Britain's Most Loved and Best Comedy Double Act

Morecambe and Wise Still Scoring

1960 Article

Still popular
This year Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise celebrate their 20th anniversary. Twenty years is a long time for two comedians to work hand in hand. It is an achievement, highlighted by the fact that these two genuinely funny comics, are still scoring success after success.

A successful summer season in Australia last year brought Eric and Ernie back to Britain in tip-top form. They had been away for six months, yet no sooner were they known to be 'available' than offers of work came in and Messrs M. and W. have had little time to rest on their laurels.

"Which is exactly what we have never wanted to do," they insist. "The only way to be a successful act in show business is to keep on being successful."

That's why they aim that 1960 will be the year they remember.

Eric and Ernie teamed up as teenagers. Eric was born in Morecambe and Ernie in Leeds. Their real names are Eric Bartholomew and Ernie Wiseman, but they shortened the names, Eric taking the name of his home town, so that "they would just fit on the bill board."

As youngsters they had been "discovered" by Jack Hylton and Bryan Michie and these two personalities gave Morecambe and Wise the right sort of stepping-stones to launch their successful careers.

The only time the two have been parted for a long period was during the war. Ernie became a merchant seaman and Eric was a Bevan Boy, a coalminer.

After the War, the two wasted no time in teaming up again and a string of top variety dates put them well and truly "back in business."

Television has played an important part in the partnership of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. About five years ago they did their first series for BBC-tv and it did not come up to expectations.

"There was a time just after that show when we would not like to talk about it." explain the comics. "But nowadays, we realise the mistakes we made. Frankly, we were very silly about it. Although the show came under fire from some critics, there were those who urged us to try again. We were told that we would be silly to shun the small screen just because our first series had not been acclaimed as fantastic."

"We wouldn't hear a word of it, however. On came our running shoes and it was months before we stopped to take out breath or glance back TV-wards, wondering if we should have stuck it."

But the odd part about this Morecambe and Wise show was the fact that it made them 'a name.'

"We found that even though the show had not been as successful as it might have been, people came to see us in the theatre. Our names were more known. In a way, it had good results for us."

Nowadays, however, the comics have to face the challenge of television and unlike their previous attitude, they are very keen on succeeding where they once fell down.

"We do as much TV as we can these days," says Eric and Ernie, who try to divide their year into a pantomime season, TV shows, summer season, TV shows and then pantomime again, "So far this year, we have chalked up quite a number of appearances, and reports have been favourable."

After their summer season in Weymouth this year, the comics will be doing TV and variety work.

"Variety is the grounding that we all need to have experienced. It is up one week, down another, but artists, especially comedians, need that experience – and no amount of television can replace it." Say the comics.

But Eric and Ernie admit that they find TV is very suitable for their particular style of comedy these days.

"We used to be quite a slapstick act." Says Eric Morecambe, "but now we have developed a TV technique in comedy which could be described as 'method' comedy, for want of a better expression."

Explaining the technique, Eric continues: "We can use facial expressions more often on TV. On stage the comedian is seen, but his face is a white blank to those at the back. On TV in close-up one can use all sorts of facial expressions to put over comic routines."

"It helps timing, too. One can stay silent and just look, which comes over amusingly on TV, while on stage it would just be an awkward silence, the audience thinking that he had forgotten what came next or something."

Eric and Ernie have developed a style of humour all their own, a style which is sometimes criticised as being too cruel and sarcastic.

"Most humour is cruel if only it is studied," says Ernie Wise. "Ours is no more cruel than any other. In America, or course, they have their 'sick' humour which I don't think would ever be popular in Britain. It is very hard humour, indeed."

An example of the sort of 'cruel' joke the comics crack is: A young woman phoned the doctor, crying out loud that her husband had swallowed a fountain pen. "I'll be right over" said the doctor. "What are you doing in the meantime?" "Using a pencil." Replied the wife.

"Now that is not terribly cruel, but it has been called cruel humour, you know," says the comedians, "On the other hand, it is a child's joke as compared to what Americans call 'sick' humour."

Backing up the Morecambe and Wise comedy act is their popular song-and-dance routine which has always been a feature of their repertoire.

Although both Eric and Ernie are from the North, they do not like to be classed as 'Northern comedians'.

"It gives the wrong impression," claim the comics, "We have done many summer season shows in Blackpool, but no matter how successful they are, we have to convince people that we are not just successful in the North."

Which is one of the reasons why the comedians – who have played seasons in London's West End – are determined to widen their scope and appear in season shows in such places as Torquay, Great Yarmouth, Margate and this year, Weymouth.

© The Stage 1960

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