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Wise in 1960, in a screenshot for a British Pathé film
27 November 1925
|Died||21 March 1999 (aged 73)|
|Occupation||Comedian, actor, entertainer, singer|
|Employer||ATV, BBC, Thames Television|
Early life and education
Ernest Wiseman, born in Bramley (a district of Leeds) to Harry and Connie Wiseman (née Wright) who married in St Thomas Stanningley, was the eldest of five children, and changed his surname (as did his future partner) to go into show business. He attended Thorpe Infant and Junior School, and then East Ardsley Boys' School, but entered the entertainment industry in 1933, appearing as an actor and singer in music hall. His father, Harry, a railway lamp man, was also a semi-professional singer, and they appeared together under the name "Bert Carson and his Little Wonder". He started making solo appearances—singing, dancing, and telling jokes—in 1936, and in the autumn of 1938 he came to the attention of Bryan Michie, a leading juvenile talent spotter, who recommended him to the impresario Jack Hylton. Working with Hylton, Wise made his television debut on the BBC TV Jack Hylton show on 15 March 1939.
In 1940, the year he met Eric Morecambe, then known as Eric Bartholomew, he appeared with British comedian Arthur Askey in his Band Waggon radio show, billed as Britain's Mickey Rooney. Gradually, Wise and Morecambe formed a close friendship, and, in 1941, they began their comedy double act, which was to last until Morecambe's death in 1984. They made their debut together as "Bartholomew and Wise" on Thursday 28 August 1941, at the Liverpool Empire. A change of name followed in the autumn: after agreeing that the combination of their respective places of birth—Morecambe and Leeds—would make the act sound too much like a cheap day return, they settled on "Morecambe and Wise".
They reunited after the war and made their name in radio, transferring to television in April 1954—although their first TV series, Running Wild, was unsuccessful. In 1961, they gained their own series on ATV, which was a success and raised their profile. They transferred to the BBC in 1968. Over a period of more than twenty years, Morecambe and Wise had regular series with both ITV and BBC. In 1976, they were both appointed OBEs.
Wise was commonly regarded as the straight man of the partnership, although his role gradually and subtly changed over the years. When Eddie Braben took over as their chief writer, he enriched Wise's persona by making him pompous and naive. Wise's character changed from being a conventional straight man into a pretentious and self-satisfied buffoon. Braben also made Wise a would-be writer; their BBC shows in the 1970s would always climax with an extended sketch, introduced by Wise as "a play what I wrote." It was in such a 'play' that Glenda Jackson, at the height of her career, was made to speak the line "All men are fools, and what makes them so is having beauty like what I have got."
After Morecambe's death from a third heart attack on 28 May 1984, Ernie Wise spent some of his time at Boca Raton, Florida, where he had a holiday home. In the UK, he lived in Thorpe Avenue, Peterborough for many years next door to singer Edmund Hockridge, before moving to a luxury home on the banks of the River Thames in Maidenhead, Berkshire.
On 1 January 1985 he made what at the time was said to have been the first public mobile phone call in the UK, from St Katharine Docks, East London, to Vodafone's Headquarters in Newbury, Berkshire. In 2015, it was reported that the actual first call was made a few hours earlier by Michael Harrison to his father Sir Ernest Harrison, chairman of Vodafone.
Wise appeared regularly as a panellist on the ITV revival of the popular panel show What's My Line? He was a guest several times on Countdown, had a gardening column in the News of the World newspaper and also appeared in several West End plays. He gave talks on cruises about his life and career. In 1989, he made a guest appearance in Rainbow Series 17, Episode 1276. He wrote his autobiography, Still on My Way to Hollywood, in 1990. He also was the subject on This Is Your Life, which was transmitted on Boxing Day that year. His 1992 Christmas single was a recommended retail release in Music Week. Wise was also an active and long-time participant in the Keep Britain Tidy campaign.
On 14 May 1994, the BBC aired the first of three episodes of a mini-series called Bring Me Sunshine, as a tribute to Eric Morecambe. It was hosted by Ben Elton, who is a huge fan of Morecambe and Wise, and who cites the duo as a big influence on his career. Those interviewed were John Thaw, Roy Castle, who was to die later that year, Diana Rigg, Hale and Pace and Fry and Laurie. Wise was not asked to participate, as the BBC said that they did not want "too many talking heads". He was, however, recovering from a minor stroke which he had suffered in December 1993.
Wise suffered a second minor stroke in August 1995, and as a result, announced his retirement from show business on 27 November 1995, his 70th birthday.
In August 1998, Wise was asked by the BBC to take part in Bring Me Sunshine: The Heart and Soul of Eric Morecambe, which was shown on 23 December that year. He had agreed to do so, but then his health had begun to deteriorate further. Earlier that month, Wise suffered two heart attacks within a week while on holiday, and had to undergo a triple heart bypass in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on 22 January 1999. In March 1999, he was flown back to RAF Northolt, in London, by air ambulance and taken directly to the Nuffield Hospital at Wexham, Buckinghamshire.
His funeral was on 30 March at Slough crematorium. The eulogy was read by Michael Grade. Marion Montgomery, Rolf Harris, Angela Rippon and Frank Bough were among those who attended, along with the family of Eric Morecambe.
Wise was married to the dancer Doreen Blythe (14 May 1930 – 14 April 2018) from 18 January 1953 until his death; they had no children.
Legacy and statue
In March 2010, Wise's widow Doreen unveiled a statue of him in his home town of Morley, West Yorkshire, where he won a talent contest in 1936. The statue was commissioned by the Morley Murals Committee and funded by Doreen.
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- Neate, Rupert. "New Year's Day mobile phone call made history and started a new era". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 September 2015.
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- "Comedian Ernie Wise dies". BBC News. 22 March 1999. Retrieved 19 September 2010.
- "Little Ern's final bow". BBC News. 30 March 1999.
- Dawar, Anil (22 February 2010). "Ernie Wise Statue Unveiled". Daily Express. Northern and Shell Media Publications. Retrieved 24 February 2010.
- Ernie Wise Statue is unveiled — "Belfast Telegraph"
- "Wise widow funds home town statue". BBC News. BBC. 14 December 2008. Retrieved 15 December 2008.
- Morecambe, Eric; Wise, Ernie (1973). Eric & Ernie: The Autobiography of Morecambe & Wise. London: W.H. Allen / Virgin Books. ISBN 9780491012119.
- Morecambe, Eric; Wise, Ernie; Freedland, Michael (1981). There's No Answer to That!: An Autobiography. London: Arthur Barker. ISBN 9780213168032.
- Wise, Ernie; Barnes, Trevor (1990). Still on My Way to Hollywood. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. ISBN 9780715623381.
- Sellers, Robert; Hogg, James (2011). Little Ern! The Authorised Biography of Ernie Wise. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 9780283071508.