A tribute to late, great Morecambe and Wise on a Peterborough stage

Eric and Ern is a brilliant homage to Morecambe and Wise - crammed full of those famous comedy sketches, from Grieg’s Piano concerto, Mr Memory…’Arsenal’ to the paper bag trick!

Sunday, 19th September 2021, 5:35 am
See Eric and Ern at Peterborough New Theatre.
See Eric and Ern at Peterborough New Theatre.

From the Olivier Award nominated duo Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens, this nostalgic show - coming to Peterborough’s New Theatre on October 13 - evokes memories of a time when whole families would huddle around the telly to watch the duo.

Ahead of their visit to the city theatre next month, we caught up with Ian (Ernie) and Jonty (Eric ).

Your resemblance to Morecambe and Wise is remarkable - how did you two get together?

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Ian (Ernie) We first met at Drama school in 1983 - I was a mature student…..

Jonty ( Eric) And I was an immature student.

Ian We became the best of friends and have remained so ever since.

Jonty Ian was best man at my wedding - well, the best one I could get at the time.

How did it all come about?

Ian Its all Jonty’s fault. He’s always been brilliant at impressions and has been a huge fan of Eric and Ern since he was a boy

Jonty Basically, we belong to the Stage Golfing Society and every year we do a show for our host club - Richmond. Some fool asked me to do Eric for the show and I said “yes, but I’ll need a Little Ern,” I looked across the bar and there was Ian with his hair and short fat hairy legs.

Ian Initially I said no of course, ‘cos I think I look more like Robert Redford……No? Anyway, we did a five minute sketch for the show and it went down really well. Then six years later they asked us to do it again, but this time we wrote some material in the style of M and W.

Jonty It went down so well that everyone kept telling us you’ve got to do something with this. So that’s where the idea came from - It was then that we decided we would write a play.

The play being of course “Eric and Little Ern” - what was the premise behind that?

Jonty The play is set during the last hours of Ernie’s life at the Nuffield Hospital - Erinie’s hooked up to a hospital bed when a doctor comes on, pulls out a pair of black spectacles (Eric) and were off - reliving moments from their lives and of course famous sketches and scenes from their TV shows and live performances.

Ian It sounds quite sad, and there are moments of pathos but its lifted by the joy and comedy that M and W brought to so many of us. In fact Act 2 is us performing as them doing their stand up routine.

Jonty At the end of the show many of the audience were crying - which is a shame really ‘cos it’s meant to be a comedy

Where was the play first performed?

Ian We did a quick try out in London and then took a one hour version up to Edinburgh where the reviews and the reactions was astonishing to say the least

Jonty Yes, we couldn’t believe it. Things like “Eric and Ern reborn in Edinburgh” An interview with Will Compertz on BBC 10 o’clock news and four and five star reviews all over the place.

Ian After the success of Edinburgh we created a two act version of the show, went on tour and ended up in the West End at the Vaudeville Theatre.

Jonty Then it went really mad again. Amazing reviews from the national press, an appearance on the BBC Breakfast sofa , Steve Wright in the afternoon, The Alan Titchmarsh show and to top it all off - an Olivier Nomination

So where did you go from there.

Jonty Downhill - no seriously. Someone from P and O cruises saw us at the Vaudeville and asked if we could do a cabaret style version based on the second half of the play for a new concept on the yet to be launched flag ship Britannia.

Ian Which came at an opportune time as it gave us a new challenge to produce a version of the show that was more accessible to a broader audience.

Jonty And again - surprised and thrilled at the response of this new audience - every night after the show we are reminded of how much M and W were loved and what they meant to so many people

Ian Yes, when we do the show its not just a comedy show - there is a real emotional connection from the audience who remember them and of course the lovely reaction from the younger members of the audience who are seeing the comedy of M and W for the first time is great.

And is this where the show came from?

Ian Absolutely. What was apparent was that there is a real appetite for this kind of show and we were being constantly asked ‘When will you bring the show to a town near us?”

Jonty We then performed in a charity show at a theatre and were approached afterwards asking if we could do a whole evening of Eric and Ern?

Ian So once again, it wasn’t our idea so much as people asking for more of the comedy of M and W. It’s really snowballed and carried us along, to be honest.

What can we expect in this production

Ian Hopefully, for that short period of time we can transport you back to a time watching and laughing in a shared experience at the brilliant and timeless comedy of M and W

Jonty I was going to say that! No, seriously its got some of the sketches, songs and routines that you may have seen before and some that you haven’t - with a few surprises along the way.

What do you think of the interview so far……?

Jonty and Ian Rubbish!

Jonty No, its been very good in many ways

Ian We have to mention of course that this show is about the brilliance of the greatest comedy duo of all time. Our aim is shine a light on their enormous talent, to recreate the memories for those that know and love them ….

Jonty And perhaps create new memories for those that don’t.

Ian Plus, we’ve been very lucky to have the support and of the Morecambe family and The Morecambe and Wise estate, that’s hugely important to us.

Jonty Yes, they’ve been very kind and generous, as have the family of Eddie Braben, who in also giving us permission to use his material.

Ian, Jonty thank you so much for your time today

Ian It’s been a pleasure

Jonty Do we get paid now?

Tickets for Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens as Eric and Ern on October 13 are available from www.newtheatre-peterborough.com