It’s 30 years since the world of comedy lost its greatest star. Eric Bartholomew, to be known and loved as Eric Morecambe – a Hatters fan, Harpenden resident, workaholic, a father of three and stage partner to Ernie Wise.
My childhood years were spent watching the Morecambe & Wise Christmas Shows. It was as much a tradition in our household as watching The Queen.
At one stage an unprecedented 28 million people tuned in – half of the country’s population.
So last night I left Dunstable’s Grove Theatre with a lump in my throat after seeing the comic’s life revisited with the poignant, funny, clever, and inventive one-man show that is simply called Morecambe.
Tim Whitnall’s Olivier Award-winning production stars Bob Golding in a heart-warming, tear-jerking and affectionate tribute to a much loved entertainer.
The critically and publicly acclaimed former West End show received a much-deserved standing ovation from Dunstable theatre-goers who, universally, held the comedy icon in high esteem (for his loyalty and devotion to Luton Town as much as for his career).
The production takes us through the comic’s life, from early turns in working men’s clubs as a Lancashire nipper (supported by his loving parents) to meeting Ernie, and getting a foothold in the entertainment business through sheer hard work and determination.
The show was slow to get going – not anyone’s fault really but the audience reacted more to Morecambe’s later and more public life shown in Act II than Bartholomew and Wiseman’s early days as struggling musical hall artistes.
Golding voices a multitude of characters, from Eric’s proud parents and impresario Jack Hylton who gave him his big break, to a camp floor manager, various agents, Harry Secombe, and Brucie.
His “sidekick” Ernie may appear wooden but the double-act is lovingly recreated for the 90-minute show.
While Act I gives us the sunshine, taking us, haltingly, through the rise in their careers, then Act II, brings the tears.
Golding’s clowning – with all of Eric’s favourite props – turned deadly serious as the heart attacks, one in Leeds and another at home, were painfully relived.
Morecambe, then a 60-a-day smoker and heavy drinker, always believed “three-strikes and you’re out” and dreaded a third, fatal attack. It came on May 28, 1984, as he performed in a show in Tewkesbury Glos.
Last night’s audience, silently, collectively, gulped, wiped a tear away, and remembered the moment as if it were yesterday.
Never has an entertainer been so loved and Golding’s sensitive, beautifully acted homage is a fitting tribute.
Director Paul Hendy keeps the story moving at a pace (there’s a lot to get through in a 44-year career) and it must help that the comedian’s own son, Gary Morecambe is associate producer on the show.
Morecambe finishes a three month tour this week.
Monday: Orchard Theatre, Dartford
Tuesday: Theatre Royal,Brighton
Wednesday: Wilton’s Music Hall, London
Thursday – Saturday The Lowry, Salford.