Morley & District Family History Group
.Ernie Wise of the famous duo “Morecambe & Wise, was born Ernest Wiseman, the son of Harry Wiseman, an employee of the London & North Eastern Railway Company who, when he was transferred to Ardsley station, took up residence at 12, Station Terrace, East Ardsley, a railway house which was eventually demolished during the construction of the motorway. Ernie, born in 1925, was only a baby when the family arrived in Ardsley and later he attended Thorpe Junior and Infant School; when he revisited the school in1990 he told of the good memories he had of his time there. He completed his education at East Ardsley Boys School where the teachers did not give him a happy time but never-the-less, as he was a seasoned performer at the age of nine years, he was always asked to produce the school pantomimes. When he was only six years of age he entertained at Working Men’s Clubs in Leeds and Bradford, first as a double act with his father, “Carson & Kid,” and then as a most popular solo child entertainer, singing, telling jokes and dancing. His father was told by the Leeds Education Authorities he must stop exploiting him with late night and weekend performances so instead he took up engagements in the Bradford area where he was unknown. The money Ernie earned at that time was a massive boost to the family’s low income.
It is thought that the first time Ernie performed on the stage of a theatre, rather than a club, was in 1938 at Morley’s New Pavilion theatre when he was the 12 year old Ernest Wiseman. The Old Morleians’ Amateur Dramatic Society staged the revue “Chuse ‘Ow” at the Pavilion theatre from 14 th to 19 th March 1938 and a local talent contest was included in the programme with the preliminary rounds held each evening and the final, at the Saturday performance, was won by the 12 year old Ernest Wiseman who was awarded the first prize of three guineas (£3.15). It was reported at the time that his comedy song and clever tap-dance routine “brought the house down.”
Mrs. Olwyn Chew, a member of the O.M.A.D.S., was at the Pavilion all that week busy in the auditorium selling programmes and chocolates for the society and she remembers Ernie’s performances well. He came on stage playing the part of a cheeky lad dressed in short trousers and flat cap he was full of confidence as he tap-danced and told jokes, one of which was:-
When I awake in the morning I toss a coin.
If it comes down heads I go out to play.
If it comes down tails I go to the pictures.
If it comes down on its edge I go to school.
It is especially interesting that Mrs. Chew remembers Ernie telling this particular joke at the Pavilion because that same one was used some years later; recycled from a juvenile to an adult setting it became one of the first gags he and Eric Morecame did together –
Ernie :- What shall we do today?
Eric :- Let’s toss a coin.
Heads we will go to the dog-racing.
Tails we’ll go to a football match.
If it comes down on its edge we’ll go to work.
It is significant that Ernie even at the beginning of their illustrious career had the skill to become the “straight man” with the generosity to feed Eric with what had been his own lines and so allow him to obtain the laughs.
Early in 1998, although ill, Mr. Wise was kind and patient enough to give the author his personal reminiscences of the competition at the Pavilion. He well remembered taking part and winning the contest but, at the time, wished he had not won because his father kept the prize money, no doubt to assist t the family budget, whereas the other entrants were presented with a box of chocolates, which Ernie would have preferred as he could have kept it. He also recollected that during the Saturday evening one of his clogs went missing and he finished the final with one clog and one rubber soled shoe.
The following year, 1938, Ernie was “discovered” by the band leader Jack Hylton and this led to the change of name to Ernie Wise (England’s Mickey Rooney) and then the historic meeting with Eric Morecambe resulted in the formation of the legendary partnership which was to span over four decades and reach unprecedented heights. The forty-three year partnership ended when Eric died on Monday 28 th May 1984. Ernie retired from show business in 1995 and died on Sunday 21 st March 1999.
information supplied by R Barraclough
© Carol Sklinar