Victoria Wood on playing Eric Morecambe’s mum

Victoria Wood is about to star as Eric Morecambe’s mum Sadie in BBC2’s new drama Eric & Ernie. Also starring Bryan Dick, Daniel Rigby and Vic Reeves, it’s a moving and delightfully funny story showing how the comedy duo came together as child performers in the 1930s, right through to the statells What’s On TV what we can expect to see and pays tribute to Britain’s favourite double act…

So how’s Eric’s mum shown in this drama?

“Sadie’s really the person who encouraged Eric to go into showbuisness. She didn’t exactly push him into it, but she knew it would suit him because he was naturally funny. Also she knew that he wouldn’t have been happy living in Morecambe doing an ordinary job. His father was a labourer for the gas board. Times have proved Sadie right that Eric was destined for greater things. She definitely understood her own child.”

When do Eric and Ernie meet?

“It’s 1939, Eric auditions for a Jack Hylton children’s variety show that Ernie’s already in called Youth Takes a Bow. Sadie’s there with Eric and impressed with Ernie who’s already a very polished performer and skilled tap dancer.”

Is it true you came up with the idea to do this story?

“It was my idea to do this story, though not my idea to play Sadie. It’s a story that nobody knows. It fascinating because you think of Morecambe and Wise as these middle-aged men skipping and hopping in suits, but they were friends from when they were kids, and they didn’t fall out. It’s not one of those terrible stories where there’s a horrible thing to uncover. There is no dark side to Eric Morecambe. It’s just a very celebratory story. It shows Eric was the more nervy of the two, and the worrier, while Ernie was the cheerful one. But it worked for them.”

What will the story tell viewers about Eric and Ernie?

“That theirs is a great story of showbiz from the 1930s onwards to the 1940s and 1950s – but anybody can watch whether they’ve heard of or seen Morecambe and Wise or not. There are a lot of young people who’ve not heard of them or really know who they are. It’s a wonderful insight into how two boys’ friendship led them to great things and to overcome all the odds as things were thrown at them. Their first TV series was a big flop which may be something that people don’t know. There was a review that said: ‘Definition of TV, the box they buried Morecambe and Wise in.’ and that’s a cutting Eric Morecambe carried in his wallet until the day he died. And I’ve seen the reviews, because Doreen Wise kept them all in a scrapbook.”

Do we see a lot of their trademark routines and mannerisms?

“Eric’s son Gary said his dad found it difficult to switch off. He was always joking and doing stuff with his glasses. It could be quite annoying I should imagine. Ernie was much more interested in the song and dance aspect than the comedy. The pair were very careful to preserve their friendship, staying in different hotels when on tour. They were careful because they didn’t want to be one of those double acts that fell out and there’s been a lot of those. They had shared a bed as boys! During the war Mrs Batholemew offered him a roof when Ernie didn’t have any digs. That’s where sharing the bed scenes from the 1970s comes from. You see them in bed together as boys in the Blitz in this, and some of their famous catchphrases have been written in.”

What’s Sadie’s relationship like with her son?

“She had a very good relationship with him. Not pushy, but she was quite bossy and like many women of that generation, not really very huggy and kissy like we’d be with our children now. But she totally had his best interests at heart always. I don’t think she had a showbiz background, though I have seen a very weird photo of her with Eric and his dad playing ukeleles.”

She’s instrumental in getting them together isn’t she?

“Indeed she even does their deals for them. She called herself their manager. But a certain point is reached where they say they’re going to do it on their own now. And they gave her a first class ticket back to Morecambe – she was upset but understood.

The actors, Bryan Dick and Daniel Rigby, who play Eric and Ernie really capture them well…

“I helped with the casting of this drama. Daniel and Bryan are amazingly good. Looks wise we’ve tried to match three boys for each character. But we did it on ability too. Bryan’s a brilliant dancer and Daniel has Eric to a tee.”

You’ve had a long showbiz career now, so did you ever get to meet Eric an Ernie?

“I met Eric and Ernie both once. I met Eric in a lift at a hotel in Manchester, which was weird. It was before I was famous really and he thought I was from Morecambe. I said I’m not, I’m from Bury. Ernie gave me a comedy award once at the Strand Theatre. All we did was say hello. I am a big fan but I wasn’t obesessed with them or anything. They didn’t influence my comedy, I just admired what they did and they amount of hard work they put into their careers. They put a huge amount of effort into their act. They rehearsed their ordinary show for a month, where as I do shows in four days or so.”

*Eric & Ernie is on BBC2, New Year’s Day at 9pm.