Nige remembers one half of “the unfunniest double act ever to have been described as ‘comedy'”…
This coming Saturday is truly a red-letter day in the annals of showbiz, for it was on 6 September in 1932 that Bernie Winters (Weinstein) was born. Bernie joined his brother Mike in what was arguably (out of a crowded field) the unfunniest double act ever to have been described as ‘comedy’. Once, when Morecambe and Wise were asked what they would have done if they’d flopped in showbusiness, they replied ‘We’d have been Mike and Bernie Winters.’ And yet Mike and Bernie were, from the late 50s through to the early 70s, huge. They were even, mystifyingly, rated ‘top comics for Britain’s teenage audience’ in 1957.
The brothers began as a musical comedy act, with Bernie interrupting Mike’s solos with hilarious impressions of Jimmy Cagney and Charles Laughton, while Mike ‘did’ Cary Grant. Many years later, Grant dropped in on Mike backstage at the Bristol Hippodrome and remarked ‘You know, Mike, that was the worst Cary Grant impression I ever heard.’
The evolved (if that’s the word) Winters double act consisted of Mike looking serious and smoking a pipe while Bernie looked like an imbecile and talked like an imbecile with a speech impediment. Backstage at a Royal Variety Performance, the Queen was introduced to the brothers and asked ‘Do you speak French?’ She must have thought that their being French was the only possible explanation for their comedy being that bad.
After the brothers broke up – with much acrimony, apparently – Bernie replaced Mike with a 14-stone St Bernard, Schnorbitz, who was considerably funnier and became a bigger star than either of them. Schnorbitz once fell into Terry Scott’s swimming pool and was rescued by Barbara Windsor. You had to be there.