Morecambe & Wise Untold

Author William Cook chronicles Eric and Ernies' hard times in Chiswick

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Sixty years ago, in 1947, Morecambe & Wise spent a year in Chiswick, lodging in a theatrical boarding house behind that grand old Variety theatre, the Chiswick Empire writes local author William Cook in "Morecambe & Wise Untold" published this week.

It was probably the toughest - and the most formative - year of their lives. Now in their early 20s, they'd outgrown their old roles as child stars, but they were still too young and green to make the grade as proper grown up Variety artistes, and during the 18 months they spent here, they only worked for six weeks.

They might so easily have packed it in had it not been for Eric's mum, Sadie, who came down from Morecambe to work as a charlady, scrubbing floors to pay their rent.

Another reason they kept at it was their landlady, Eleanor Duer, who let them skip their rent for months at a time. She treated them less like lodgers, more like members of her own family, and although they didn't stand a chance of playing the Chiswick Empire, they met many of the Variety artistes who did, since they all lodged with Mrs Duer. These stars inspired them, giving them the inspiration for numerous routines and running gags which would eventually resurface in their TV shows.

Eventually, Eric and Ernie got a break in nude revue, and progressed from there to the Variety circuit, returning to play the Chiswick Empire many times before this famous theatre, built by the great theatre architect, Frank Matcham, was demolished in 1959.

Several of the Variety stars who performed with Eric and Ernie, and played this wonderful venue in its heyday, are still alive and live in Chiswick.

Morecambe and Wise Untold tells the story of these live performance years. What was it really like, in that lost world where they came from? How did it shape them? What were the other acts like? Why did they survive, while so many other variety acts vanished? This is the story of the spit and sawdust places where they served their showbiz apprenticeship, told through the reminiscences of the people they met along the way.

This fascinating biography contains exclusive interviews with Ken Dodd and Bruce Forsyth (who worked with Eric and Ernie in Variety) plus Michael Grade, Ernest Maxin and John Ammonds, who got to know them as a live act, and went on to mastermind their phenomenally successful TV shows. There are also insights from with Gail and Gary Morecambe (Eric's children), Joan Morecambe (Eric's widow) and a rare and revealing interview with Doreen Wise – the first time that Ernie's widow has ever been interviewed for a book about Morecambe & Wise.

Morecambe and Wise Untold will delight any fan of Morecambe & Wise, and contains rare and previously unseen photos by Gary Morecambe from his father’s family archive and from the collections of friends, fellow performers and fans who captured the emerging story of a legendary showbiz partnership in the making.

William Cook is the author of Ha Bloody Ha – Comedians Talking, The Comedy Store – The Club That Changed British Comedy and 25 Years of Viz. He edited Tragically I Was An Only Twin – The Complete Peter Cook and Goodbye Again – The Definitive Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and Eric Morecambe Unseen. He has worked for the BBC and written for the Guardian, the Mail on Sunday, The New Statesman, Conde Nast Traveller and hosted an evening talk on Morcombe & Wise's time in Chiswick at this year's Bedford Park Festival.

October 6, 2007