TV All Stars Annual 1970
A piece of advice from mother thirty years ago put comedians Morecambe and Wise on the road to success in show business. The advice? To form a partnership and become a ‘double act’.
Today Eric Morecambe, who was born in Morecambe, and Ernie Wise, born in Leeds, are without doubt the most popular comedy partnership in the country.
But Ernie recalls: “We were travelling by train from Birmingham to Coventry during the blitz in 1940 when Eric’s mother, Mrs. Sarah Bartholomew, who was accompanying us, suggested that we should try to become a double act.”
“Eric and I had known each other for several months as we were appearing in Bryan Michie’s show ‘Youth Takes a Bow’. The idea appealed to us and we decided to give it a try.”
“I shall always remember our first meeting.” Says Eric Morecambe. “I didn’t like Ern. He was wearing his first pair of long ‘uns. I was still in short trousers. He was big-headed about it!”
That meeting was the start of an act which has now become the biggest comedy partnership of all times. An act which was later to see them take the theatre and television by storm.
Eric went on: “We didn’t have time to really make an impact as a double act before Ernie was called up into the Merchant Navy.”
“When he went away I teamed up with the brother of the late Dave Morris as a ‘feed’, and that’s when I took the name of my home town- to form Morris and Morecambe.”
“This partnership didn’t last long though, because I, too, was conscripted. I became a ‘Bevin Boy’ and disappeared down the mines for a while.”
A chance meeting in a Sanger’s Circus Show in 1947 – where they were both booked as single acts – led to Morecambe and Wise re-forming their double act.
“I also met my wife Doreen, who was a dancer in the show.” said Ernie Wise, whose real name is Wiseman, “When I bumped into Eric again we thought we would try our luck together, and before the road show tour ended we had re-established our act.”
“In those days we were only just making a living,” he said, “I think we earned £12 a week and had to divide that into two. But after the show we went into panto with Lupino Lane, and from there to variety and revues.”
In 1952 Eric met Joan, an ex-beauty queen who was a dancer in a show which featured Morecambe and Wise in Edinburgh. They married in December of that year and now live in Harpenden, Herts, and have two children, Gail and Gary.
“That same year we decided we ought to broadcast.” says Ernie Wise, “We cornered a BBC producer in a bar at the Tivoli Theatre in Hull, and before we were through with him, we had earned ourselves a spot on ‘Workers Playtime’.”
“Then things really began to move for us. Our money must have gone up a little, because in 1953 I could afford to marry Doreen after courting her for six years.”
It wasn’t long before the comics had their own radio show in the North called “You’re Only young Once”. This met with such a success that they were asked to do three more series.
Then came television. Morecambe and Wise did their first BBC TV show in 1953, and they were offered a series of their own. It was called Running Wild. Although it wasn’t a success, the TV exposure made them much bigger names, and for the next few years, although fame eluded them, they worked steadily in variety, summer shows and pantomime.
Then, in 1960, the comics had a determined attack on television. Before the end of October they had made over a dozen appearances in major TV shows, including ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium”, to which they returned many times.
“We were being asked to do our own series before the end of the year.” Says Ernie. “But we waited until we were fairly sure of the scripts, and then in the spring of 1961 we did our first ATV series.”
By the autumn they were topping TV popularity polls with this series, and in the succeeding years they have starred in many editions of ‘The Morecambe and Wise Show’.
It has in fact brought them international fame. They ‘pioneered’ the export of British comedy show to America and Canada – having recorded many hour-long colour comedy shows in Britain which have been sold to the American Television networks.
In 1968 they took a special edition of ‘The London Palladium Show’ for a first-ever season on stage in Toronto and broke all box-office records at the massive O’Keefe Centre.
Another new step was taken that same year. After seven years with ATV they moved to British colour television and did their first series of ‘The Morecambe and Wise Show’ for BBC2.
Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise work very closely with their scriptwriters on their TV shows. “We discovered that this format was most successful, and even if things didn’t go according to script – as in most of our shows, they don’t – the ad-libs and asides are as well received as any straight-from-the-shoulder jokes.” Says Eric.
As well as TV, Eric and Ernie moved into films. They completed three major colour comedies for the Rank Organisation – The Intelligence Men, That Riviera Touch and The Magnificent Two.
Eric and Ernie are everybody’s favourites. They are top favourites with the Royal Family and have won awards for being TV’s Top Light Entertainment Personalities and Show business Personalities of the Year.
The two have, over the years, built up a unique and remarkable rapport together. Says Eric: “Our relationship is very close. I know Ern. I understand him. I know him better than his wife knows him, possibly better than he knows himself. And he understands me. It’s good for the act. It’s one of the reasons for our success.”
Says Ernie: “We’re always being asked if we row. Well, we never argued when we were struggling, and we don’t do it now. Ours is a partnership based on genuine friendship – it has had to be to last this long.”
“Everything we earn is split right down the middle.” He added. “Sixty per cent for me – 40 per cent for you…”
“He gets more money,” chirped Morecambe, nodding wisely. “But I pay less tax. You can’t fool me…”
© World Distributions 1970