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Becoming Eric and Ernie in the play wot we wrote

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When Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel ask the audience: “What do you think of it so far?”, thankfully the response is not: “Rubbish!”

But that is the only difference from the original in Jonty and Ian’s uncanny portrayal of Morecambe and Wise.

It takes brave men to take on one of the best-loved duos in British comedy history, but Jonty and Ian’s gamble paid off – and now they are performing on the same famous stages their heroes once graced.

Long-time friends Jonty (Eric) and Ian (Ernie) are part of this year’s Glasgow International Comedy Festival, headlining the King’s Theatre, before returning north to perform in Edinburgh in April, and Aberdeen, Falkirk and Inverness in May.

It feels like a homecoming in a way, as Scotland is where the show began in 2013 – and where they received the seal of approval from the Morecambe family.

“We thought it would be a one-time thing, a run at the Fringe and then over with,” said Ian.

The friends, who met at drama school in Birmingham in 1983, knew they could easily have crashed and burned.

“We were extremely worried when we launched it in Edinburgh,” Jonty admitted.

“There were only two ways it could go – people would say ‘who do you think you are to do this’, or it would be a success.

“Thankfully, it went the right way and nice things were said about us. It ended up in the West End and we were Olivier Award nominated. It was all very surprising.”

So was one of the audience members in attendance at the sold-out Fringe run.

“We received a message from the box office that Gary Morecambe (Eric’s son) was in attendance,” Ian smiled. “Jonty was a worried man that day but it was a great show with a standing ovation, and Gary came and spoke to us afterwards.

“It must have been very strange to watch someone play his dad on stage. That was when we started building a relationship with the family, which has been lovely.

“Gail (Eric’s daughter) has seen it as well, most recently just a few months ago, and she made some suggestions which we’ve put in.”

Both Jonty – a self-confessed Morecambe and Wise anorak – and Ian have been fans of the duo since childhood.

“I grew up with them,” said Jonty. “I’ve loved them since I was a young boy, when my dad did the paper bag trick.”

Ian continued: “I remember seeing them live as a six-year-old boy in Blackpool. My mum was laughing and crying at the same time, which I couldn’t understand.”

Jonty and Ian first did a Morecambe and Wise routine in 2002 at a review for The Stage Golfing Society.

Eleven years later they were asked to revive the short routine at a golf dinner. They were encouraged to put on a play about their heroes’ lives and a short taster in London was expanded upon for its premiere in Edinburgh.

From the beginning, Ian and Jonty added their own material to provide a narrative.

“We make up conversations they would have had, developed routines,” Jonty continued.

“You want the audience to believe they are watching Eric and Ern for two hours. We always stay in character and there is no mention of Brexit or Trump or anything like that, it’s all Morecambe and Wise.”

Returning to Scotland time and again is always a highlight for Ian and Jonty.

“We’ve been all over Scotland since that initial Edinburgh run and it feels like Morecambe and Wise is really loved by Scots.

“We get generations of families at our shows. There’s the diehard fans, plus their kids, maybe their grandkids and sometimes even the great grandkids.

“We always remember the Des O’Connor incident when he supported Morecambe and Wise in Glasgow and was going down so badly with the audience that he pretended to faint.

“Hopefully we won’t have to do that but we’ll keep it in our back pocket, just in case!”

An Evening Of Eric And Ernie, King’s Theatre, Glasgow, Mar 19, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Apr 24, Falkirk Town Hall, His Majesty’s, Aberdeen, Eden Court, Inverness, May 24-26