NEILSON’S COLUMN (May 8): A chat about Eric with Ernie
“It’s nice out”, Ernie Wise said to Eric Morecambe.
“Is it”? replied Eric. “I’ll get mine out too then.”
I’m a huge fan of three great British comics in particular – Tommy Cooper, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise.
I include Ernie because he sometimes gets overlooked, which is unfair. He was the one who often suggested the gags in rehearsal, with which Eric could run riot and he was tenacious when it came to getting the pair work.
He set the gags up for Eric beautifully without playing the traditional straight man; he was funny too.
Put simply, Eric without Ern would not have worked and both of them knew it.
Many years ago I sat next to Ernie Wise at a dinner event and we spent most of the evening chatting. Ernie was entertaining, candid and extremely easy to talk to.
He told me that he knew he was slightly in the shadow of Eric but that it didn’t really bother him.
“Eric was a huge talent and the public loved him”.
Eventually the conversation turned to Eric’s passing. I told Ernie that it must have been very difficult for him when Eric passed away.
“It was like losing my right arm,” he said.
“Yes it must have been,” I agreed.
“No you don’t understand,” he continued. “I say that because Eric always stood on my right side, I was on the left, he was on the right.”
“Of course,” I said. “I never realised”.
“Not a lot of people did,” he said.
It now seems obvious when I watch the repeats on TV, Eric is stage right, and Ernie is stage left, always.
Bizarrely, when we lived in Harpenden, our optician had also been Eric’s optician and the reason Eric supported Luton Town was because he lived in nearby Harpenden and we often bumped into Joan Morecambe who lives there to this day. The famous skit with Frankie Vaughan singing the title song from Cabaret, featured Eric on trombone and Ernie on drums, playing for him in The Harpenden Hotshots band.
These little connections with Morecambe and Wise meant that I was all the more excited to see the Olivier Award winning play Morecambe at The Capitol theatre last weekend. It’s on again at Brighton’s Theatre Royal on June 17 as part of a national tour and stars Bob Golding. Catch it if you can.