Mike & Bernie Winters

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For the Baseball umpire, see Mike Winters.

Mike & Bernie Winters were English brothers who formed a comedy double act, consisting of Mike Winters, born Michael Weinstein (15 November 1930 – 24 August 2013) and Bernie Winters, born Bernie Weinstein (6 September 1932 - 4 May 1991). The act was very popular in the United Kingdom from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s.[1] Their father, Samuel Weinstein, was a non-practicing Jewish atheist. Their mother Rachel was part of the famous Blumenthal family. Her brother Jack was the light middleweight and heavyweight champion of Great Britain, the British Empire, and holder of the Lonsdale belt. Her other brother fought for the world middleweight title unsuccessfully. Her mother was from the Breuenzlean family, originally from Bari, in southeastern Italy.[2]

Early life[edit]

The Winters brothers were born in Islington.

When Bernie was three the Weinstein family moved to a house in Tottenham, across the road from George Marks, who later became Harrison Marks, the glamour photographer. Mike recalled that it was with George that he mounted his first 'promotion'. "We would dress up in whatever clothes we had managed to scrounge from our parents and put on shows in our garden."[citation needed] Bernie's friend was Danny Sewell, younger brother of George who went on to star in such shows as Special Branch and UFO. Danny was the local heavy and used to look after Bernie. "If anybody said anything nasty to me, he (Danny) hit them."[citation needed]

Mike won a scholarship to Tottenham Grammar School but was evacuated to Wiltshire with his younger brother where he eventually ended up at the City of Oxford High School for Boys.[2] At 15 Mike won a scholarship and grant to the Royal Academy of Music to study clarinet, where he was one of the founders of the Royal Academy of Music Jazz Quintet.[2] Who's Who on Television. Independent Television Publications 1970 Bernie moved along the apprenticeship route, getting a job at the Regency Club in London's Soho where he played the ukulele and performed as a stand-up comedian.

During World War II, Mike, underage, was in the Merchant Navy. Following a medical discharge he enlisted in the Canadian Legion as a musician and after a year was promoted to the honorary rank of Captain. Bernie served alongside Mike as a drummer in the Canadian Legion. After the war, Bernie took drumming lessons at the London Palladium and Mike, who had studied clarinet at the Academy, formed a double act playing musical items and the impressions.

Shortly after being discharged the pair won a talent contest held in Manchester, England. They won the first prize which was a one week tour of variety theaters. Despite changing their stage name to the Winters brothers, they were not successful at first, and went their separate ways for a time. The pair got back together in the form of a 3 handed act called the 3 loose screws where they learnt to dance and improve their skills.[2]

Seen by a young BBC producer, Jack Good, on 25 June 1955, Mike and Bernie made their first television appearance. This was on the BBC show the 6-5 special, their first major TV show, which was a major hit, which they later turned into a movie. The brothers stayed with the show until 1958. Their next move, secured by their agent Evelyn Taylor, who worked for Joe Collins (father of Joan and Jackie Collins), was to the ITV show Sunday Night at the London Palladium, which at the time was the most important variety show on UK television. Due to their popularity they were invited to appear before Queen Elizabeth II at the 1962 Royal Variety Show. By 1965 their act was a great success, thanks in large part to the shows Big Night Out and its follow up Blackpool Night Out, which replaced the London Palladium where its national ratings made Mike and Bernie stars.[2]

Double act[edit]

The brothers gained experience playing at the Stage Door Canteen and won a talent contest held in Manchester, England. They won the first prize, which was a one-week tour. Despite changing their stage name to the Winters Brothers, they were not successful at first, and went their separate ways for a time.

On 25 June 1955, Mike and Bernie made their first television appearance. This was on the BBC show Variety Parade, which was a great hit. The brothers stayed with the show until 1958. Their next move, secured by their agent Joe Collins (father of Joan Collins and Jackie Collins), was to the ITV show Sunday Night at the London Palladium, which at the time was the most important variety show on UK television. Due to their popularity they were invited to appear before Queen Elizabeth II at the 1962 Royal Variety Show. In 1963 they starred alongside Frankie Howerd and Tommy Cooper in the Michael Winner film The Cool Mikado. By 1965 their act was a great success, thanks in part to the shows Big Night Out and its follow-up, Blackpool Night Out. Features of their act were that Mike would appear on stage first and often play the clarinet and Bernie would then poke his head through a curtain and say "Eeeeh!", he would then pull Mike's cheeks and call him "choochy-face".[3] Bernie also had the cheery catchphrase "I’ll smash yer face in".[4] In appearance Mike was slightly built and sharply dressed, whilst Bernie was larger and displayed his slightly protruding front teeth to produce a mildly gormless and 'goofy' look.

The brothers were rewarded with their own show that ran from 1965 to 1973. They also received equal billing as guest stars on The Peters and Lee Story on ATV on 27 December 1975. The BBC TV series The Story of Light Entertainment reported that Bernie had had a long running affair with a dancer 20 years his junior, Dinah May, and that caused friction between the brothers. They finally broke up in 1978.

Solo careers[edit]

Mike moved to Florida because his wife, a renowned artist, suffered from arthritis and Bernie went solo in the UK, signing a contract with Thames Television. Bernie's biggest success was his eponymous series where his comedy "partner" was a St. Bernard dog named Schnorbitz. Bernie Winters owned and trained Schnorbitz, and the dog played a major part in his later career. The comic Harry Hill also introduced a St. Bernard named Schnorbitz into his act, although he was keen to stress that it was not the same dog.

In 1987 Bernie hosted a quiz show on HTV called Scribble. He also presented a UK version of Make Me Laugh, a Tyne Tees Television production for ITV. The show launched the comedy career of Brian Conley. He was also one of the hosts of the long running ITV show "Whose Baby?", taking over from Leslie Crowther in the mid-1980s.

Schnorbitz once fell into a swimming pool at Terry Scott's house, only to be rescued by Barbara Windsor. In the 1980s the brothers finally made peace with each other, but they never worked together again.

Bernie Winters died on 4 May 1991, aged 58, from stomach cancer.

Mike opened the first theatre club in Miami and worked with legendary boxing manager, Angelo Dundee, presenting black-tie boxing events.[2] Mike was also active in charity work, with visits to Miami from Muhammad Ali, Prince Michael of Kent and Prince Edward and was awarded the city of Miami keys by the mayor. Mike also co-produced with Jude Parry, directed, performed and wrote the first British professional pantomime to appear in Florida, it was such success that they continued for five years, starring not only local young talent but also the late Davy Jones of the Monkees.

He published five books; a biography of Angelo Dundee and "The Axis of Greatness" about the relationship between Angelo and his boxers Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali. He also wrote two novels, "Miami One Way" and "Razor Sharp". His final book was a light-hearted memoir called "The Sunny Side Of Winters". He finally moved to Fairford, Gloucestershire, with his artist wife of 57 years.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Steve White (2013-08-26). "Comedy legend Mike Winters died aged 82 - Mirror Online". Mirror.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-08-26. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kzsKTfFNvU
  3. ^ The Times Obituary Mike Winters, 27 August, p47
  4. ^ Daily Telegraph Obituary. Retrieved 27 August 2013

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