Leeds nostalgia: the day I met Morecambe and Wise (before they were famous)

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Back in 1952, former tailor Jimmy Pitts took his then girlfriend, Maria, to see a little known act called Morecambe and Wise.

The duo were at the bottom of the bill and appearing at The Empire in Leeds (where Harvey Nichols now stands).

After the show, Jimmy, who was at that time a bidding photographer, decided to chance his arm to see if the pair would play for a picture.

Now 84 and living in Killingbecck, he took up the story: “I remember seeing them and thinking, they are good and I said to Maria at the time they were going to make it. So, I decided to go back stage to ask them for a picture.”

To his surprise and delight, Eric agreed to the request but asked that he come back the following night, which Jimmy promptly did.

He went on: “They were very nice people, very easy to get on with and always larking about, they never stood still, especially Eric, who was messing about with all kinds of props, as you can see from the pictures. In one he picks up a coat hanger and a shoe horn to have a laugh with Ernie.

“I took four pictures and went home and developed them the same night. They were playing five nights at The Empire and so the following night I went back and gave them a set as a thank you.”

That was the last he thought of it, filing his own set of prints away in a wardrobe upstairs in his house.

In the intervening years, he married Maria, who sadly passed away in 2007, and had children of his own. He also took up with a couple of pals to form his own stage act, known as The Three of Clubs.

“We sang and did a little bit of comedy,” recalled Jimmy. “We played all the working mens clubs around Leeds, Wakefield, Bradford. It was me and two friends - we’d all been in the choir at St Patrick’s Church, which used to stand near where West Yorkshire Playhouse is now. We became quite popular locally and we even had an audition for Hughie Green, who had his show, Opportunity Knocks. He liked us too and he offered us some work but at the time I’d just been married and we had a young baby and one of the other lads was in the same boat so it wasn’t something we could do.”

Years later, however, with his children growing up, his son Martin bought Jimmy a copy of a biography of Morecambe and Wise written by Eric Morecambe’s son, Gary.

“I opened it up and in the centre spread was one of the pictures I took. I couldn’t believe it. After all those years. Out of all the pictures he must have been given or had taken, Eric had saved the one I took. That made me proud.

“I wrote to the publishers and they put me in touch with Gary and I offered him a copy of the set I had. He wrote back and also wrote to the publishers, who sent me on a cheque for £50. They also said that if the pictures were reproduced in future, that I would be credited.”

Jimmy, who grew up in Leeds and worked for 42 years as a tailor at Sidney Green’s, also spotted the pictures in a BBC documentary which was broadcast over Christmas.

He added: “They used a series of still images toward the end of the programme and the last one they used was one of the ones I took.”

He also took some pictures of Tommy Cooper, again before the performer was famous, although he has yet to see those published.

Armley Gaol (jail) 8th Feb 1950

Exterior of prison.

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