Eric Morecambe OBE : 1926 –1984
Ernie Wise OBE : 1925 – 1999
Morecambe & Wise were a legendary iconic English comic double act working in variety, radio, television and film.
Eric & Ernie met for the first time in 1939 when Eric (aged 12) auditioned for impresario Jack Hylton in Manchester. By this time Ernie Wise (aged 13) was already Jack Hylton’s protegee and had appeared in many professional engagements including working with Arthur Askey in “Band Waggon” and several radio broadcasts. Some months following Eric’s audition, his mother, Sadie Bartholomew, received a telegram inviting Eric to appear at the Nottingham Empire as one of Bryan Michie’s discoveries in “Youth Takes a Bow”. Ernie joined the show when it reached Swansea and an enduring, endearing friendship was formed.
Working as solo acts in ‘Youth Takes A Bow” Eric and Ernie were inseparable. Chaperoned by Sadie, sharing digs and travelling together, it was during one of many train journeys in 1940 that Sadie suggested they form a double act, having listened to them while away the time doing gags and impressions. Whilst they still concentrated on their solo spots, Bryan Michie persuaded Jack Hylton to give them the opportunity to perform as a double act and they made their debut appearance in August 1941 at the Liverpool Empire as ‘Bartholomew and Wise’; a change of name followed in the Autumn to ‘Morecambe & Wise’. During their 43-year long relationship, this truly iconic comic pair have brought endless and ongoing sunshine, love and laughter to millions worldwide, predominantly through their many successful television series.
Following on from their earliest days with numerous appearances in Variety Theatres throughout the country, where they perfected their craft, came their first opportunity with a series for the BBC in 1954, “Running Wild”.
With the unique Morecambe & Wise comedy routines continuously honed and perfected on stage, radio and television, in 1961 the legendary producer, Lew Grade, offered Eric and Ernie their own television series produced by ATV and written by Sid Green and Dick Hills; the first of “The Morecambe & Wise Shows/Two of a Kind” which ran to great acclaim for six series.
With their ever-increasing popularity, they also starred in full length feature films for Rank Films “The Intelligence Men”, “That Riveria Touch”, “The Magnificent Two” during the sixties and later for Thames Television, “Night Train to Murder”.
Resulting from successful negotiations between Michael Grade (who at that time was working alongside Eric & Ernie’s long-time agent, Billy Marsh) and Bill Cotton, in 1968 Eric and Ernie moved to the BBC and into colour television. Their long-established writers Sid and Dick left after series one following Eric’s first heart attack. A new writer, Eddie Braben, was found, and the three became famously known as the Golden Triangle. “The Morecambe & Wise Show” recorded nine hugely popular series, together with their memorable Christmas Specials, attracting record breaking viewing audiences, which peaked on Christmas Day in 1977 at a massive 28 million – the biggest audience ever recorded for a Light Entertainment Show.
Numerous famous guest stars queued to appear on the Morecambe & Wise programmes, including The Beatles, Glenda Jackson, Elton John, Andre Previn, Tom Jones, Peter Cushing, Diana Rigg and Shirley Bassey.
To add to their magical careers, for which they were awarded six BAFTA’s, two other achievements were attained in 1976 when they were honoured with OBE’s from Her Majesty the Queen, and received the Freedom of the City of London.
In 1977 they returned to ITV making a further four series of “The Morecambe & Wise Show” and four Morecambe & Wise Specials for Thames Television, ending with a Special broadcast on 26 December 1983. Sadly, this was to be Eric and Ernie’s final show together due to Eric’s premature death at the age of just 58 following his performance in a Charity Concert at the Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury on 28 May 1984.
Ernie passed away 15 years later on 21 March 1999, but Morecambe & Wise remain as popular as ever. This was further confirmed in 2006 following a nationwide ITV Special poll when tens of thousands of people voted for Eric & Ernie, as ‘TV’s Greatest Stars’.
As an accolade of ongoing sincerity by the nation for two great artistes who, with their theme song ‘Bring Me Sunshine’, are still regarded as the best comedy double act ever to grace our screens, many posthumous programmes have followed including special programmes such as “Bring Me Sunshine (The Heart & Soul of Eric Morecambe”) (Watchmarker/BBC), “The Unforgettable Eric Morecambe” (Chrysalis/ITV), “The Unseen Eric Morecambe” (Lion Television/Channel 4), “The Unforgettable Ernie Wise” (North One/ITV), “Morecambe & Wise in Their Own Words” (Hotsauce/BBC), “Morecambe & Wise : The Show What Paul Merton Did” (Hotsauce/BBC), “Morecambe & Wise : The Greatest Moment” (North One Television/UKTV), and series “Bring Me Morecambe & Wise” (North One/UKTV), “Morecambe & Wise : The Whole Story” (BBC), “Morecambe & Wise In Pieces” (BBC Television), “The Perfect Morecambe & Wise” (BBC) and more recently “Morecambe & Wise Forever” (Shiver/ITV3), ”Miranda – Morecambe & Wise and Me” (Crook Productions/ITV) “The Morecambe & Wise Story – Look Back in Laughter” (ITN Productions/Channel 5), “Eric & Ernie’s Home Movies” (Shiver/BBC), two series for UKTV “Morecambe & Wise in America” (Double Yellow/UKTV) and “Trust Morecambe & Wise” (Mercury Productions/UKTV) and most recently as part of the ‘Lost Tapes’ series for ITV, an opportunity to see clips from a recently discovered, presumed wiped, episode from 1970 in “Morecambe & Wise – The Lost Tapes” (ITN/ITV).
In 2016 a bronze statue, sculpted by Graham Ibbeson, was unveiled of the legendary pair in the domed foyer of the Winter Gardens in Blackpool to mark 75 years since their debut double act. Before this Graham Ibbeson had also sculpted an individual statue, again in bronze, of Eric on the promenade at Morecambe town sea front, which had been unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen in 1999. A stone statue of Ernie also stands proudly in his home town of Morley, Leeds sculpted by local artist, Melanie Wilks, which was unveiled in 2010. All part of an endless and ongoing tribute to this beloved iconic British comedy duo, who bought sunshine and laughter into the lives of millions. Fortunately, through their timeless comedy material on record, they will always continue to do so, enabling ongoing audiences of future generations to enjoy the warm and wonderful talents of Morecambe & Wise, truly National Treasures and incomparable legends, of laughter.