A bit of sunshine, Morecambe and Wise style, hit the news on Tuesday. A statue of the comedy duo is to be placed in the Rotunda of the Church Street entrance to the Winter Gardens.
This Memory Lane contributor has been appointed Theatrical Historian (honorary) for the organising committee, tracing the Eric and Ernie Blackpool Story of appearances in seven local theatres, including six summer season shows over a span of 36 years.
Eric and Ernie first appeared in a Blackpool theatre in 1940 – but not as Morecambe and Wise! They were teenagers Eric Bartholomew and Ernest Wiseman, with individual acts, in a touring show called Youth Takes a Bow at the old Palace Theatre.
It would be nearly 10 years before they returned as a double act at the old Feldman’s Theatre, for a week in April, 1949. A Gazette reviewer noted: “Morecambe and Wise, a couple of young funsters, have a promising style and a good comedy line.”
Four years later, the act had attracted the attention of summer show producers George and Alfred Black, who put the duo in the 1953 Winter Gardens Pavilion show Something to Sing About, billed third to American singer Allan Jones and Lancashire comedian Ken Platt.
The Gazette’s reviewer, Bill Burgess said: “Particular mention must be made of Morecambe and Wise. How do we define their act? It is an adroit blend of wry humour and the unexpected comeback, launched on immaculate timing and likeable personalities.”
The boys’ progress had a hiccup in June, 1954. Their first television series flopped – but a few weeks later the Gazette’s Variety reviewer, Eric Littler, was raving about their performance at the Palace Theatre.
He admitted he had switched off their TV series and owed them an apology.
“I am left wondering if they can possibly be the same two artists who were in that television studio,” he wrote.
“They are, of course, but whatever the BBC did to them they have left it behind, and instead we have two performers whose slick humour had last night’s first house audience rocking in their seats.
“It is the sort of material the whole family can enjoy... these two comedians are on the way up – provided they fight shy of television.”
So Morecambe and Wise had turned an important corner, repeating their triumph when they topped a variety bill at the Queen’s Theatre in November.
And it was there that Blackpool producer Peter Webster signed them for his 1955 season show at the Central Pier. That one season became three, for they were re-booked for 1957 and 1959.
But before the 1955 season, the duo were chosen by Jack Hylton to appear in the Royal Variety Performance at the Blackpool Opera House, with a host of other northern comedy greats – Arthur Askey, Al Read, George Formby, Jewel and Warriss and Albert Modley. They’d ‘arrived.’
In the 1959 Centre Pier show, their soon-to-be ITV series success was presaged by the Gazette’s observation: “Eric, with his innocent vacuity and willingness to please, is the perfect foil for the bland, tolerant, worldly Ernie Wise, and the perfect vehicle for the misunderstandings and innuendos that get the laughs. It is difficult to see how it could be done better.”
When Eric and Ernie returned to the Blackpool summer scene with a 1963 season at the North Pier, their television success was secure with a Saturday night spot.
And in 1965, when they starred for the season at the ABC Theatre, the face-to-face comedy of the Fifties had expanded into the style of sketches that would make their 1970s series the best-loved in British television history.
Their last Blackpool stage performance was on their 1976 tour, on Saturday, October 23, at the Opera House – 36 years after taking a youthful bow at the Palace.