The Show Wot I Starred In
Ernie Wise may not have always found the right words but Suffolk actress Ann Clayton was often there to say them!
Ann with Eric and Ern
She appeared with Morecambe and Wise more than 100 times and here she tells Peter Robertson what it was like working with the iconic comedy duo and why she has no time for modern-day comedians.
To fans of Morecambe & Wise, Ann Hamilton is a figure of almost Goddess status. Eric Morecambe used to say Ann was ‘our Margaret Dumont’, referring to an actress who constantly worked with The Marx Brothers. The Morecambe and Wise website (morecambeandwise.com) states: "Ann Hamilton could be classed as the third person in the great double-act of Morecambe & Wise " The duo's scriptwriter Eddie Brahen described her as "Ann of a thousand sketches" and added "If Ann wasn't in a show, I thought I was in the wrong studio "
Ann worked with Morecambe and Wise more than any other performer, about 100 times altogether including their television shows from 1966 until 1977, playing everything from a handmaiden alongside Glenda Jackson as Cleopatra, to Guinevere opposite Peter Cushing's King Arthur in the first 'Play what I wrote' by Ernie Wise.
Yet these days if Ann is recognised at all it's as Annie Clayton (her married name) from two BBC TV series: Bring Your Husband To Heel in 2005, which she presented, and The Underdog Show in 2007, on which she was a judge. Aside from looking very different from the slim young beauty who worked with most of the top comedians of her time, 69-year old Ann has not only never written a book about her distinguished career, she's never even given a proper press interview until now.*
"I was their female feed - the actress whose lines set up the gags," she explains. "I was always there."
Ann and her husband Tony live in a pink thatched 16th century cottage in Suffolk. On display downstairs are two large portrait photographs of Eric and Ernie which they gave her. She buys DVDs of Morecambe & Wise shows as they are released, and still watches the repeats on telly every Christmas.
"In Our house, The Morecambe & Wise Christmas Show used to be like The Queen's Speech - we didn't miss it. The day revolved around it. The whole family sat and watched it, and that wasn't just because I was in it; it was simply bloomin' good entertainment. We watch it now because it still makes us laugh... whichever show it is. Christmas without Morecambe & Wise is like a boiled egg without salt.
"I don't like today's comedians and I don't think Eric and Ernie would have either. I find them crude and unfunny. I'm not a prude and I don't mind a hit of blue humour if it makes me laugh. But if I'd been Gwyneth Paltrow when Jonathan Ross said to her “I would f ** you...clearly you're gagging for it”, I'd have got up and walked out. I don't know why she sat there. How dare he be that insulting. The terrible thing is the audience laughed. When one comic brought The Queen into disrepute on Mock The Week, I thought that was appalling - it's not funny and darn well isn't clever. But then I'm an old fuddy-duddy."
Ann was born in Orsett, Essex, on July 5, 1939. Although she's not from a showbiz family, Ann took dance classes from the age of three and attended ballet school from 16.
'When I was confirmed at 14, the Bishop said to me; 'What do you want to do when you grow up?' and I said 'I'm going to be a musical comedy star!'
But, after a couple of cabaret bookings, Ann found herself at 18 dancing naked behind handheld fans at Soho's notorious Windmill Theatre, which was the subject of the 2005 movie Mrs Henderson Presents starring Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins and Will Young. "I bought the DVD and wish I hadn't bothered" says Anne "I understand they couldn't film it at the Windmill because it's too small, but they might have tried to make the Windmill look like it did. And I couldn't believe in Will Young at all."
* - This excludes our interview.
© Suffolk Magazine 2009