Top positive review
Lovely book about a lovely bloke, but could do with a good edit...
on 20 January 2018
I really enjoyed this, although it was sometimes very moving and upsetting. It seems to be a real injustice that Eric Morecambe got a statue in his honour that was unveiled by the Queen, while Ernie Wise had a statue in his honour unveiled by his wife, Doreen - and she paid for it. It is impossible to know what might have been, for good or ill, if "the boys" had never met or had decided not to work together. They were more than a double act or a team. What worked was them, together, and it is invidious to suggest otherwise. This book does a fairly good job trying to redress the balance by focusing on Ernie. Nevertheless, some of the most moving and dramatic moments centre around Eric.
The book takes a fair stab at describing the story from Ernie's side. However, it is often a string of anecdotal information, this happened and then that happened and while not as bad as simply a list of performances, it is a little flat. The information is often purely descriptive. Even when something of emotional significance happens it just sits there. I did not feel that I got to know Ernie much more at the end. This is not entirely the fault of the authors. Ernie Wise was, by all accounts, a very private man and the sources that are quoted, including his wife, Doreen, only give us a limited insight into that private world.
The subject deserves far more than 5 stars, and for attempting this, so do the authors. However, the writing is sometimes dreadful. There are changes from singular to plural within the same sentence, use of incorrect vocabulary or incorrect usage of the right word (using "exulted" when it should have been "exalted", for example) and a very disjointed style, where one sentence begins a new subject without regard to what came before. At one point, the discussion focuses on a showbiz Club for kids, jumps to the Teddy Bear Club and back again, so that the reader isn't exactly sure which is which or where they are. This is inexcusable. One might expect a solo author to be oblivious to his own errors and blind spots, but this book has two - you would expect they might spot one another's minor mistakes. It is clear that they love Morecambe and Wise and have a strong desire - rightly, in my opinion, to balance out the picture. But good writing requires more than passion. It requires good writing.
Mercifully, these flaws are much less evident in the latter part of the book and it is there, after Eric's death, that the book is at its most powerful and effective, as it focuses on Ernie and Doreen and gives an insight into their lives and into Ernie's character. I am utterly committed to national institutions, like the NHS and the BBC, but was indignant at the way Ernie was treated by the media and the BBC in particular. This book argues strongly that the "documentary" about Ernie was a hatchet job. I don't know, as I never saw it and never wanted to. But it does fit with a recent trend in media to "kick a man when he's down". (Apologies for the gendered language, but that's the expression.) At least, they usually have the decency to wait until the celebrity is dead. In Ernie's case, it seems he was considered to be fair game and any little failing or foible was attacked.
It was good to know how close Ernie was to Doreen and how their home and marriage was something that always enabled him to let go and relax. The authors suggest that Ernie became a sort of constant reminder that Eric was dead and he was somehow resented for it. It was hardly his fault that he lived on, after Eric. These men were human beings, with lives and families beyond the stage or TV. But sadly, it seems, some people could never quite accept that. In my view, it is a mirror image of people getting upset over the death of a fictional character in a soap. In this case, Eric and Ernie were real men, but people only wanted the pretend world of their show and had no time for the reality.