Reliving the Morecambe & Wise classics at Chichester Festival Theatre

Jonty Stephens
Jonty Stephens

Two giants of comedy live again in An Evening of Eric and Ern at Chichester Festival Theatre on December 2.

Eric and Little Ern, written and performed by Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens, was first performed at The Edinburgh Fringe to rave reviews and a sell-out run. It toured, enjoyed a West End run and was nominated for an Olivier award in 2014.

The first half took as its starting point the last day of Ernie Wise’s life. Its second half was what happened in front of the curtain; from that has now developed the new show, mixing some of the Morecambe & Wise classic sketches with some of the lesser-known ones plus original Morecambe & Wise-inspired material by Ian and Jonty.

“We try to represent them in the greatest way we can,” says Jonty.

“Ian and I met at drama school more than 30 years ago. We were at drama school in Birmingham and we met and just hit it off. We became best mates. Ian was the best man at my wedding. Well, the best that I could get!

“But we always acted separately. But we are both great golfers and are members of the Stage Golfing Society. Richmond Golf Club let us use a room in their beautiful manor house they have got, and every year the Stage Golfing Society put on a show for the Richmond Club as their host.

“The captain said that he was wanting to do like a variety show, and he said to me ‘Jonty, you do Eric don’t you?’ and I said ‘Well, yes, but I would need an Ern.’

“And I looked across at the bar and there was Ian and I just thought he would be absolutely perfect. It was completely spur of the moment. It was not something we had ever planned. I saw his short fat hairy legs and asked him and he just said yes.

“This was about 12-13 years ago, and we just did five minutes and we got a lot of compliments and we never thought any more of it until about five or six years ago we were asked to recreate it at another club.

“We wrote some material in the style of Eric and Ern and also used some Eric and Ern material. We thought we would do about ten minutes and we ended up doing about 20, and people were saying to us that we just had to do something more with it all.

“We met a guy who became our mentor and is now our executive producer, and he backed us, and so we wrote the play Eric and Little Ern, for which we got an Olivier nomination. We were astounded.

“As I said, it was a play about their relationship based on the last day of Ernie’s life, and it was very poignant. This is now a totally-new show but the first play was the springboard.

“It is a real nostalgia trip. It is a show for everybody. It is full of the iconic routines, and what is exciting is that it is not just for the Eric & Ernie die-hards.

“They are bringing their children and their grandchildren because they all remember first watching Eric & Ernie with their own parents and grandparents. And there is like an audible sigh of ‘Oh, we have missed them!’

“Nothing has ever really replaced Eric & Ernie on British TV. We are finding that there is such an appetite for it.

“The legacy and the love that Eric & Ernie left behind is quite remarkable. And it has just never gone away…”

Tickets are available from Chichester Festival Theatre on www.cft.org.uk.

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