Britain's Most Loved and Best Comedy Double Act

Band Waggon

Feature from 2012

Arthur Askey

Ernie on stage with Arthur

Newspaper headline
This is by no means an in-depth history of Band Waggon, nor can it be considered a complete history; instead this features intention is to reveal the huge part in Ernie’s life that this stage show played.

Beginning life as a comedy radio show, specifically written for its stars, Arthur Askey and Richard ‘Stinker’ Murdoch, it gained a huge following. Each week listeners would tune it to follow the exploits of the characters as they stumbled their way through life.

It is accurate to say that it also played a massive part in Arthur’s life too – spawning a movie that thrust him into the big screen world.

During a visit to America in 1937, the great impresario Jack Hylton had realised, way before anyone else, that the theatres were in decline and the focus was moving to big bands and variety. He wanted a piece of the action and so on his return to the UK set about putting his plans into action.

He noticed how popular the radio show was and in a huge deal, bought the rights to put it on stage. As part of the deal he was also to ‘loan’ its stars who would tour with the show. He already had a band and with a few contacts he threw together a rough variety bill; and the show was ready.

Riding on the back of the radio success, he began a tour of the UK in October 1938, taking in all of the major cities. At each venue he would always check out local acts in case they were good enough to join his team. The second half of the show, called Youth Takes A Bow, was a showcase of up-coming talent, growing and changing as the show evolved.

During a run at the Princes Theatre London in early 1939, a young Yorkshire lad, accompanied by his father, arrived at his office. The boy danced, joked and sang in front of him, his adoring father watching on. They then went into their double act that they had toured around the clubs and pubs of Leeds.

Hylton looked on and saw a raw spark in the boy, something special and something he knew he wanted. He gave the boy a contract but turned his father down. He knew the boy had enough talent to make it big, and with his Youth Takes A Bow show, the stage was waiting.

The boy was of course Ernest Wiseman, and the contract Hylton gave him varies from report to report. Some say it was a seven year deal (Sunderland Echo), others five (Kentish Independent). Whatever the period, he knew he had a winner, and threw him straight into that evenings show, raw and enthusiastic.

On 6th January 1939, Ernest Wiseman took to the stage, reportedly with no nerves at all, and went through his full routine. The crowds loved him and the following day newspapers were awash with headlines about the new boy star in Hylton’s show.

Fame In A Night For 13-Year-Old ‘Max Miller’, Comedy ‘Find’ Aged 13, Great Comedy ‘Find’, Jack Hylton’s Boy Star Still Goes To School, Comedian, 13, Hailed as Great Discovery; these are a few of the headlines in newspapers around the UK from London to Bradford in the first week of his performance.

One critic said; “The show is excellent, and I am sure his boy prodigy, Ernest Wise, will justify the seven-year contract.. This boy has taken the West End by storm, and I think he will become a second Dan Leno.”

Ernie was big news around the UK, and news travelled ahead of the show, and people wanted to see this new ‘boy wonder’ for themselves. They were never let down, and the cheeky little lad from ‘up North’ took it all in his stride.

His name was shortened on 8th January as Hylton was giving an interview about the show; “His name is Ernest Wiseman, but he’s going to be famous so we’ll call him Ernie Wise.” And from that day on, the name of Ernie Wise was one to watch.

As the show toured Ernie could watch and learn, not only from Arthur Askey, but from the other performers who took the stage. The work was hard, especially for a young Ernie, as he not only had to perform but also still keep up his education. The travelling was almost non-stop, covering large distances each week.

January – London, February - Middlesborough, March – London/Lewisham and Bolton, April – Southport, Bristol and Sheffield, May – Nottingham and Birmingham, June – Manchester and Bridlington, just some examples of the tiring schedule.

© 2012
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