Eric and Ernie: Positive Thinking

Daniel Rigby and Bryan Dick as Eric and Ernie

HE died in 1984.

But I still have Eric Morecambe’s telephone number in my reporter’s contacts book.

Placed there in shaky handwriting in the late 1970s when I was a young cub reporter on the Luton News.

Asked by my news editor to call Eric to talk about a local charity event the comedy legend was involved with.

At the time, Morecambe and Wise were the biggest stars in the land.

Let alone our circulation area.

And like the rest of the nation, I was a huge fan of their TV shows and Christmas specials, which attracted close to 30m viewers.

So you can imagine my teenage nerves as I carefully dialled the number of Eric’s family home just a few miles away from the newsroom.

His wife Joan answered and took pity on my stumbling attempt to explain who I was and what I wanted.

“He’s in the garden,” she said.

“I’ll go and get him.”

Hours seemed to pass before I heard the sound of footsteps at the other end of the line.

Growing ever louder by the second before Eric picked up the phone.

“Hello?” said a familiar voice.

My moment had come: “I’m sorry to trouble you Mr Morecambe…”

“No you’re not,” he laughed, “or you wouldn’t have rung.”

Before spending several minutes answering every question I had.

In later years I also interviewed Eric’s comedy partner Ernie Wise.

As well as Eric’s son Gary.

But I’ve never forgotten the day I rang Eric Morecambe.

The last time I ever began a telephone conversation with the words: “I’m sorry to trouble you…”


Regular readers of this blog will know that I went on location during filming of BBC2’s wonderful New Year’s Day drama Eric & Ernie.

You can read my first feature here.

The second is in today’s Manchester Evening News and below.

It’s a brilliant, life-affirming film.

Do not miss it.

Emer Kenny and Daniel Rigby as Joan and Eric Morecambe


“THERE’S always a pressure when you’re trying to represent a character that’s unanimously loved,” smiles Daniel Rigby.

“People say things like, ‘I definitely loved Eric Morecambe more than my own dad.’ Things like that,” he adds.

Both Daniel and co-star Bryan Dick are thrilled to be playing Morecambe and Wise, perhaps the greatest ever comedy double act.

But as they take a break from filming Eric & Ernie (BBC2, New Year’s Day, 9pm) in Stockport, they admit to being nervous about how their performances in the finished drama will be received.

Written by Hazel Grove screenwriter Peter Bowker, it tells the story of how the duo first met as young boys and takes it up to the 1950s, after their first TV series was a big flop.

Daniel and Bryan need not have worried. They shine as the grown-up stars learning their craft on endless tours of variety theatres, long before they became national treasures.

“They were at the height of their fame in their mid-40s when they had already been doing variety for 30 years. It’s extraordinary. They had decades in the business before they reached the heights that we know them best for,” says Daniel.

Victoria Wood co-stars as Eric’s mother Sadie with Jim – Vic Reeves – Moir as father George. “I never knew anything about Eric’s relationship with his mum and how influential she was in Eric and Ernie getting together and Eric getting into showbusiness.

“He’d have much rather have had a quiet life and stayed in Morecambe, working for the council. She was the one who gave him the necessary kick,” explains Daniel.

Jim Moir and Victoria Wood as George and Sadie

Sadie took young Ernie under her wing. Bryan says: “She effectively adopted him. Ernie had been travelling around on his own, aged 13, going from gig to gig. She thought of him as a second son in many ways.”

Both actors have captured the essence and chemistry of the young Morecambe and Wise in this affectionate and heartwarming story. Daniel recalls: “When I first heard about the audition, I thought, ‘I don’t look anything like him.’ But then looking more at pictures of Eric when he was younger, I think there is a resemblance.

“I didn’t have any voice training. I just tried to listen as best I could. What was most useful to me was watching documentary footage of him because a lot of the drama takes place in his normal life and he’s just behaving as he would.

“I think Bryan had a harder job because, as I’ve discovered, everyone’s got an Eric Morecambe impression. Ernie’s a bit more difficult.”

Although Ernie was mainly the straight man comedy feed for Eric, Bryan insists both men were as important to the act as each other. “Ernie was one half of the greatest comedy double act of all time. It wouldn’t have existed without equal contributions from them both.

“And in the later years, the dynamic wasn’t simply feed and comic. When Eddie Braben started writing the shows, Ernie took on a character which was, in itself, pompous and very comic.”

Daniel describes Eric as a naturally funny man. “He just had funny bones and he loved to entertain people. He was always trying to make people laugh. He also eventually found his own voice as a comic, allowing more of himself as a person to come into the act.”

The Manchester-based production used several theatres in the north west as period locations, including The Plaza in Stockport. Producer Timothy Bricknell says: “They’ve done such a careful job restoring the place to its 1930s’ heyday, we hardly had to do anything to it.

“We filmed at the Winter Gardens in Morecambe, which we used to depict the Glasgow Empire. And we’ve got lots of scenes on trains, filmed on the East Lancashire steam railway.”

Eric & Ernie learned their trade in a very different world to today. “You get to hone your act. You’re given a chance to perfect what it is that you do,” says Bryan. “Now we live in an era of, ‘If it doesn’t work, get rid of it.’ And actually they went away for a few years and re-jigged their act before they actually had another stab at TV.

“There’s no sense that they didn’t earn all the adulation that they got. They worked for years and years. Today we live in an environment where celebrity is an end in itself. Whereas theirs was as a result of the fact that they’d honed their talents over so many years.”

Those hoping for a “tears of a clown” expose will be disappointed. Eric and Ernie were lifelong friends until Eric died in 1984. Ernie died in 1999. “There wasn’t a dark side to them. What you see is what you get,” maintains Daniel.

“They weren’t tortured comedians. Obviously they struggled and were poor and had to work really hard to get where they got to. But there wasn’t anything like that.”

Adds Bryan: “And they just genuinely loved each other, as well.”


Eric & Ernie: Victoria Wood

Eric & Ernie BBC Site

Morecambe and Wise

Follow Ian Wylie on Twitter

Eric and his father George (Daniel Rigby and Jim Moir)


Filed under News

20 responses to “Eric and Ernie: Positive Thinking

  1. Philip Hobson

    As a viewer from N.Ireland I was looking forward to the Morecambe & Wise dramatisation on New Years Day,only to see that it has been moved from 9.00pm to 10.35pm in order to facilitate some locally made garbage.I am fortunate that I have a satellite dish and can find regional BBC2 channels,but for those who are still on analogue and don’t possess sky+,iplayer or a video recorder are going to have to wait 95minutes to watch this programme.BBCNI programmes should be shown in the wee small hours if they should be shown at all.

  2. 1ML

    One of the best things I’ve seen on TV for ages. Just wish I could have actually had the live chat, which didn’t happen for me and just led to a blank page. However unbelievable script and a fantastic performance. But I really wanted to ask Jim Moir what it was like to play the father of one of his comedy idols. He can email me if he wants, or even become facebook friends with me🙂

  3. Debbie Blake

    I thought the programme was absolutely brilliant! Victoria Wood and Vic Reeves were superb as the parents. (I’ve always thought Vic looked like Eric anyway!) Both chaps were excellent in their roles and the likeness was uncanny. Daniel Rigby not only looked like Eric, he sounded like him too. The programme made me laugh and cry. Well done to all the cast! We really need more programmes of this quality on TV.

    • Lorna Carlin

      I agree – brilliant TV! Victoria Wood deserves an award for putting this together, the script was fantastic. My favourite character was George Bartholemew, portrayed brilliantly by Jim Moir – he just cracked me up! I’m too young to remember Eric and Ernie but I’m inspired now to find more of their material since seeing this! Thank you!!

  4. Janet Lisozzi

    Absolutely brilliant.

  5. Janet Riley

    Best programme I’ve seen for along time. The cast and the production were superb.

  6. John Richardson

    Peter Bowker’s script makes a mention of Paignton Festival Theatre, when Eric and Ernie were looking for work in the 50’s. Sadly, this is an anachronism, as the theatre was not built until 1967. However, the programme as brilliant and the acting superb.

  7. Eric & Ernie attracted an average of 6.1m viewers with a peak of 6.5m – being reported as the highest rating non BBC1 / ITV1 drama since the classic Our Friends In The North in 1996. If you missed it (and are able to access) it’s on the BBC iPlayer for the next six days – and is also repeated on the BBC HD channel at 2230 this Thursday – Jan 6.

  8. Paul T

    I’ve got to agree .. one of the best programmes I’ve seen in ages…. Daniel was brilliant in his portrayal of Eric, even in his mannerisms, well done to everyone connected with the programme…

  9. The production was brilliant. Hats off to Peter Bowker and the director for creating a drama that will live on for years. The 6 actors playing Eric and Ernie were all wonderful and Bryan Dick was especially good at acapturing the more difficult role of Ernie. I also liked the teenage actor playing Ernie as well. I wish we’d have 30 minutes more to cover a little of their successful period and hope the BBC plan a follow up.

    I could have done with a little less focus on Eric’s Mum. Actually Ernie’s childhood seemed far more interesting and deserved a drama all by itself.

    I hope the BBC repeat it on BBC1. Infact thats where it should have aired in the first place. Toast should have been on BBC and Eric and Ernie on BBC1 on Xmas day. Also who made the decision NOt to film it in HD. Silly , very silly.
    Hope we see a lot more of Daniel Rigby and Bryan Dick.

  10. kathy

    Well done to the BBC, and esp Victoria Wood. Excellent docu about Eric and Ernie.

    Was never a huge fan of all their progs, but watched most of them including Christmas episodes. Cliff in a sailor’s uniform, Angela Rippon, newsreaders, etc… all fabulous.

    Mannerisms were excellent too, in the docu mimic-ing Eric glasses twiddling… Need more great progs like this…. [& docu’s, after to high-light how good the background knowledge came about].

  11. LC

    Superb production and first-rate performances all round. Even if modern audiences struggle to find the gentler humour of a bygone age hard to grasp, what was undeniable was the warmth and love Eric and Ern engendered in everyone who saw them. This was their greatest quality and was admirably captured here.

    Only one criticism – why was this tucked away late on BBC2? Thank heavens for iPlayer.

  12. Tony Tate

    I watched this hoping to goodness that it wasn’t going to spoil the memory of Eric and Ernie because for someone of my age (48) there were too many good memories of the seventies BBCshows. I thought it was excellent and when the baftas come around I would think there will be a few members of the cast and writers up for awards. Congratulations and thanks to all involved.

  13. sheila

    Brilliantly written and brilliantly acted. This was a joy to watch. All actors playing Eric and Ernie were perfect. Bryan Dick was particularly good at capturing Ernies voice. How refreshing to know they had a real friendship and it lasted a lifetime. I couldn’t believe Young Ernies dad going home and leaving Ernie to go it alone ! Eric it seems had a much happier childhood. the time flew by watching this and i was left wanting a bit more. Great stuff.

  14. This was pure genius and a completely class act! I just didn’t want this programme to end. I thought I had died and gone to heaven! I am going to sound old now but they don’t make them like that any more! All this modern stuff, Wikipedia, it sounds like graffiti on a subway. Did he? I don’t know, mind the puddle though. Hey!

  15. Kate

    Brilliant! I thought this was the best thing I have seen for ages. I laughed and cried. Well done to all involved.

  16. BuzzCagney

    What a wonderful show- it moved me to tear up!
    It reminded me of being a kid in the 70’s and how much I loved The Boys.
    Fantastic script. Wonderful performances from all the cast- but most especially the actors that potrayed Eric and Ernie. The film also looked quite lovely. Some very nice location shots. I’m sure Eric and Ernie would have enjoyed watching it.
    Thank you- all involved. Thank you so much.

  17. Bob Cutting

    Thank you so much for giving us a visual inside look into the greatest double up ever.
    Daniel & Bryan were brilliant with their portrayal of Eric & Ern..I really can’t think of anyone else talented (or brave) enough to take on these roles.
    Huge thanks to Victoria for coming up with the idea ( & , of course, her portrayal of Sadie) & what a wonderful part for Jim Moir (Vic Reeves as was) to play….Anyone agree that he would have been superb as an older Eric should a sequel ever be put into the pipeline ??
    Thanks again.

  18. Cam

    I caught up with this last night having recorded it. My wife was not keen on watching it but we both laughed and (i nearly) cried at the programme. Like others, it brought back memories of my childhood watching the comic duo. I particularly liked just how well Bryan Dick capture Ernie’s voice as this was probably the more difficault role to get right. A total joy from start to finish.

  19. Pingback: Eric & Ernie (2011) | All Films Blog

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