Morecambe and Wise were unquestionably among the comedy greats. Their TV shows pulled in millions of viewers and their Christmas special was an essential part of the festive season.

Now a new show, Eric and Ern at Christmas starring Ian Ashpitel as Ernie Wise and Jonty Stephens as Eric Morecambe at Christmas comes to The Lowry next week.

Here Gary Morecambe, Eric’s son answers a few questions about the show.

What are audiences in store for with Eric & Ern?

It’s like going to a live Morecambe and Wise show. That’s the idea and audiences are in store for a nostalgic trip back in time. They’re going to remember Eric and Ernie fondly and somehow feel like they’re back in the 1970s because the show has that flavour to it. They’re in for a good night’s entertainment and it’s done very much as an homage to the style of Morecambe and Wise from the days when they were touring in the 1970s, so it’ll be familiar to people who saw them on stage back then. Jonty Stephens (Eric) and Ian Ashpitel (Ernie) also bring in little bits from the TV shows, so there’s a nod to the breakfast routine, and bits that reference André Previn

How does it feel seeing your father portrayed by someone else?

Well, for me it will always be someone else. In fairness to Jonty and Ian, they are only one part of the Morecambe and Wise industry. We do documentaries, there’s the repeating of shows, there are all kinds of things going on, many projects that are discussed and executed. Jonty and Ian’s touring performance is another of those things - and a very good one, I must say - but I never for a moment think I’m sitting there watching my father because I used to do that all the time anyway when he was alive. There are moments when I’m sitting watching the show where I think ‘I could actually be watching Eric and Ernie’, which is lovely. The fact Jonty and Ian are good enough to make me feel that is really something.

Did they have your approval from the beginning?

I’ll admit I had a lot of doubts when this first started. I wasn’t running, jumping, skipping and saying ‘It’s brilliant that these two guys are doing this show about Morecambe and Wise’. There had been other attempts by other nameless people which were nothing short of disastrous, to be honest, so I was wary. But then I went to see them at Edinburgh because I’d had many tip-offs about them, both from people inside and outside of the industry, and when I saw the show that’s when I thought ‘They really are good’. That first time seeing them gave me a bit of a shiver down the spine, actually, because I went in there slightly on the attack and I came out bewildered almost - because they were that good. That was the beginning of our relationship and us as a family saying: ‘OK, you’re both very good actors, you certainly seem to recognise how Eric and Ernie worked, we’ll support you.’

How involved are you in the Eric & Ern show?

I try not to be too hands-on because it’s not our project. We haven’t set up a production company or anything like that. It’s more us as a family offering them moral support and all the rest of it. Recently, because they’ve been doing this for a few years now, they’re aware they’re getting better by honing it. Some bits work better than others, other bits they loved doing I’ll admit I was a little critical of - like ‘It’s a long way to get a gag out of it’ or ‘Eric and Ernie wouldn’t have done it like that’. We have meetings where the three of us work on the material and that’s been great. And they’re getting to a point now where the show couldn’t be any better, to be honest. It’s pretty much 100% there as a piece of entertainment.


Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens as Eric and Ern (Picture: Paul Colta)

Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens as Eric and Ern (Picture: Paul Colta)


Jonty and Ian have also written new material for the show. Do they run it past you for approval?

Yes, they do. It never started like that. It started in Edinburgh, as I say, then we met and got on as people - which was lovely. Over the years, just over a beer, I’ve made suggestions and they’ve been very kind and said ‘Yeah, we like that’. Now it’s a case of ‘Are you free next Thursday afternoon? Let’s have a meeting’. We meet somewhere and hammer out what we’re doing on the script so it becomes more of a joint effort, but I don’t want to be kind of claiming anything from it particularly. I just want them to do it as best they can and if I feel I can help with that and they feel I can help with that then it’s worth doing.

Has Jonty asked you for any advice on playing your dad?

The thing with both Jonty and Ian is that they’re both very good actors and they’ve watched so much material that I can’t really advise them on anything like that because they do it so perfectly. When you’re with Jonty and Ian there is very little Eric and Ernie about them, believe me. They’re actors and this is a very big job for them. That’s how they see it, that’s what they are, then when they go into Eric and Ernie I can sit back and think: ‘God, they’re really good. They’re doing it so well, this homage. They’re really getting it right.’ So no, I wouldn’t sit there and suggest anything. They don’t miss a trick because they’ve watched countless hours of Eric and Ernie in action. They know every little move.

What do you think your dad would make of the play?

I think he’d be thrilled and I think Ernie would be too. They would have been thrilled that they haven’t been forgotten. Having Jonty and Ian, who do it so well, would have meant a lot to them - to be recognised and remembered in a classy and professional way. Dad would have have been really chuffed about it.

Eric and Ern at Christmas, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Monday, December 6 to Sunday, December 12. Details from