Britain's Most Loved and Best Comedy Double Act

The Mystery Of Edwin Drood

Feature from 2008

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Ernie on stage
In 1987 Ernie Wise made his return to the West End of London, at the Savoy Theatre. Nearly 50 years after he had made his triumphant entrance with Jack Hylton, Ernie returned in the New York smash hit “The Mystery Of Edwin Drood”.

The show was based on the final and unfinished book by Charles Dickens. Originally the story was to be published in 12 installments, each costing a shilling starting in April 1870 and ending in March 1871. Only 6 issues were published however, taking the reader only to chapter 23.

Since then “The Mystery Of Edwin Drood” itself has become a literary mystery. Attempts to finish the story and reach a conclusion have been going on for many years.

The story has also been the subject of 2 films, one in 1935 and the other in 1993.

For more details on the background of “The Mystery Of Edwin Drood” please start here at everyone’s favourite online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

For those of you who wish to read the actual book, it is available online here. It is deemed out of copyright.

Ernie and Edwin

The play itself was play within a play. The audience were invited to the Music Hall Royale to see Mr William Cartwright and his un paralleled players putting on a performance of “The Mystery Of Edwin Drood”.

When you looked in the program you are presented with a list of The Company Of The Musical Hall Royal. Mr William Cartwright (Ernie) as The Chairman for example.

In 1985 the play made it to Broadway and ran for 608 performances. It was a major success and won 5 Tonys, incuding best musical. It would seem obvious that the next move would be to transfer it to the West End and enjoy similar success.

Ernie had been very excited about this play. In his autobiography “Still On My Way To Hollywood” he says “When I was sent the script I was knocked out. I listened to the score and thought how wonderful it was.”

So keen was Ernie that on the first day of rehearsal he was practically word perfect, having started work on the script 3 months earlier.

Ernie was cast as the roll of Mr William Cartwright playing The Chairman. The rest of the cast was strong and included Lulu and Julia Mills

Unfortunately, the show did not transfer too well. For various reasons it closed after a 10 week run on the 4th July 1987.

There seems to have been a clash of cultures in how the show should have been run. The US team wanted to transfer a US show to the UK, including US ways of doing things. It would appear this did not work too well and probably contributed to the downfall of the show.

Clips of Ernie performing parts from the play were recently shown on the excellent Johnathan Ross tribute that was broadcast in Dec 2008. It shows the cast performing on an edition of the Wogan show.

A cast recording does exist for both the US and UK productions. The UK recording is very hard to find.

We were lucky enough to have the pleasure of speaking with Martin Wimbush, who appeared in the play as Mr Cedric Moncrieffe who was playing The Reverend Crisparkle.

In the interview he talks about his time in the show and his time working with Ernie.

© 2008

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We interview Martin Wimbush
Martin Wimbush is a versatile film, stage and television actor who appeared with Ernie in the short lived Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Images from Edwin Drood
Collection of images from the play.

My Future Without Eric
Article taken from Titbits magazine. Ernie discusses the possibility of working alone.