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When I was very young I used to watch the television shows my parents and much older siblings used to watch. One of these shows was The Morecambe and Wise show and although Eric Morecambe died when I was only six it really felt like the duo were always around and still very relevant until I was much older. Part of this must be the fact that because Morecambe and Wise are such a national institution that their shows were and still are repeated. When I first got into the Morecambe and Wise experience I was really only was watching one man: Ernie Wise. Now commonly referred to as the 'straight man' of the duo, Wise made my heart melt. I thought he was the cutest, most intelligent, best looking, funniest, silliest, most talented singer and dancer in the world. I'll be honest, loud and manic Eric scared me a little bit! As I got older my perception of the duo changed somewhat (Eric stopped scaring me) but Ernie remained my favourite and remains to this day a massive hero of mine.
I have been a bit dismayed over the past couple of decades to see that Ernie is constantly overshadowed by the public adoration of Mr Morecambe. There have been some sad instances which highlight just how undervalued Ernie is in the partnership. The pair each have a statue, for example, but Morecambe's is bronze, cost around forty grand and was unveiled by Her Majesty in Morecambe bay whilst Ernie's widow had to plump up the cost for a modest stone carving of her husband which nobody knew where to put until Morley, a district of Leeds where Ernie used to perform, finally accepted it. A further incidence includes the fact that on a recent poll of funniest comedians Eric Morecambe was placed on his own high in the list whilst other comedy duos like Laurel and Hardy were grouped together. To be honest, I find it all a bit incomprehensible as to me the beauty and magic of Morecambe and Wise was the fact that they were together. I'm pretty sure that current opinion regarding the talent of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise is based on their double act rather than any individual achievements. One could not be funny without the other. One did not exist without the other.
I was really excited and pleased when this book was published. I've read a few books about the duo and also just on Eric Morecambe but I'd never read anything that specifically concentrated on Ernie. This authorised biography was published in 2011 and was written by Robert Sellers and James Hogg. I have a hardback version and it is 322 pages long. It contains two glossy segments of revealing and heart warming photographs featuring Ernie from his childhood and throughout his life.
The book begins with a prologue from the authors about why they wanted to write this book, echoing the way I feel about Ernie being in the shadow of Eric. The authors then explore Ernie's life, beginning with his parents origins and his earliest childhood. Ernie's widow, Doreen, is able to elaborate on some of the aspects of Ernie's childhood and what she says gives a fascinating insight into how some of Ernie's values and character traits might have developed.
If you're already even slightly familiar with Morecambe and Wise then you'll probably recognise the core of the story about how they met and formed their act. However, it's lovely to hear this story re-told with the emphasis on Ernie's experience of everything. As the book progresses you start to understand to a greater extent who Ernie was when he wasn't in front of a crowd or a camera. It's a beautiful tribute which highlights the best of who Ernie was.
It's also wonderful to read an extensive account of Ernie's career and accomplishments after Eric died. Ernie's work ethic meant that he wanted to continue to be productive for as long as possible and I'm sure that some people will be surprised at some of the things he was able to do in the twilight of his career.
As a fan this biography is very satisfying as it gives such a detailed and honest account of Ernie's life and career. The contributions to the text from Ernie's family and friends are enthralling and insightful. There are no huge revelations in the book but the overall account of what kind of man Ernie was has never been so exhaustive. Reading this makes me love Ernie Wise even more than I already do! I would recommend this if you are a fan of Morecambe and Wise or even if you just enjoy reading biographies of notable public figures. This book is well written, thoroughly researched and is a brilliant tribute to a brilliant man.