Britain's Most Loved and Best Comedy Double Act

Morecambe, Bamforth and Wise

Feature from 2012

Jean as a young performer

Eric and Ern

Band Waggon
Readers of Morecambe and Wise books may have come across an interesting titbit, tucked away in a small paragraph that indicated Eric and Ernie were part of a trio during their very early days in variety. Not much detail is given other than the name of the act, Morecambe, Bamforth and Wise.

During our recent research into this period and whilst trawling through the Hylton archives; the name Jean Bamforth featured heavily, especially around the late thirties and early forties. So who was this lady, how did the act come about and what indeed was the act?

Born in High Greene, Sheffield, Jean loved dance from a very early age and was constantly entering talent contests. From as early as six, all she can ever remember wanting to do was to go into show business.

Her parents were supportive, especially her father who in fact encouraged her to stop entering talent contests and begin to take things more seriously. “No one is going to look at how many trophies you have,” he told her, “it’s what you can do that will count.”

Around the age of 12, having taken her father’s advice, she was regularly attending dance school and so it was that on rainy day in Sheffield that her hard work paid off.

Jack Hylton was currently touring with his show Youth Takes A Bow and was always on the lookout for new material. He had comedians, singers and instrumentalist and was on the lookout for something visual. Having watched the pupils he left and shortly afterwards a note arrived; “Would the little acrobatic dancer’s father please contact Mr Hylton.”

Duly Jean’s father contacted Jack and was told he wanted Jean on stage at the London Palladium with his show. Her teachers took a very dim view and protested, she was very bright and they saw it as a waste for a little girl to go on stage. It was her father again who stepped in and took the case before the education committee, getting her a special licence to perform.

When she arrived in London, around August 1939, she joined two other young performers; a singer called Mary Naylor and a comedian, Ernest Wiseman, all three around 12 years old.

Together they toured with the show; always under the watchful eye of the education officer. It was his job to make sure they did not stay in the theatre too late, they were under a strict 10pm curfew, and to ensure they still did their school work. Not that any work was actually done; “Our teacher,” Jean says, “spent most of her time looking into dressing rooms and watching people getting changed!”

She recalls Ernie being a nice lad, easy to get on with and a close friend at the time. The finale of the show was always him singing Run Rabbit Run as the rest of the cast took the applause.

Youth Takes a Bow was of course a part of Band Waggon; a hugely successful radio show that Jack Hylton took on the road with its star Arthur Askey. Jean recalls him watching her act from the wings, giving her encouragement as she stepped through a hoop and went into the splits while balancing a glass of water on her head. “He always laughed and joked with us,” she remembers, “he was a lovely man.”

As war broke out and the theatres closed, she was left unemployed, trying her hand at anything just to keep going. Around Christmas time she had managed to get work in pantomime when a note arrived from Hylton. He was taking Youth Takes a Bow back on the road and wanted her to be part of it.

It was during this tour that a young lad by the name of Eric Bartholomew joined the team, having given a good audition at Hoylake. He came with his mother Sadie who was, Jean recalls, “A small, persuasive and very determined woman.” His gormless act involving a large lollipop and beret, and singing I’m Not All There did not really impress her; “I thought it was stupid.” She laughs.

© 2012
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