Did Morecambe and Wise come up with the best Cromer joke ever?

Eric and Ern soak up the Norfolk holiday atmosphere by sharing a few waves of old-fashioned laughter

Eric and Ern soak up the Norfolk holiday atmosphere by sharing a few waves of old-fashioned laughter. Photo from Keith Skipper Collection. - Credit: Archant

Keith Skipper recalls a memorable meeting with Eric and Ernie

A little dip in yesterday's waters can cheer the jaded soul no end. That's why so many folk go to the seaside. I don't even have to travel these days. Waves of nostalgia on my doorstep.

I got wind of a very special 'repeat' as laughter rose under an uncertain sky. Morecambe and Wise, one of the most successful double-acts in showbusiness history – and you still can't see the join – were back in these parts for a one-off show under Cromer Pier.

They took off socks and shoes and rolled up their trousers for a fitting portrait to complement Canute impressions designed to hold back the tide of venom and vulgarity threatening to engulf our current comedy scene.

I first met these wisecracking wizards during a summer season at Great Yarmouth in the mid-1960s, a golden era for seaside entertainment with a proper family flavour. Eric welcomed me into their dressing-room with a heartfelt 'Come in, young man, and take the weight off your notebook'. Ern couldn't get a word in sideways for nearly 40 minutes.

Over half-a-century later, I stood back and admired an unfading mutual admiration society. Their patter, timing and mannerisms, born and nourished in the unforgiving world of vaudeville, provided a perfect antidote to so much tasteless twaddle from today's nasty brigade.

I was unable to catch the full drift of quipfire exchanges as a sharp breeze ate greedily into our late-afternoon interview and threatened to dislodge Eric's glasses from a face occasionally pinched with discomfort.

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Even so, this edited version of a memorable 'comeback' shows the old magic is still there, not least when it comes to making themselves at home with a Norfolk audience.

Ern Is it true Cromer's really good for arthritis?

Eric Oh yes, my Uncle Albert came here once – and he got it.

Ern This water hardly comes up to my expectations.

Eric Ah, that'll be part of the county council cuts. Leaving a lot of people short. You must know the feeling ..

Ern Yes, times are hard. Only thing I get on my birthday now is a year older. Reckon we'd better be careful out here. Did you know a killer whale has been spotted off West Runton?

Eric It's a publicity stunt, my little gullible friend. Didn't they do the same at Great Yarmouth when we were there? Thousands of culture-lovers missed our show in the hope of catching a glimpse of Scroby Dick.

Ern Well, I'm going to keep an eye out for Lord Nelson. He's the fellow they call on round here to repel invaders. Did you see that play what I wrote about Norfolk's most famous son?

Eric See it? I gave my right arm to play the lead role when you graciously turned yourself down for not being tall enough. A wise decision, little Ern. You can't make a drama out of a half-Nelson.

Ern Oh yes, I starred as Hardy in the first act and Laurel in the second to get a few more laughs. I'm working on my Hornblower now …

Eric There's no answer to that. Did Nelson write in the vernacular?

Ern No, he used vellum like most admirals. And when Scurvy broke out he had him locked up again.

Eric That water's doing funny things to your brain. Still, it doesn't have far to go. My big ambition is to set Kipling to music …

Ern Rudyard?

Eric It won't be easy.

Ern Are you attending that fancy dress ball in Overstrand tonight, Eric? Think I'll look in as Napoleon.

Eric Yes, that way you can always keep one hand on your wallet. I shall present myself as a community-minded policeman raiding a seafood restaurant with a cry of 'Don't move a mussel!'

Ern Why exactly are you washing your feet?

Eric I do mine every year whether they need it or not.

Ern I often wonder if you really know what good clean fun is.

Eric I give up. What good is it?

Ern Here's something you don't know. I got complimented on my driving today in Burnham Market. Someone left a little note on the windscreen. It said, 'Parking Fine'. So that was nice. Back to the pitch-and-putt golf course?

Eric Right, I'll carry you round. Don't forget to bring your tee, Ern. Tee Ern! Do you get it, my everlasting little friend with short, fat hairy, damp legs ….!!