Britain's Most Loved and Best Comedy Double Act

Ernie's Importance

Feature from 2010


Song and dance man
Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were a double act; they grew up together, toured the theatres together, made radio and television shows together, each having their own strengths that complimented the other to produce something special.

Eric was the comedian, that’s not to say that Ernie couldn’t be funny, far from it. To call him just a straight man though is doing him a great injustice.

He had a wealth of talents, playing the straight man was just one of them, and he was probably the best straight men in the business. He could also sing, dance, tell jokes, act and, if you believe what Eddie Braben wrote, write plays.

Joan Morecambe explains how they saw themselves as a 50-50 role in the act;
“They would laugh at each other. In a way Ernie was Eric’s best audience. Eric appreciated Ernie and his sense of humour and that always comes through. They didn’t work against each other in any way.”

Eric himself often said that Ernie was the businessman of the two, he would run things, organise things and even agree payment terms for both them.

“He is the boss.” Eric said in a 1970’s interview. “He points arrows. He’ll say tomorrow we are at this place and gives me a map.”

It wasn’t just behind the scenes that Ernie controlled but on stage as well. He would gauge the reactions, allow Eric freedom to go with an audience but still pulling him back when things went too far. He was the director if you like, the one in control.

They both knew the routines, but it was Ernie who orchestrated things, always mindful of the timings and the impact. This gave Eric the freedom and confidence to relax and enjoy things in full knowledge that Ernie was there to guide the show.

“Eric couldn’t have done what he did without Ernie.” Says Ann Hamilton, the girl who appeared in scores of their shows as the female role.

“They were a complete double act. They both could have made it on their own, but they complimented each other so well.”

Even Eric and Eddie Braben, their writer, knew the importance of Ernie to the act. Eddie wrote several routines around that fact and Eric himself acknowledged one of them as being spot on.

“Even today,” he says, “I don’t think people realise how important Ernie was.”

“I wrote a line once that Eric said was absolutely right. It was during a stand up routine and Ernie had to leave to get a prop. Eric’s line was; Don’t be long, when you’re not here I get a cold draft all down one side.”

Ernie knew that Eric got much of the credit and although he put up with it, he didn’t like being called a straight man. As far as he was concerned, and rightly so, he was much more than that.

“I wasn’t a stooge.” He said, in the poorly received documentary The Importance Of Being Ernie. “A stooge is someone who just stands there and doesn’t say anything. Eric was the comedian and I was the song and dance man.”

The clue is in the name, Morecambe And Wise. Two people in one brilliant act. Each knowing the others qualities.

“Dad knew he was with a first class straight man that could second guess what dad was going to do.” Says Gail Morecambe, “Ernie is quoted as saying he was with the best comic in the country, and he handled himself extremely well. He didn’t get the praise he deserved.”

That last line is absolutely perfect. There is no doubt that Ernie’s contribution to the act was invaluable. It is sad that only now are some people beginning to see it.

In a way we have him to thank for the genius of Eric and the success of Morecambe and Wise.

© 2010

You may also like:

The Morecambe and Wise Story
From teenagers to stars, the road to success was not always easy.

Importance of being Ernie
This BBC documentary was first shown in April 1993, ten years after his partner Eric passed away.

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