Q&A: Eric and Little Ern actors Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel

Duo discuss the personal influence of Morecambe and Wise and the responsibility of portraying the comedy legends

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Q&A: Eric and Little Ern actors Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel

As Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel prepare to bring us some sunshine in Eric and Little Ern, the pair recollect watching Morecambe and Wise on the box and speculate on what might have happened had Ernie died first

What is your first memory of seeing Morecambe and Wise?
Jonty Stephens: I remember very clearly all of my family (mum and dad and sister) watching the shows together. I have vivid memories of Eric and Ern in front of the curtains, Eric slapping Ern's face and going on about his wig.
Ian Ashpitel: I saw them live in Blackpool in 1963, and I remember the tears of laughter running down my mother’s face. I was six.

Were you among the 27.5m who watched the 1977 Christmas special?
JS: I'm sure I watched it as I was a huge fan by that stage. Christmas was Morecambe and Wise. Expectantly waiting to see which huge stars they had on. That was the one with all the newsreaders singing ‘There's Nothing Like a Dame’: hilarious!
IA: I don't have a memory of that as I was at sea in the Royal Navy although they were always on in our house whenever they appeared on telly.

What was the hardest thing about getting Eric / Ernie right?
JS: I think the important thing is his vocal quality and physicality. He moved in a unique and specific way. Very light on his feet. Not just waggling his glasses and going ‘way hey’! Although he did do that, of course.
IA: Ernie had this strange mid-Atlantic accent mixed up with his native Yorkshire which was hard to place initially. Also he was a very good dancer, and I have trouble walking in time to music let alone anything else!!

When you're in the middle of a long-run of Eric and Little Ern, do you find it hard to switch off and do you catch yourself talking like them?
JS: RUBBISH! I think he does take me over a bit. But if I'm not wearing the glasses, it takes me away from him. My wife may disagree with that, mind you.
IA: We have been accused of being a double act for many years now and Jonty, I think, may do this more than me. What I will say is that when I go home I now get told to leave Ernie outside: harsh, but fair!

In your research did you find out anything that might surprise people about M&W?
JS: That Eric was the straight man originally.
IA: I didn't realise what a driving force Ernie was in the early days of their careers and perhaps that he felt a little undervalued by some, although never by Eric and the people who really knew them.

Had Ernie died first, what do you think Eric would have gone on to do in his career?
JS: That's difficult to answer, but I suspect Eric would have performed in some way, though he could never replace Ernie. I think he may have done some character acting, he couldn't have stopped performing, it was his life. And sadly led to his untimely death.
IA: I think he may have gone on to do some cameo acting roles or appearances on the various chat shows, as Ernie did, but I suspect he may not have been as lost as Ernie ended up being.

Eric and Little Ern is at The Brunton, Musselburgh, Fri 14 Nov and King’s Theatre, Glasgow, Mon 24 Nov.

Eric and Little Ern

  • Directed by: Owen Lewis
  • Written by: Dick Hills

A tribute to the stage and screen duo, performed by Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens.

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