By the age of 13, I knew I wanted to be a comedian like Morecambe and Wise – I remember first seeing them when I was 6 years old in my parents’ sitting room and seeing Eric do one of those long looks down the lens and he moved to adjust the camera and just looked and stared and I thought – I love that guy. He’s just looking at me. I wanted to jump into the television and muck about with them.
My 20s weren’t the easiest of times. I wasn’t a party animal then at all. Very shy and awkward – I retreated into myself. I watched them for escapism and joy and they got me through many a dark hour. They weren’t reflecting anything about my life – it was a cocoon of joy.
For me, the recording of Eric and Ernie at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls is their finest performance – I don’t think they ever did anything better. The joy of being a comedian, of getting laughter – you can see it in Eric’s face... the joy of getting laughs.
There’s a brilliant aside he does – he says to Ernie, “It was obviously my imagination” – then turns to the audience and says, “It wasn’t.” That’s where I got the inspiration for that camera thing – where I say “Yes”, cut to camera – “No.” All my looks to camera in Miranda I got from him. I wanted to do a show that honoured his tradition.
It makes me so happy to watch them dance. Eric was a real mover. I spent a lot of time in my twenties trying to learn their routines.
Life is tough for so many people – as the song goes, there should be more happiness. They really did give me more happiness. It’s quite arresting and overwhelming to think that I might do that for other people... all thanks to him.
"Eric and Ernie were a four-legged animal - they needed each other"
Eric and Ernie are timeless – deliberately so. They avoided any topical jokes at all. I worked on one of the Christmas shows and Eric’s instructions were – no reindeer, no tinsel, no Christmas trees. I asked why and he said, because otherwise it won’t be repeated. He got it right – it was shown again at Easter.
I was friends with Eric before I started writing on the show – I’d shown him Duck Soup, with the Marx Brothers, where the famous Bring Me Sunshine dance first appeared... Groucho did it and Eric took it on. Like passing the baton. Now Miranda’s using his looks to camera – it’s appropriate... passing comedy on from generation to generation.
He was able to keep work and friendship separate. Once he asked me to write a skit for him. I took it to the production meeting with the designer, choreographer, the whole crew. He tore into my script, saying, “It won’t do, you’ve got it wrong, this needs a complete re-write.” It was humiliating. So I went off in a sulk and sat in the bar. Eric came in and said – “Why the long face?” I said, “You’ve just made a fool of me, I’m a bit annoyed”. He said, “Ah, that was in there, this is out here. What are you drinking?”
Eric and Ernie were a four legged animal – they needed each other. We were at a charity function once – Ernie wasn’t there and they asked Eric to speak. He was quite shy, but he played the whole thing off me. There is a statue of Eric in Morecambe but Ernie’s not with him, which is a bit sad. Eric used to joke “He may not be the best straight man in the business, but he’s the best one I’ll ever have.”
Ant and Dec
"They're our number one"
Ant: Among double acts, Morecambe and Wise are number one. We used to come in, sit in our pyjamas on a Saturday night and laugh our heads off watching them. For a double act to work well you shouldn’t have egos. You shouldn’t worry about who gets the funny line, just that you are being funny. With us, it flips all the time. There’s no real straight man or funny man.
Dec: I’ve always loved double acts – Morecambe and Wise, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, Abbott and Costello. We did a routine, for a while, that was a deliberate homage to Eric and Ernie. People often ask what’s the secret of our success and I used to put it down to something that happened, but getting older and reflecting on it, I think it’s friendship. Ours is a career built on a friendship, not a friendship built on a career.
"They never fell out"
I really like what they did and the more I learn about them, the more I admire them. I find their work ethic really appealing. They were working every night of the week in different theatres before they were on TV in the 1970s, so they had honed their act to perfection. It is such a great story – they were together for such a long time and they didn’t fall out. Something which other double acts couldn’t seem to manage. It’s not one of those sad stories where you find out that in fact they hated each other.
Some of their work such as the routine they did with the conductor André Previn was classic TV. They were intelligent men who would have found a way to succeed today even if it seems harder for working-class double acts to make it these days.
I met Eric once – in a lift at the Midland Hotel in Manchester in 1978. I’d been drinking in the bar earlier so the only thing I could say when I saw him was: “Oh, it’s Eric Morecambe.”
He said: “You’re that girl from Morecambe.” I was living in his hometown at the time and had been in the papers for writing a play called Talent – and that was the end of our conversation. I never saw him again. I really wish we’d had a proper chat.
Ernie was hugely vital to the double act. What he does is very clever, but it’s very unnoticeable. If you replaced him with someone else, it wouldn’t work. They have a chemistry. There’s something about Ernie’s loveability, and his pomposity – which is not his own, it’s like an invented character. Eric’s the daft, annoying child, and Ernie is like the grown up, trying to get on with something serious, like a play. And Eric is sticking his head round the curtain.
My drama Eric & Ernie ended with their TV debut Running Wild. It was a flop. Eric kept one review in his wallet. It said, “A definition of television – the box they buried Morecambe and Wise in.” I think he kept it partly because it was terribly hurtful, and partly because it was something he overcame. He had the last laugh when they were the biggest thing on television and nobody’s ever matched their ratings.
"We want to believe they shared everything - even a bed"
What I really like about Morecambe and Wise is that they’re a double act with history. The thing that connects you with them is that there was a real relationship there. Their history is fascinating. You never really grasp that until you see a picture of them in their teens. Eric looks nothing like his middle-aged, comic self – he looks more like a character from The Beano.
To begin with, Ernie Wise was billed as Britain’s answer to Mickey Rooney, a dancing phenomenon who was destined for great things. He came across Eric Morecambe, who was then unknown, and they began doing an act together. Apparently they were dreadful. In those days Eric was the straight man and Ernie was the funny-man. And Ernie, bless him, had such love and faith in Eric, he put his career on hold, reversed the roles, became the straight man and consigned them to half a decade of obscurity. Eventually, of course, they became better than anyone could possibly imagine.
What we love about them is something that’s not there on the page. It’s something about two people finding each other very, very funny, and also having a lot of time and affection for each other. We want them to holiday together, with their spouses and children in tow. We want them to be best men at one another’s weddings. In Eric and Ernie’s case, we even wanted to believe that they shared a bed.
"I look up to Eric every day"
Eric Morecambe is one of the reasons I do comedy. He is an absolute hero of mine and that is why it sent a chill down my spine when I played at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury, the last place he performed. I really felt his presence.
He is one of the few people that can say so much with just a look, which is an outstanding skill – to make everyone feel better without saying anything. His very aura is comedy. Another skill was that he was an all-round entertainer, a maligned characteristic that he pulled off with much aplomb.
One of my favourite bits is when he pretended to go home and Ernie would do that big song. I could relate to the fella who felt that things were happening once he left, behind his back.
Their TV show was one of the few things that brought my family together as a family. His legacy lives on as only this week I was prescribed glasses for the first time, so rather than see it as another side of ageing, I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life doing the Eric glasses shake.
Even though the Roses Theatre is a beautiful theatre, he should have died somewhere more fitting of his genius. Because he means so much to me, I have given him prize position on my wall with a commissioned portrait of him. So in actual fact, every day in every way, I look up to Eric.