This weeks Throwback Thursday looks at the UK’s most celebrated comedy act, the legendary Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise and their long association with Cardiff’s New Theatre.
The duo made several trips to Wales in their early career during the 1940s, including an infamous stint in Barry. However, it is probably Morecambe and Wise’s association with Cardiff’s New Theatre that has been the most enduring.
Variety Bill With Allan Jones, November 1950
The New Theatre’s archive reveals Eric and Ernie visited the venue several occasions on their climb up to stardom. It is thought that Eric and Ernie first appeared at the venue in 1940 as part of a variety bill. Such presentations were usually made up of musicians, dancers and novelty acts with a singer topping the bill. The boys worked hard for many years in variety including summer seasons.
The earliest recorded occasion of a Morecambe and Wise appearance at Cardiff’s New Theatre was for week-long stint on a variety bill in November 1950 (20/11/1950 – 25/11/1950). American actor and tenor, Allan Jones topped the bill, while Eric and Ernie appeared alongside The Tovarich Troupe, Eva & Lilian Tattersall, Jerry and Co., Ernest Arnley & Gloria, Linda & Lana and Cooke’s Pony Revue.
Variety Bill with Lee Lawrence, July 1951
Into 1951, Eric and Ernie’s career on radio started to pick up with appearances on Variety Fanfare and Workers Playtime. Its no surprise that as popular names they would start to gradually move up the bill on variety shows.
Eric and Ernie next visit to The New Theatre was in July 1951 (23/07/1951 – 28/07/1951). This time Salford born singer Lee Lawrence, famed for hits How Can You Buy Killarney and Song of Capri, topped the bill. Eric and Ernie, The Del Monico Dancers, Billy Thorburn, Jane, Two Condons, Len Taylor and a young man named Michael Bentine, who had recently appeared on the BBC Light programme in a series called Crazy People. Michael’s collaborators on Crazy People were Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers and Wales own Harry Secombe. Crazy People would shortly evolve into The Goon Show!
Peek-A-Boo with Morecambe & Wise and Phyllis Dixey, April 1952
April 1952 (28/04/1952 – 3/05/1952) saw a further return to Cardiff’s New Theatre for Eric and Ernie in Peek-a-Boo alongside singer (and former striptease artist) Phyllis Dixey. The bill also included Snuffy, Frances Duncan, George Dormitory, Anchors A’Weigh, Billy Thorburn, Degas’ Ballet, Billy Banks, Ballet Egyptian, The Bride’s Dream, George Martin, Jack Tracy and The Varga Girls.
By the time Morecambe and Wise returned to Cardiff some four years later they had already achieved fame via their own radio series, You’re Only Young Once (1953-54) and even a first unsuccessful stab at television with Running Wild (1954).
Variety Bill with The Four Jones Boys, April 1956
Music act The Four Jones Boys topped the bill in April 1956 (9/04/1956 – 14/04/1956) with Ric and Ernie featuring on the bill alongside Johnny Stewart, Bille Wyner, The Dancing Delicados, Keefe Brothers & Annette, Jack Francois and Cynthia & Gladys.
The Morecambe & Wise Show, April 1968
Big things were just around the corner for Eric and Ernie. The 1960s saw major success on television with their ATV comedy series Two of a Kind which drew in regular appearances from Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen and The Kaye Sisters and special guests including Roy Castle and The Beatles.
By 1968, Morecambe and Wise had made records, appeared in three feature films and had even traveled over to America on several occasions to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. They had recently completed their final TV Series for ATV and signed a deal with the BBC for their first colour TV series.
The pair still regularly toured as they had in the 1950s. Their appearance in Cardiff during April 1968 (1/04/1968 – 6/04/1968) saw Eric and Ernie at the top of the bill in The Morecambe & Wise Show with Teddy Johnson & Pearl Carr, Anna Lou & Maria, Saveen with Daisy May, Ballet Montparnasse and Eric Delaney & his Music.
Although 1968 was a landmark year for Eric and Ernie’s career, it nearly came to a tragic end in November when Eric suffered his first heart attack following a live appearance in the North of England.
Morecambe & Wise, October 1973
Eric and Ernie’s live schedule slowed down into the early 1970s as the duo concentrated on their successful BBC TV series, many shows of which are still enjoyed by fans today, 50 years after their initial broadcast.
Eric and Ernie’s final visit to Cardiff’s New Theatre was in October 1973 (19/10/1973 – 21/10/1973), however the duo never forgot their association with the venue as a letter sent to the New Theatre on its 75th birthday during October 1981 stated:
To the New Theatre Cardiff,
Congratulations on seventyfive years of entertainment. May you still be going strong in another seventyfive years.
We both played the New Theatre first in 1940 and many, many times since.
Des O’Connor actually played it in 1906…. Two months before his 28th birthday.
Morecambe and Wise
Although Eric died in 1984 and Ernie later in 1999, Morecambe and Wise are still fondly remembered. Echoes of their comedy magic still resonates at Cardiff’s New Theatre on occasions. The one man show, Morecambe starring Bob Golding played the venue in 2010, while Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel played a one-night only show An Evening With Eric & Ern with special guest, Stephanie Webber in 2019.
This article is illustrated with two Morecambe and Wise programmes from my personal collection, although neither are venue specific, if anybody can provide me with scans of their New Theatre appearances for a future feature I would love to hear from you.
I would love to have any further details relating to other Morecambe and Wise appearances across Wales. Please email Andy Howells at firstname.lastname@example.org