Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Winter Comfort

Jerry Hayes has written an interesting piece in the Spectator about Ernie Wise OBE, Eric Morecambe's other half:-

Robert Sellers and James Hogg’s Little Ern!, the authorised biography of Ernie Wise, is an uplifting, heart-warming and beautifully written book that will act as a comfort blanket recalling cheery Christmases past: a time when Christmas didn’t really begin until the whole family gathered round the television set to enjoy the collective warmth of Morecambe and Wise.

In 1977, 27 million people – half the population – watched the Christmas Special.

The trouble is that most of us regard Eric as the comic genius and Ernie as just a gifted straight man. In 1999, the Queen unveiled a statue to Eric, for which £127,000 was provided by lottery money.

In 2010 Doreen, Ernie’s beloved and devoted wife, unveiled a statue carved out of Yorkshire granite, the cost born by her. Ernie was dressed as a song and dance man by the pub where, as a six-year-old, he would clog dance on tables for pennies with his father.

And that’s what he was: it was in his blood. At thirteen, he was an accomplished performer under contract with Jack Hylton and appearing with Arthur Askey in a show called Bandwagon. By then, he was the major bread winner for the family, having started a double act called Carson and Son with his father some years previously.

Harry, Ernies’s dad, was a hard man and his mother, Connie, a woman incapable of love. When he lived in London he was distraught that his parents never wrote to him. Jack Hylton brought him to live with his family and his chauffeur used to take Ernie to school in his Buick.

So, when Eric came onto the scene, Ernie was the seasoned performer billed as ‘Britain’s Mickey Rooney’. They didn’t get on at first, until Eric came back to his mother saying, ‘I think I like Ernie Wise after all – he bought me a bar of chocolate today’.

They became like brothers. And sometimes slept in the same bed. Eric’s mum, Sadie, was the driving force of their partnership in the early days. She was far more than just a pushy showbiz mother: ‘a small but indomitable woman with a tungsten carbide core of solid ambition, who chain smoked roll ups made out of tobacco she took out of other people’s old fags.’ She effectively adopted Ernie, saying of him, ‘Ernie was just naturally good, naturally truthful, fair and honest.’

Eric Bartholomew and Ernie Wiseman perfected a double act and gathered the courage to audition for Jack Hylton. They were booked. But the name wasn’t quite right. ‘Where do you come from?’ Eric was asked.

‘Morecambe, a good name.’

And that’s how it started.

But it didn’t last long. Terrible pressure from a greedy father, who saw Ernie as his meal ticket, broke them up for a while.

But fate brought them together again and they traipsed round packed and often hostile venues, like the infamous Glasgow Empire, where a distressed Jimmy Edwards was given some helpful advice from a member of the audience, ‘Why don’t you just f*** off?’

This delightful book plots the course of this remarkable double act, giving Ernie Wise his proper place in the relationship. The two genuinely loved each other. Their natural chemistry enabled them to read each other’s minds during a routine, the timing in which was perfect due to sheer hard work. It was this true affection that endeared them to the nation.

Yet it was Ernie who was the stronger of the two. Eric was a mass of insecurities and smoked 60 to 100 cigarettes a day. It was Ernie who was the businessman, who negotiated their fees and could even outwit Lew Grade.

Interestingly, it was Ernie who could relax after a performance and go straight home to Doreen. Eric had to sit around afterwards. He could never switch off and had the same stage persona on- and off-camera. He couldn’t help himself. And it was that that eventually killed him.

Eric’s death was the end. Ernie carried on as best he could and performed in a number of shows. But he knew it could never be the same without Eric.

If you want some genuinely touching and interesting Christmas reading, pop this one in your stocking.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Ever seen Eric's statue in Morecambe?
It's excellent - puts the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain to shame.
No question as to which represents quality design and value for money.
Do a Google images search.

R. Wombat