What do you say to your heroes? Serving petrol to Ernie Wise

The filling
station where I worked at weekends was quiet – it’s closed now – and I
often spent much of my shift reading anything from Judge Dredd comics
to the The Worm Ourobouros to the unabridged Count of Monte Cristo
while using up my pay on sweets and listening to the top 40 countdown
on the transistor radio.

I can’t remember what year it was when Ernie Wise
and his wife Doreen Blythe stopped in to fill up their white Rolls
Royce but I only worked at the filling station in the late ’70s, so I know it was when Morecambe and Wise
were among the most famous faces in the country. Their show was a
weekly family event for us. I doubt if the humour has aged well,
but I know I laughed at the Anthony and Cleopatra
sketch with Glenda Jackson until the pop I was drinking came right out of my
nostrils. 28 million people watching their Christmas specials couldn’t all be wrong.

Of course, I recognized Ernie
Wise as soon as I approached the car but I was cool about it. No
fawning, because surely celebrities don’t need people gasping at them
all the time. I just said “What’ll it be sir?” and I filled the tank.
His wife needed cigarettes so they came in the shop and paid at the
till. I was more polite than usual but otherwise I tried to act like I
was just serving a regular customer.

…until they were almost out the door. Then I spoke up: “Excuse me
sir?” He turned. “I just wanted to say thanks. You’ve given me and my
family a lot of good times and a lot of enjoyment.” He stopped for a
second, uncertain whether to offer an autograph or what I wanted, but
then he just said “Oh. Thank you.” and I said “Pleasure to be of
service” and off he went.

Actually that’s not what happened.

reality I didn’t say anything at all as he went out the door and maybe
that’s just as well. But looking back I do wish I’d spoken up. Every
week for years Morecambe and Wise would come into our house. An hour
later they would leave, and we were always in a better mood than when
they entered. He deserved a thankyou for that, awkward or not.

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  1. you’re right Tom. It hasn’t aged well. The problem is that for M&W, along with satirists and Monty Python, what was humour twenty years ago has now become part of our world view. But yes it was very funny at the time. I think the problem is that kind of humour is a bit like Jazz. You listen for the improvisation, hearing it unroll in real time. Afterwards its a bit like watching a replay of a cup final – you know what’s coming.
    Talking of meeting heroes, I recall my one conversation with cricket great the late Fred Trueman, who will mean nothing to your North American readers (he was a proud stereotypical yorkshireman – plain speaking to a fault). I said “can I have your autograph” and he said “piss off lad”. I was a bit cheesed off as I was only 14, but looking back its a treasured memory.

  2. for those not familiar with M&W, a couple of examples
    Ernie Wise is the one with the short fat hairy legs.

  3. Are you sure about the Fred Trueman story? It’s just that a friend of mine claims that Geoff Boycott spoke to him once. “What did he say?” I asked. “Hey you! Get away from my bloody car!”
    It sounds so similar – perhaps it is an archetype embedded in the collective memory of Yorkshire boys.

  4. I met Geoff Boycott once. He did a book signing one day when I was working at WH Smiths. I was in the staff room eating my lunch, sitting next to Val from pens, when he came in, sat down opposite us and greeted us with an “Afternoon, ladies” before being interviewed by the man from the Yorkshire Post. He was dressed head to toe in beige: beige shirt, beige diamond-patterned golfing sweater, beige slacks, beige socks and beige slip-on shoes.

  5. Come on guys. We grew up in Yorkshire – that’s an entire county all looking for an opportunity to get one over on you. There are lots of stories about Geoff Boycott, Fred Trueman, Brian Close, Harvey Smith etc etc and they are all true.

  6. and, years later living in the south, I keep hearing stories at work about X who is rude to everyone, arrogant, impossible, always thinks they are right even when they are wrong etc, and the moment they open their mouths everything clicks. They are Yorkshirmen.
    With one exception. He was welsh. I kept asking him if he was sure he wasn’t from Yorkshire, and he finally admitted his parents were from Leeds. QED

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