Comedy duo legends set to return to ‘spiritual home’

Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens, as Eric and Little Ern

Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens, as Eric and Little Ern

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Comedy legends Morecambe and Wise will be returning to Blackpool this autumn as part of the celebrations to mark the 75th Anniversary of their theatrical debut in 1941.

The duo will be reunited in the form of an 8ft, statue currently being created by renowned sculptor Graham Ibbeson.

Eric and Little Ern the origianals, sat on Blackpool beach in front of the Tower in 1953

Eric and Little Ern the origianals, sat on Blackpool beach in front of the Tower in 1953

He said: “I am extremely honoured to be asked to sculpt a lasting memorial of Eric and Ernie and it makes it even more special that I have the blessing and support of both families.

“I have created more than 35 public sculptures in major locations throughout the UK but to reunite Eric and Ernie in their spiritual home of Blackpool will be the highlight of my career.”

A Blackpool committee has been formed and has already started work organising activities and events to raise the £75,000 required to create the larger-than-life bronze infused resin statue.

Once complete, the statue be will be gifted to the Winter Gardens by fundraisers and the admirers of Eric and Ernie throughout the country who have contributed towards the tribute.

Dad and Ernie would be very honoured and excited to know that the statue celebrating their 75th anniversary as a double act, is to be sited in the foyer of the magnificent Blackpool Winter Gardens

The organising committee is comprised of John Barnett MBE, Elaine Smith MBE, and Charlie Cairoli Jr, plus Tony Jo and Jim Cadman who, in 2008, successfully raised the money for the Les Dawson statue in St Annes.

The fund-raising programme begins with a Show Am Golf Day on April 28 at Heron’s Reach, when a plethora of celebrities from the world of showbusiness and sport will tee off with teams of fans and admirers of Eric and Ernie.

The main event of the fund-raising year will be the Morecambe and Wise 75th Anniversary Variety Show at Blackpool Opera House on July 2.

Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens, as ‘Eric and Little Ern’, will lead a starred-studded cast to pay tribute to Eric and Ernie on the very stage they appeared on for the 1955 Royal Variety Show.

Ian and Jonty launched their play Eric & Little Ern in 2013.

Following a national tour to fantastic reviews, it played to sell-out audiences in the West End and was nominated for a prestigious Olivier Award in 2014.

It was very important to both of them that their portrayals of the legendary duo were approved by the families of both comedians, and Ian and Jonty have since worked closely with Gary, Gail and Joan Morecambe and the Ernie Wise Estate.

In a statement, Ian and Jonty said: “We are both humbled by the positive reaction we have had from the theatre going public and from the many friends and admirers of Morecambe and Wise that we have met over the past three years.

“The thought of performing as ’Eric & Little Ern’ on stage at the world-famous Opera House in Blackpool, where Morecambe and Wise performed together so many times is a great honour and we are both hugely excited at the prospect of treading the same boards they trod so often during their illustrious career.”

Other acts already confirmed for the show include Stephen Mulhern, Roy Walker, Mick Miller, Ted Robbins, Joey Blower and the winner of a ‘Search for a Comedy Star’ competition.

A number of other star names will be added to the cast in the coming weeks.

Eric Morecambe’s daughter Gail said: “Dad and Ernie would be very honoured and excited to know that the statue celebrating their 75th anniversary as a double act, is to be sited in the foyer of the magnificent Blackpool Winter Gardens.

“This is where they appeared in the 1955 Royal Variety Show. I was two years old!

“They went on to appear in many more summer seasons in Blackpool.

“We would live as a family for several weeks each year on the Flyde Coast.

“We witnessed first-hand the very special relationship Morecambe and Wise developed with both the residents and holiday-makers that flocked to Blackpool every year.

“It is fair to say that dad and Ernie considered Blackpool to be a professional feather in their caps and their spiritual home, having great affection for both place and people.”

All surplus funds available after the statue has been paid for will be donated to the Tony Jo Blackpool Hospital Cancer Appeal.