Ernie WISE OBE (1925-1999)
THIS IS YOUR LIFE - Ernie Wise, comedian, was surprised by Michael Aspel at Thames Television's Teddington Studios, after being lured there on the pretence of being interviewed about his autobiography.
Ernest Wiseman, born in Leeds, entered show business at the age of eight when he began appearing with his semi-professional father in a music hall act known as Bert Carson and his Little Wonder. He later developed a solo act which caught the attention of impresario Jack Hylton, who billed him as England's Mickey Rooney.
In 1940 he formed a lasting friendship with another juvenile performer, Eric Batholomew. Encouraged by Eric's mother, Sadie, the friends started to develop a comedy double act, becoming known as Morecambe and Wise. They honed their act in variety theatres and on radio, and eventually found their niche on television - where their shows, particularly the Christmas specials, attracted millions of viewers and made them into a national institution.
Their partnership lasted until Eric's death in 1984 and has been described as "the most illustrious, and the best loved, double act Britain has ever produced"
Gideon Chilton of the only active Morecambe and Wise web site on the internet - www.morecambeandwise.com - discusses Ernie's career and the relevance of This Is Your Life...
Ernie Wise, always half a star, was the subject of a This Is Your Life special in 1993. Instead of the usual 30 minutes program Ernie was treated to an extended 45 minutes that was broadcast at the only time that would feel right, Christmas.
Ernie was lead to believe he was filming for a television show and was bought in to the studio in front of some all too familiar curtains! In fact the surprise was almost spoilt when Ernie thought he had seen his cousin in the toilets.
The surprise started with a troop of celebrity friends in top hat and tails singing and dancing their way down the stairs towards Ernie. “Lionel?” Ernie comments as Lionel Blair leads the group towards him. The curtains rise and This Is Your Life begins.
The show was broadcast in 1993 and by this time Ernie had been without Eric for 9 years. They had been together since 1940 and not 1939 as is mentioned in the show - this is an often misquoted date. Their partnership had lasted over 40 years and been one of the most loved in UK entertainment.
Faced with a life without Eric, Ernie had been keeping himself busy. He had been to Australia to do a 3 month one man show. A guest spot in a US comedy had finally taken Ernie to Hollywood. A return to the West End in 1987 in the Broadway play “The Mystery Of Edwin Drood”. It had been a long time since his West End debut at the age of 13 in 1939! Ernie also starred in the comedy farce “Run For Your Wife” and traveled the world for charity dressed as Phileas Fogg. In between this he also managed to appear on programs such as Watch My Line and Countdown. Ernie also released a Christmas single called The Sunshine Song.
1990 saw Ernie release his autobiography “Still On My Way To Hollywood”. Shortly after Ernie was the subject of This Is Your Life. It is interesting that the superb Morecambe and Wise biography by Graham McCann says that Ernie agreed to appear on This Is Your Life. Did he know before hand?
The guests on the show ranged from family members to associates from the past. The show very much centred on Ernie Wise and not Morecambe and Wise, although there is obviously a nod towards the partnership! People associated with Morecambe and Wise were present but as seated guests. People such as John Ammonds their long time producer and Eddie Braben, Sid Green and Dick Hills, their writers. Faces from their shows also fill the seats. Who could forget the South Pacific tumblers!
Although some of the main guests might not be familiar names they bring interesting stories. People who worked with Ernie before he was discovered and when he was a solo star, known as Britain’s Mickey Rooney!
There is genuine sadness when Eric's death is mentioned and a wonderful ending with the final guest, Peter Cushing.
Ernie continued to work in the following years, but would begin to slow down. Two strokes would bring about Ernie's retirement from show business, in 1995, on his 70th birthday. Ernie's last television appearance was in 1996 on a television show called Aunties All Time Greats - a program which honoured stars who had worked for the BBC. Hosted by Michael Parkinson, Ernie collected an award for the best double act. He was joined on stage by Joan Morecambe, Eric's wife.
Scriptwriter Roy Bottomley recalls the experience of this particular edition of This Is Your Life in his book This Is Your Life: The Story of Television's Famous Big Red Book...
‘Bring Me Sunshine,’ sang Morecambe and Wise at the close of every show in a decade of making audiences roll in the aisles at Teddington Studios.
And that was the number that boomed out when Ernie Wise walked into Studio Two on Boxing Day 1990, believing that Thames Television had lined up a retrospective interview about those unforgettable Christmas shows he and his late partner Eric Morecambe had appeared in.
He could be forgiven for feeling a little puzzled. He told us later: had that really been his father-in-law coming out of the gents? (Ernie, knowing the studios like the back of his hand, had slipped Life’s ‘minders’ to pop to the loo on the ground floor, only a few feet from where our surprises were hidden.)
If he was puzzled then, he was totally thrown when he walked into the studio to be greeted by a celebrity ‘chorus line’ with top hats and canes, among them Jilly Cooper, Gemma Craven, June Whitfield and Lionel Blair.
Before he had time to recover, an Oscar-winning actress told how the former Yorkshire working-men’s clubs boy clog dancer had influenced her career with one of the ‘plays wot he wrote’. She was Glenda Jackson MP.
We showed the hilarious sketch in which she played Cleopatra. She had agreed to that appearance in the wake of some heavy stage roles. Seen in a new light as a talented comedy actress, she was cast in the hit Hollywood movie A Touch of Class with George Segal – and that role won her her second Oscar.
An appearance with Morecambe and Wise influenced the life of newscaster Angela Rippon, too. We sprang her from her famous ‘leg-show’ song-and-dance routine. ‘Before that, everybody thought the BBC used to roll me around on casters,’ said Angela.
Sir Robin Day recalled his 1975 Christmas Show with the pair. ‘It had always been my ambition to be a great music hall comedian like, say, Des O’Connor,’ said the political pundit.
Eric’s widow, Joan, made an appearance and told us how she had first met Eric when they were both in a show at the Edinburgh Empire. He always said the theatre should have a plaque outside: ‘Eric Morecambe Fell Here.’
on the guest list...