Less than 24 hours before my scheduled post-show Q&A at the St James Theatre, I had a temperature of over 103° F (39.4° C). My boyfriend tells me I was semi-delirious. He contacted the producers of Eric and Little Ern and warned them I may not be able to make it the next night.
But, in the words of Morecambe and Wise, way-hey!, the post-show, like the show, must go on. I downed various Lemsippy concoctions, buried myself in duvets and sweated it out. The next morning, my bed was as wet as a swimming pool but the fever had broken.
I tell you this because, on the night, I also warned the audience and those following me on Twitter, that I was still a little dopey – as was Ian Ashpitel, who plays little Ern, and who, I learned once I got backstage, was suffering from similar night sweats last week. I asked those on Twitter to forgive both Ian and me if we sounded out of it on the recorded podcast to come.
Well, we no longer need forgiveness for that, because in my dopiness, I somehow managed to delete the recording later that night. Hmmm. This is a shame because as Ian, Jonty Stephens (who plays Morecambe) and those lucky enough to stick around after their performance that night will know, it was a properly corking Q&A!
Here are just some of the things that I learned about Eric and Ernie, Jonty and Ian… If you were there, and remember additional highlights better than me in my medicated state, please add them below. In the meantime, thanks to Ian, Jonty and everyone at the St James and Seabright Productions for letting me quiz these guys on such a great show!
13 things I now know about Eric & Ernie (and Ian & Jonty)
- Jonty and Ian, like Eric and Ernie, are lifelong friends. They first met in drama school.
- Jonty and Ian’s first Morecambe & Wise gig together was at a golf club, in a skit they wrote in the style of Eric & Ernie about members of the club.
- Nigel Harman and Philip Glenister were amongst the many celebrity friends who encourage Jonty and Ian to develop a full show actually playing Eric & Ernie rather than just copying their style.
- Jonty is a keen impressionist. He grew up mimicking Morecambe and many other heroes. He gave us a tasting menu of Sean Connery on Thursday night.
- Morecambe & Wise played 16 Ed Sullivan shows in the US, the first in 1964. But despite his love of American double acts like Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello, and despite Ernie’s fervent desire to make it in Hollywood, Eric didn’t want to pander to the US market and effectively start over, building up from the bottom.
- Ernie has also gone down in history as the first person in the UK to place a call from a mobile phone, in 1985.
- Eddie Braben, who wrote much of Morecambe & Wise’s material, gave Ian and Jonty permission to use it just two weeks before he died in May 2013.
- The first half of Eric and Little Ern is set in Ernie’s room at Nuffield Hospital where he died on 21 March 1999. Ian spent much his childhood in palliative care homes, where his mother worked. He was inspired by watching patients who would have imaginary heart-to-heart conversations with long-lost friends. In the play, Ernie is visited by ‘Eric’, who died 15 years before him.
The second half of Eric and Little Ern recreates one of Morecambe and Wise’s famous live performances at Fairfield Halls in Croydon in 1973. (A member of the audience was at the performance – and told us Ian and Jonty are spot on!)
- Ian and Jonty decided not to have guest stars in Eric and Little Ern, like Morecambe and Wise had on their television shows, as they felt this had already been done onstage with The Right Size’s 2001 West End hit The Play What I Wrote, co-starring Toby Jones. Self-confessed Morecambe & Wise geek Jonty said he couldn’t bring himself to see The Play What I Wrote as he didn’t want to be disappointed.
- Though Jonty is the lifelong fan, he never saw Morecambe & Wise live. Ian did, at the age of six in Blackpool.
- Ian has been helping to spearhead a campaign for a joint statue of Eric and Ernie to be erected. One of Morecambe on his own was restored this month overlooking his hometown at Morecambe Bay, after being damaged by a mentally ill man.
- Ian and Jonty have reams of additional material that did not make it into Eric and Little Ern. They have considered and been approached about various possible follow-ups, including a musical. Watch this space!
Event photography by Peter Jones.