompted by the sad fact of Morecambe’s second heart attack (which necessitated a 7-hour open heart operation in June), and the possibility that Britain’s top double act may be forced into retirement.
If they do split, Morecambe fancies a spot of acting. Not going to the National like Jimmy Jewell, but a radio sitcom, maybe.
He also has a novel about showbiz underway, but has been advised not to work too hard on it.
One thing he has been doing during his convalescence is growing a moustache, which seems to suit him rather well.
Morecambe & Wise took 38 years to reach their extraordinary position as clownish king-makers – the invitation to appear on one of their Christmas shows is apparently the most sought after accolade in a certain stratum of the entertainment world.
Old music hall turns like Harold Wilson and Angela Rippon have appeared, coming stars like Prince Charles, Anna Ford and Roddy Llewellyn have declined. Charles said our position makes it impossible.
John Eric Bartholomew and Ernie Wiseman met as young music hall artists. Then a singer, Morecambe had been entering talent contests since childhood and was eventually ‘spotted’ by Bryan Mitchie, who ran a discovery show.
Morecambe lives with his wife near Harpenden, where the locals don’t pester him. When he wants to be pestered he drives into Luton.
The Morecambe’s have a son Gary, an adopted son Steven, and a daughter.
Wise’s dilemma for some time has been what to do if Eric Morecambe is forced to retire.
He could, he says, be a fat Des O’Connor, but his real ambition is to star in a Hollywood film.
Meanwhile, he is working on two books. One of them is a series of recollections of the guests who have appeared with Morecambe & Wise, the other is a history of music hall double acts.
His own double act began in 1939, when he met Eric Morecambe on a bill in Swansea, and they became the best of firends.
They appeared together for four years before Wise was called up into the merchant navy- at the time they were appearing at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Strike A New Note.
A few months later, Morecambe became a Bevin boy, and they saw each other only rarely throughout the rest of the war.
On those few occasions, their attempts to put together new stuff for their act were unsuccessful.
Wise decided to go it alone when he left the merchant services, and didn’t even bother to get in touch with Morecambe when he was discharged.
One day, he was trekking from agent to agent in search of work, when he re-encountered Morecambe who was doing the same in Russell Square. They have been together ever since.
Wiseman’s father was a railway signalman with a wife and five children to keep, and he used to do a song and dance act around working clubs to augment his £2 a week wage.
Wise’s father taught him to clog dance and at the age of six, he joined the act. At the age of 12 he auditioned for a discovery show called New Voices, and Bryan Mitchie who ran it, recommended him to Jack Hylton, who put him on Band Wagon.
Hylton took him under his wing and used to invite him down to his home at Angmering, where Arthur Askey also lived.
He attributes to his odd, hard working and rather ‘adult’ childhood the fact that he and his wife Doreen with whom he lives at Maidenhead, have never had any children.
© Salamander Books 1979