Eric and Ernie: the Blackpool connection
The announcement a new statue of Morecambe and Wise is likely to be placed in Blackpool was greeted with shock in Morecambe.
But the comedy duo had a long association with the Fylde coast resort as Barry Band reveals:
Morecambe and Wise’s links with Blackpool spanned 36 years with appearances in seven of the town’s theatres and six summer season shows.
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 reviewer for the Visitor’s sister paper the Blackpool Gazette noted: “Morecambe and Wise, a couple of young funsters, have a promising style and a good comedy line.”
Four years later, the duo appeared at a 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.”
In 1955, 1957 and 1959 they enjoyed a summer season at the Central Pier. But before the 1955 season, the duo were chosen to appear in the Royal Variety Performance at the Blackpool Opera House.
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.