JONTY Stephens and Ian Ashpitel are back on dry land, ready to perform their homage, An Evening Of Eric & Ernie At Christmas, at York Theatre Royal on Saturday after months at sea doing their Morecambe & Wise cabaret for P&O Cruises.

This is not their first foray into York with a show about Britain's most beloved comedy duo: in October 2014, they presented their play Eric And Little Ern at the Grand Opera House.

"We started that show about five years ago; did the Edinburgh Fringe, a couple of tours and two West End runs, and then we were asked to do a Morecambe and Wise cabaret show," says Ian, who takes the part of Bramley-born Ernie Wise opposite Stephens' Morecambe. "We'd never done cabaret before and we found certain things worked and certain things didn't from the play."

An Evening Of Eric & Ernie is built around Morecambe & Wise sketches, both well known and less familiar, plus new material by long-standing friends and "jobbing actors" Stephens and Ashpitel in the style of Eric and Ernie.

"To be honest, our Eric and Ernie shows all came about through other people seeing what we had from a five-minute sketch and saying ‘you should do something with this’," says Jonty.

"It’s only when we sat down and talked about it that we decided that if we were going to do something, it had to be a play that looked at the relationship between Eric and Ern," says Ian, recalling the start.

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"A lot of people are reduced to tears at the end of the show when we do Bring Me Sunshine, which is a shame really as it's meant to be a comedy," says Ian Ashpitel

"It was a real voyage of discovery for both of us. I was a massive Morecambe & Wise fan and had seen and read just about everything they’d ever done or had been written about them," says Jonty.

"Yes, it was Jonty’s brilliant impression of Eric and his knowledge of Morecambe & Wise that laid the foundation to everything that followed really."

The two became "the best of friends" after meeting at drama school in 1983 and have remained so ever since: mirroring the long bond of comedians Morecambe and Wise, who first performed together at 13.

They first did a Morecambe & Wise sketch for their friends at The Stage Golfing Society. "Some fool asked me to do Eric for the show and I said 'yes, but I’ll need a Little Ern'. I looked across the bar and there was Ian with his hair and short fat hairy legs."

"Then six years later they asked us to do it again, but this time we wrote some material in the style of Morecambe & Wise. It went down so well, we realised two things: people believed we were good enough to portray them and that perhaps we could write something about them as well."

The latest show was developed out of Act Two of the Oliver Award-nominated Eric And Little Ern. "Act One was about their life, what made them tick and why they were funny. Act Two was like a stand-up live show," says Ian.

"This show is pure sketches, routines and songs, and of course, in Morecambe & Wise tradition, we have a guest singer, Becky Neale. So it's an evening where she's our guest, she'll start singing a song and then anything might happen, gently ribbing her as Eric and Ernie would!

"It's purely an evening of entertainment as if Morecambe & Wise were coming to your town with a show, and we're mining all their golden nuggets."

York Press:

"There’s no better feeling in the world than making people laugh, but to make them laugh as Morecambe and Wise…" says Jonty Stephens

Reflecting on the growing popularity of their Morecambe & Wise homage, Ian says: We've never questioned what's happened at all. The steam train has just taken us on a ride!

"Jonty always said, ‘we’re sticking our heads above the parapet and hoping no-one shoots us down’ and they haven’t yet. It’s gone from Jonty doing an impression and then growing into both of us doing a portrayal of two working-class lads who ‘made it’ in comedy."

"And there’s no better feeling in the world than making people laugh, but to make them laugh as Morecambe and Wise….It’s a joy to perform as them," says Jonty. "They were so beloved by the public and we feel that affection when we’re doing the show."

"It’s special. And it’s us, as it was them, as a duo, a double act, making them laugh – together," adds Ian, who acknowledges the duo's uncanny resemblance to the originals.

"I think we forget the physical and vocal likeness we have to Eric and Ern. For the first few minutes the audience are slightly shocked, you know, they’re still taking it in, tuning in almost, I guess.

"There's also a huge emotional connection to Morecambe & Wise. As soon as they see us and hear the music, they’re transported back to a time that they watched them with their nearest and dearest.

"A lot of people are reduced to tears at the end of the show when we do Bring Me Sunshine, which is a shame really as it's meant to be a comedy!"

Why does Morecambe & Wise's humour abide through the years? "A lot of comedy now is trying to be clever, and I like that, but there's a place for slapstick and good old-fashioned crosstalk," says Ian, who saw Morecambe & Wise at Blackpool's Winter Gardens at the age of six.

"I don't remember really Morecambe & Wise that day, as I was so young, but I remember my mum laughing so much, she had tears running down her face!"

Now Stephens and Ashpitel are having the same effect on their audiences.

Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel in An Evening Of Eric & Ernie At Christmas, York Theatre Royal, Saturday, December 1, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at