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Sunday, March 21, 1999 Published at 11:50 GMT


'Great performer' Ernie remembered

Doreen and Ernie before he became ill

Showbusiness stars, politicians and friends have been paying tribute to Ernie Wise, who died in hospital on Sunday morning.

The entertainer, half of the legendary Morecambe and Wise duo, had undergone a triple bypass operation in Florida in January but returned to the UK this month.

[ image: Eric and Ernie were a hugely popular double act]
Eric and Ernie were a hugely popular double act
Two weeks ago he was flown home from the US by air ambulance.

Glenda Jackson, the transport minister and former actress who appeared on the Morecambe and Wise TV show, lead the tributes.

Glenda Jackson: He was lovable, funny, friendly
She said: "I am very sorry that he has gone, he was a lovely man and a great performer.

"In a way I'm glad he was home. I'm sure his family are too."

Tony Blair also joined the tributes. A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister was very saddened to hear about this."

Entertainer and talk show host Des O'Connor, a friend of Eric and Ernie for many years and the butt of many of their jokes, said: "At least now they are reunited. And knowing Eric, he will say, `you're late again'."

Ernie 'the strength'

He did not think Ernie had received as much acclaim as he deserved.

"Eric was the wit, he was capable of firing off a one-liner at you, but Ernie was the strength, he was the anchor. If Eric got lost, it was Ernie pulling him back, and righting the boat.

"This was their secret, that they were a great team. It was a bit like Laurel and Hardy - who was the funnier? The pair of them together provided the impact.

"They were average apart, together superb. Where are we going to find another Morecambe and Wise?"

[ image: Eric and Ernie were life-long friends as well as colleagues]
Eric and Ernie were life-long friends as well as colleagues
He said that despite being the butt of their humour on many occasions over the years, there was never any animosity.

"To this day, when I get in a taxi, it's `you're not going to sing, Des, are you?'

Mike Yarwood: A very nice, modest man
"And I never saw them have a cross word, considering they were in each other's pockets, morning noon and night for tens of years. They didn't socialise a lot together, but they were always there for each other if needed."

Impressionist Mike Yarwood said: "Ernie told me that he and Eric were great fans of my show - that was better than a Bafta or anything, that such great comedians would watch and enjoy my work."

Hand in glove

Derek Jameson, a former Fleet Street editor, said Ernie had become a national icon.

Derek Jameson: They were the tops
"He was a lovely man - the one with short, fat, hairy legs," he said. "It was quite amazing that he was the stooge to Eric Morecambe.

"Eric was eight times more powerful a comedian than Ernie, but they went together like hand in glove and they had been together since they were teenagers.

"Ernie became a national symbol as the put-upon little man that Eric slapped."

Laurel and Hardy

Brian Highley, a director of the British Comedy Society, said: "Although he was always overshadowed by Eric Morecambe, I don't think people realise how difficult it is to be a straight man, and he was the absolute best.

"Eric Morecambe wouldn't have worked without someone to bounce it off.

"There you have the two sides of comedy, like Laurel and Hardy.

"He was just as essential to that act as Eric Morecambe. Eric Morecambe was a genius, but he would have been nothing without him there."

Equal part

Bill Cotton, former BBC managing director of television, said: "When Morecambe and Wise were at the height of their fame and success there was no doubt in my mind that this was a 50/50 partnership.

Bill Cotton: "It was a 50/50 thing with Eric and Ernie"
"They were both as good as each other and had an equal part to play in one of the best and funniest double acts that has ever graced the entertainment business in this country.

"Ernie's search for perfection was a main pillar of their success.

"The death of Eric Morecambe was a huge blow to Ernie and his wish to continue performing was often misconstrued as ambition for even greater fame.

"In fact it was down to dedication and love of his work. The sadness is, it didn't quite work out as he would have wished. Nevertheless he will be fondly remembered as a major star of stage and television."

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