I grew up when Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were part of the television furniture. Their partnership started in 1941 and lasted until Eric’s death of a heart attack in 1984. As I was passing through Leeds I thought I’d have a quick look at big Victorian hospital where Ernie was pushed out into the world.
His real name was Ernest Wiseman and his mum and dad lived nearby in Bramley (they’d go on to produce four siblings for Ernie.) He was making money from age eight in music halls as an actor and singer. His dad worked as a railway lamp man through the day but in the evenings he was a semi-professional entertainer. Ernie started singing, dancing, and telling jokes on his own when he was just 10. He was seen by a talent spotter and taken on to be a professional by age 11. No college or apprenticeship in a mill for him.
It all started here at his hospital. I was parked on a double yellow line so I only had time to take a few photos. Age 16 Ernie met Eric Morecambe and, as we all know, they’d end up being one of the best-loved double-acts in Britain. I can remember watching their Saturday night shows as a lad (on our black and white television), sitting on the bendy couch or lying on the fluffy rug in front of the fire. His other main partner was his wife Doreen, a dancer, who he’d marry when he was 27. They were together for 46 years but never had children.
After Eric Morecambe's death from a third heart attack Ernie spent some of his time at his holidays home in Florida and the rest at his luxurious home by the River Thames in Maidenhead in Berkshire. He retired aged 70 shortly after suffering a second stroke in 1995. He lived for another three years, surviving two heart attacks within a week while in Florida. Over there he underwent a triple heart bypass. Only weeks later he was flown back to RAF Northolt in London and it seems he'd waited to get back to Britain before dying: he was taken by air ambulance to hospital where his heart finally gave up. He was cremated at Slough crematorium (it’s on my list.) Doreen would go on to live for another 19 years and never remarried. She had two marriage proposals but said Ernie was small but nobody else could measure up to him.
I got back in the motorhome and had put the gas ring on to have a coffee and fry a vegetarian burger. I thought I’d stay there on the double yellow line until a traffic warden appeared. The hospital has an impressive frontage which is no surprise - not sure you can beat Victorian architecture. As usual I burnt the burger and opened the side window to release the smoke. A passing man’s face said, “Funny place to eat” so I said I was only there to see where Ernie was born. He said Ernie had lived in Peterborough next door to a Canadian singing star. At home I looked this up and it was correct though I’ve never heard of Edmund Hockridge. The burger was burnt so I had a slice of toast with peanut butter on, did a hearty salute while facing the grand front of the hospital and left.