The Real Eric, Ernie and Me
Feature from 2017
Dramatizations are, by definition, a telling of a story from a certain perspective. That perspective can not always be accurate or indeed truthful. Television audiences demand something juicy, something that may cause raised eyebrows or something they had not heard before, they will not settle for the mundane no matter how accurate it is. This is the problem with trying to add extra drama to something that already has drama, but not seemingly enough to be broadcast.
There is a lot of material about Eddie`s relationship with Eric and Ern, and all of it is consistent, which can therefore be taken as being accurate. There is drama in this story and it features some of the biggest names in television both in front of and behind the screen.
Eddie`s own book, The Book What I Wrote, is a great starting point for this rollercoaster of a story. Starting life as a green grocer in a market, writing jokes on the bags of fruit and veg he sold, sending them to comedians hoping they would pick them up. Eventually leading to working for, and being the gag man behind one of the country`s top comedians and comedy legend Ken Dodd.
This is a real drama just in that episode of his life before he even met Morecambe and Wise. The pressure of writing joke after joke for a man who got laughs at an astonishing rate, even asking for new material a few minutes before walking on stage.
Eddie also did radio interviews and television interviews, a good example was the radio special called Somebody Laughed broadcast in 2007 and the article in the TV Times from 1980. We also have in our archives a private 50 minute interview covering all aspects of his life, not to mention interviews with other people who knew him like Eric and Ern`s families. From these sources then we can identify the things that were dramatized.
Why do this? Well, over the years as people watch these shows they can weave their way into history as facts, and often then be used later on in a way that depicts the drama as real life. This happens all the time, especially in showbusiness. Someone can tell a joke about a known individual, which then gets spread, changed slightly and eventually stops being a joke and becomes fact. The excellent TV film Eric and Ernie from 2011 staring Victoria Wood was also guilty of changing the truth and from that people may think that Eric met his wife to be Joan, in a completely different place.
Eddie first saw Morecambe and Wise perform by accident in the 60`s. He had gone to see Lena Hall at the Liverpool Empire, and one of the support acts were Eric and Ern. Eddie recalled them being `awful` but later understood they were learning their trade and working hard to become better. He hoped he would never see them again.
He heard them a few years later on radio and picked up on the fact they had improved, but sadly then went on to Running Wild. He also did not like the ATV shows but acknowledges the work done by the writers to mould Eric and Ern into a popular act.
Bill Cotton approached Eddie and enquired if he would like to write for Eric and Ern, and he said he would. He also warned Bill that their comedy was not his style of writing and so things may not work out well. He agreed to meet up with the boys a few days later and that meeting would change the lives of everybody present.
Eddie states the meeting lasted about three hours but after ten minutes he knew something special was happening. He had noticed the closeness and wondered why this wasn`t coming across on the screen. He knew what had to be done and accepted the offer to try and write a show. He was back after seven days and the boys laughed aloud at the script. Despite this, they said they couldn`t do it.
Bill persuaded Eric and Ern to give it a try on BBC2, after which he was instantly asked to write the whole series (and not one by one as the drama portrays). The first line `Keep going you fool` was not suggested just before recording, adding material at this stage would never happen, instead Eddie repurposed an old joke that even Ken Dodd used many years before into the original script.
He was not always at rehearsals, often sending the scripts by post. Any changes were small, with Eric and Ern always working to one simple rule; if any one of them did not like it, it would not go into the show. They often changed words, swapped around roles or offered suggestions. They spent two hours working through just one line to make it fit the rhythm of delivery, so any changes they requested, Eddie knew were not just flippant remarks or judgements about his ability. In fact Eric and Ern often said that his was the hardest job in comedy. Having to sit in front of a blank sheet of paper with 27 million viewers wait to see what he could come up with.
It was this pressure that caused health problems and the delivery of a blank script with a note attached asking them to write their own. There were never any arguments or raised voices, instead it was discussion, suggestion and laughter.
Gary Morecambe recalls;
"The one very important thing to remember when trying to separate fact from fiction, is that Eric and Ernie only saw Eddie on rare occasions. Eddie certainly didn`t come marching in with bundles of scripts under his arm as in the bio-pic! He posted them! He preferred to stay in Liverpool and, later, his home in Wales. Also, any changes made to those scripts - and Eddie himself said `They took a good script and made it brilliant...` - was M&W doing what their screen credit endorsed; supplying additional material. It wasn`t a case of their producer ringing up and apologising for suggested changes and/or additions. Eric, Ernie and Eddie were a team! All of this was teamwork."
The American shows caused probably the most in-depth discussion, as Ernie desperately wanted to break the US market. Eric was the opposite, but would not upset his partner by refusing point blank. He gave it a try.
"The main reason Eric gave up on the idea of making it big in America," Gary mentions, "was down to his failing health. M&W went backwards and forwards to the states for Ed Sullivan in the mid and late sixties, and had planned to continue to do so, until Eric had his first very major heart attack in 1968. It took all his efforts through recuperation even to make it back to work in the UK, where they already were big stars. Personally, I sense Eric always looked upon America as a direct link to his illness. Ernie, I`m sure, looked upon America as unfinished business. But they always agreed to disagree on this issue, which is why no harsh words were ever exchanged between them about it."
Dramatizations are a good form of entertainment, especially if they are done well, but we have to be careful not to take them as fact, especially if the material could in anyway damage the reputation of the people they depict. Eric, Ernie and Me got a lot right; the set designs for Delgano Way were particularly good and the portrayal of John Ammonds was also very good.
Keeping Morecambe & Wise on the screens, even after so many years have passed since their festive spectaculars, is a good thing, long may it continue. Please remember though, normal mundane stories do not get commissioned, even if it involves the biggest stars. Revelations, scandal and sometimes highly innacurate events, sell. Just ask any journalist.
© Morecambeandwise.com 2017