“The Morecambe & Wise of the West Indies”
Over the years the Caribbean island of Jamaica has given the world many great artists: Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Grace Jones, Willard White and many others, but little is known of Edward Lewis and Aston Wynter, otherwise known as Bim & Bam, two of the most seminal entertainers to come out of the English speaking Caribbean.
Bim & Bam’s story is intrinsically tied to Jamaican theatrical tradition, which dates from the mid 16th Century, running tangentially with British colonial rule. The outlawing of slavery in the early 19th Century saw Jamaicans assert their rights as citizens, developing their own language, music and brands of storytelling. From this heritage emerged the vaudeville theatre that spawned Jamaican popular entertainment as we know it today.
When thinking of comedy duos, popular household names such as Laurel & Hardy, Abbot & Costello and Morecambe & Wise regularly spring to mind, and in this light should Bim & Bam be cast. Their humour strongly resonated with the working classes and it wasn’t long before they were selling out theatres and mastering the airwaves on the most popular medium of the day, radio.
As the Second World War approached, audiences flocked to theatres to see them. It was said, ‘While Europe was intent on destroying itself Bim & Bam made the Caribbean laugh’. As many as 15,000 West Indians fought for the Allies during the war and as they travelled so did the Bim & Bam brand of humour.
The post war period saw Bim & Bam firmly established as Jamaica’s leading entertainers and they regularly shared billing with some of the leading musicians of the day such as Toots & The Maytals, Owen Gray, Desmond Dekker and they both gave excellent comic turns in Perry Henzell’s The Harder They Come, the critically acclaimed, now cult feature film starring Jimmy Cliff.
But how did two young working class black men manage to circumnavigate the many obstacles of a 1930’s Jamaican society steeped in racism and prejudice to reach the top of their profession?
Through personal testimony from friends and family, archive media and reconstructions of some of their many scripts we explore their backgrounds and early influences. We learn how their ambitions to make it in the world of show business with their own brand of working class humour saw them enjoy a career lasting well over forty years, performing at home and abroad and earning the pair the Jamaican Order of Distinction (O.D.) for their lifelong contribution to the performing arts.
Although Bim and Bam died a year apart over thirty years ago they still remain household names in the Caribbean. Some of their many shows are currently available for the public on records and CD’s.