This weeks Throwback Thursday looks at the UK’s most celebrated comedy act, the legendary Eric Morecambe & Ernie Wise and their long association with Cardiff’s New Theatre.
During the 1940s, Morecambe & Wise made several trips to South Wales in their early career, including an infamous stint playing a venue in Barry. However, it is probably their association with Cardiff’s New Theatre that has been the most enduring.
An Early Variety Spot For Eric & Ern in Cardiff
The New Theatre’s archive reveals Morecambe & Wise visited the venue on several occasions during their climb to stardom.
It is thought that Eric & 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 & Wise appearance at the 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 & Ernie appeared alongside The Tovarich Troupe, Eva & Lilian Tattersall, Jerry and Co., Ernest Arnley & Gloria, Linda & Lana and Cooke’s Pony Revue.
Morecambe & Wise Support Salford Singer
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.
Morecambe & Wise’s 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.
The line-up consisted of Morecambe & Wise, 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!
Comedy Duo Play Peek-A-Boo in Wales
April 1952 (28/04/1952 – 3/05/1952) saw Morecambe & Wise return to Cardiff’s New Theatre 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.
Morecambe & Wise Run Wild With Music Act
By the time Morecambe & Wise returned to Cardiff in 1956 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).
Music act The Four Jones Boys topped the bill in April 1956 (9/04/1956 – 14/04/1956) with Morecambe & Wise featuring alongside Johnny Stewart, Bille Wyner, The Dancing Delicados, Keefe Brothers & Annette, Jack Francois and Cynthia & Gladys.
Eric & Ern Visited South Wales In Landmark Year
Big things were just around the corner for Eric & 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 plus up and coming stars Roy Castle and The Beatles.
By 1968, Morecambe & Wise had made several records, three feature films and many stateside on appearances 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 & 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 & 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 Recall Cardiff’s New Theatre
Morecambe and Wise’ live performances slowed down into the early 1970s. At this time, the duo concentrated on their successful BBC TV series written by celebrated scriptwriter Eddie Braben, many of these shows are still enjoyed by fans today, some 50 years after their original broadcast.
Eric & 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 & Wise are still fondly remembered. Echoes of their comedy magic still resonate 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 & 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 & Wise appearances across Wales. Please email Andy Howells at firstname.lastname@example.org