He puffed on his new pipe, “There is nothing worse than two 43-year-old blokes chasing teenage girls in mini-skirts, is there? Nothing worse!”
Comedian Eric Morecambe talking. He was at first rehearsals this week with partner Ernie Wise for their eagerly-awaited comeback after Eric’s heart attack last November.
They are easing themselves back into their top slot on television with a series of four 45 minute shows to be screened on BBC2 and then on BBC1 later this year.
But they are not getting back into that old routine.
“There’ll be plenty of dollies in the series,” said Eric. “But we won’t be chasing ‘em any more. We won’t have sketches in which we have girls like that up to our flat. We think we’re too old.”
He grinned. “Mind you, what I do in my private life is another matter.”
“Joke, joke,” underlined Ernie.
“We’ve been wary of this aspect for two or three years and we’ve been tailing it off. With this new series it’s right out.” Said Eric.
“I don’t think the public have been much aware of it because we don’t look lecherous. But we have… been aware of it, I mean…. Not lecherous!”
Their new leading lady is Ann Hamilton, an attractive 28-year-old actress, dancer and comedienne.
“Doesn’t look so bad if we chase somebody her age,” joked Eric, or was it Ernie?
For they think so alike that their relationship is almost in the extrasensory perception league.
Their partnership is a marriage of talent filled with patter of many gags. Even on stage, Ernie is no longer a strict straight man to Eric’s capers.
Off stage they compete merrily for the laugh line. They race each other to dissect each comment in search of the funny bone.
“Yes, the occasional crumb of humour falls from his table and I grab it with both hands.” Said Ernie wrily. Definitely Ernie.
Because Eric said: “How can you pick a crumb up with both hands?”
Though they have small disagreements they have never had a row. “No point.” Said Ernie. “The only people who would suffer would be us, the act, our income.”
He looked at Ernie and they went into a routine.
“Money has never come between us.” Said Ernie.
“Because it has never got past him,” said Eric, and puffed the pipe that has become a permanent decoration since his heart attack. His doctor told him to cut out all cigarettes.
“I was reading an article the other day about lucky mascots.” Said Ernie. “I felt like writing in to say.. My lucky mascot is Eric Morecambe.”
“One thing Eric’s heart attack showed me was that people want the team Morecambe and Wise. When there’s only one of us the appeal is different.”
While Eric was recovering, Ernie was offered a children’s TV series ‘The Basil Brush Show’.”
The BBC also offered him a course on how to be a producer.
“But that got in the way of the course on how to be a comic.” Said Ernie.
“Which they offered me.” Said Eric.
“I can’t sit doing nothing.” Said Ernie. “So I went on holiday to Tenerife, Barbados and Portugal.”
“To sit doing nothing.” Said Eric.
“I brought out a Morecambe and Wise joke book which sold well.” Said Ernie. “I compered ‘Family Favourites’. I worked all the time on the basis that Eric was going to get better.”
“I promised him that I would.” Said Eric. “No seriously. I always belevied I would get well. I had great faith in the doctors.”
Ernie said: “While Eric was ill the thing I didn’t want to do was give the appearance of being a single act. I did some after dinner speaking.”
“At home.” Said Eric.
“Things like Conservative Women’s Association.” Said Ernie.
“I remember,” he added, “I once spoke to 500 women in one night – and three of them said yes.”
Before Eric could get the pipe from his mouth to cut in, Ernie cracked: “At one place somebody shouted ‘Ernie Wise is here’. And all the women grabbed me. It was marvellous. I was glad I’d shouted.”
Supposing Eric hadn’t got better? Could they have survived without ever working again.
“We could have survived,” Said Eric. “but not at the rate or standard of living we have at the moment.”
“I would have had to sell up. Buy a little place by a river and spend the rest of my life fishing. For food!” The billow of smoke signalled it was a joke and he liked it.
“I would probably have turned to writing.” Said Eric.
“No. Letters to Ernie.”
Behind the banter each has the cool, self-critical mind of the professional. They have analysed their humour and they know what makes it tick.
They have analysed their future and they aren’t going back to that old exhausting routine.
“We’re cutting down on the work.” Said Ernie. “We’re sticking to films, TV and radio. We’re going for more quality and less quantity.”
“We’re going for the things that produce more money but aren’t as time-consuming or hectic.”
“Seaside shows, pantomimes and clubs are out.” Said Eric. “No more driving a couple of hundred miles to see my family for one day at Christmas because I’m in pantomime somewhere.”
Films are high on their list of future ambitions.
“We’ve made three films and they’ve all been box office hits.” Said Eric. Or was it Ernie?
“I have always wanted to make a film in Hollywood.” Said Eric, or Ernie.
“That ambition has always been in my mind. But I suppose that has gone now.” Said Eric. Definitely Eric.
Because Ernie said: “Some people don’t seem to realise that when I’m doing a song and dance or playing in a sketch I’m doing it seriously, very seriously.”
“I was a song and dance man when Eric and I met and it is still my first love.”
“I’m his second.” Said Eric.
Now there is a new, stronger determination about them. New, bigger ambitions.
“We haven’t yet done what we want to do in films.” Said Eric. “but plans are under way.”
There is an even more acute striving for perfection.
“For a start our new TV series will be quicker and have more variety.” Said Ernie.
And that’s Morecambe and Wise after the event.
© Daily Mirror 1969