THEIR shows were an essential part of Christmas. In homes across the land, families would sit down on Christmas Day to watch Morecambe and Wise on the TV.

Now their classic comedy is being brought to the stage of The Lowry for the festive season.

Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel, the duo behind the West End hit Eric and Little Ern, have put together a new show - An Evening of Eric and Ern at Christmas - which features classic sketches from the comedy duo plus some new material which they have written.

Ian, who plays Ernie Wise in the show, said: “Doing the shows, the reaction we have been getting has been amazing. The material is funny and hopefully we do them justice but what has been particularly surprising is the real emotional connection to the audience.

“When we sing Bring Me Sunshine, half the audience are in tears. We all remember watching it with our families.”

When Ian and Jonty were asked to do a five-minute sketch at their local golf club a few years ago they never imagined that Morecambe and Wise would end up taking over their lives.

“We are both actors and we met at drama school,” said Ian. “Jonty was asked to do a Morecambe and Wise sketch for a charity night and he needed to find an Ernie Wise and approached me.”

The routine went down well and the pair were asked to give a repeat performance several years later,

“This time we wrote some original material taking the mickey out of our mates at the golf club and it went down a storm.” he said. “People kept saying we should do something more with it and that’s when we started to write the show which became Eric and Little Ern.

“We took it to the Edinburgh Festival and it all went mad. We took it on tour and then we ended up in the West End at the Vaudeville Theatre, I’m a Lancashire lad from Leigh, things like that just don’t happen.”

The pair were nominated for an Olivier Award for the show losing out to Wind in the Willows.

“When the play finished we took Eric and Ern out on to the cruise ships and that’s where the basis of the new show developed,” said Ian.

“It’s all in the style of Morecambe and Wise and you wouldn’t know what is original,” said Ian.

Eddie Braben, who wrote much of Morecambe and Wise’s material was so impressed by the pair’s sketches when he saw them a few weeks before his death he gave them permission to use any of his material.

“We have worked closely with both Eric and Ernie’s families and run ideas past them and take on board their feedback,” said Ian. “They have become friends.

“Eric Morecambe’s son Gary told us that watching us is like watching his dad and uncle Ern when he was 12.”

Neither Ian nor Jonty try to do an impression of Morecambe and Wise.

“You can’t keep an impression up for two hours,” he said. “We studied both Morecambe and Wise for the best part of a year developing the show initially. We talked to people who worked with them and eventually it got to the stage our wives banned us from talking to each other about it we were so obsessed.

“People have said they forget they are watching two actors – for us that is job done.”

An Evening of Eric and Ern at Christmas, the Lowry, Tuesday December 18 to Saturday, January 6. Details from 0843 208 6005 or