Louis Barfe on writing about Morecambe & Wise interview

Running Wild. Image shows from L to R: Ernie Wise, Eric Morecambe. Copyright: BBC

As new book Sunshine And Laughter: The Story Of Morecambe & Wise is published, we chat to its author Louis Barfe to find out more...

Hi Louis. You've written the story of Morecambe & Wise?

I have. Well spotted.

Louis Barfe

Eric and Ernie are pretty much loved by everyone, including new generations discovering them now. What do you think it is about them and/or their shows which results in this?

Jimmy James, the comedian who did the famous 'box' routine, had a saying: there are people who do funny things and people who do things funny. Eric and Ernie were in the latter category. Their comedy was a projection of who they were. They began just trying to make each other laugh. Their innocence and silliness is universal and timeless.

Do you remember when you first saw Morecambe & Wise?

No, because they were always there.

What's your own personal favourite sketch?

That's a tough one. It might be the second Andre Previn sketch where they appeal to his vanity and persuade him to overcome his better judgment to work with them again by suggesting there's a knighthood in it for him.

However, it could be the sketch where a publisher visits Ernie to talk about publishing his book, and Eric realises that they're setting him up for humiliation. "You want to make him look a fool... Nobody does that while I'm around, because I've got the concession on that... You know he can't write. I know he can't write. He thinks he can write, and that's good enough for me." I think that sketch distils the essence of Eric and Ernie. They're always looking out for each other.

You've previously written about comedians such as Ken Dodd and Les Dawson. You must be a big comedy fan generally?

Yes, I've always been a big fan of comedy, but I'm also fascinated by the history of entertainment and broadcasting. I love talking to people who worked in it about the nuts and bolts of how it happens. Which leads neatly on to...

Louis Barfe - Sunshine and Laughter

There's been books before about Eric and Ernie. Why did you decide to write this one?

There have been many books about Eric and Ernie, and to be honest, I thought there were enough. However, my publisher said after Dodd that they'd really like an Eric and Ernie book. I remonstrated and said that it had been done every which way, but they said they didn't think it had been done the way I would do it. I thought about it, and realised that I had done two long interviews with Eric and Ernie's producers Johnny Ammonds and Ernest Maxin for my book Turned Out Nice Again. There was a lot of material and insight in those interviews that I hadn't been able to use.

You've managed to document these two extraordinary, intertwined, prolific, multi-decade careers in 240 easily digestible, accessible pages. How did you approach what to include and exclude?

I don't really have an approach. It just happens instinctively as I'm working. At the root of it, I'm just writing the book I'd want to read.

Have you uncovered any fascinating new titbits in the process of your research?

Yes.

What's your favourite anecdote included in the book?

I think it must be trombonist Chris Dean telling me about Eric and Ernie recording a wordless sketch with the Syd Lawrence Orchesta, based around Count Basie's Whirlybird. How they had to time Eric's movements to fit the music, etc. As I say, I'm a nuts and bolts man.

Who would you like to cover next? Is there an untold biography you'd like to write?

The idea that's been rattling around my head for ages is a book about some of the turns who didn't make it. Maybe they did a little television, like say a guest spot on 3-2-1, and they made a solid living on the club circuit, but they never became stars.

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