They were the top British double act from the 1960s through to the early 1980s, but nobody outside of the UK seems to know their name. Though maybe they do now, for people around the world will pay tribute today to one half of the act: Eric Bartholomew, otherwise known as Eric Morecambe. Today marks the 16th anniversary of the unveiling of Eric’s statue located on the seafront of his hometown by the Queen, no less, a day recently designated informally as “Eric Morecambe Day”.
The seaside community from which Eric took his name first proposed a day honouring the comedian back in October of 2014 after the statue fell victim to a theft attempt. Partially sawed through, the town council removed most of the statue, leaving one foot behind; the lone foot oddly became a curiosity in itself. Its sculptor, Graham Ibbeson, did the repair work. (The culprit was found, and it was not Des O’Connor.) Since December, it is back in its rightful place, and you can’t see the join. Following the incident, there are further plans to expand the town’s tribute of the comedian in a planned “Sunshine Garden of Fame” set to reunite Eric and his comedy partner Ernie Wise in another sculpture dedicated to the pair, funded entirely by donations.
Eric and Ernie enjoyed a career went from the music halls to radio to film and crossed all of the available British television stations of the time (the now-defunct ATV, BBC 1 and 2, and the now-defunct subset of ITV, Thames Television), the literally all singing, all dancing comedy duo never used any strong language in their shows, and, in the words of P. T. Barnum, had something for everyone. Guests spanned across domains from The Beatles and Elton John to actor Alec Guinness and even Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Unlike late night talk shows, the stars who came on didn’t have anything to promote; many of them were already at the top of their careers.
The duo’s various shows throughout the years clocked anywhere from half an hour to an hour depending on the point in time of their careers. Their show included a variety of songs to serve as the ending until next week, but the song that will always be associated with the show’s ending is “Bring Me Sunshine”, followed up with a skipping dance routine. Their lasting legacy in the British public stems from their writers, their well-rehearsed skits, but most of all from their genuineness: despite the hours of rehearsal making a script sound ad-libbed (it wasn’t), the writers made sure that even through their personas on stage the real friendship between the two took centre stage.
Apart from the double act, Eric was also an accomplished author, and was also keen on fly fishing, football (soccer), and birdwatching. Ernie, before and after Eric’s untimely death in 1984, was a patron of the anti-littering campaign Keep Britain Tidy, a newspaper columnist, and starred in musicals and plays in the West End. Ern even made the first public mobile phone call in the United Kingdom. (On a side note, Ernie has a statue, too: in 2010, eleven years after his death, his wife unveiled a statue in his hometown of Morley, Yorkshire.)
Eric and Ernie had forty years to hone their skills and roles with their various writers and with various mediums, breaking up only briefly due to World War II. Their story is an accomplishment that would be almost impossible in today’s fast-paced world because of changing tastes but moreover, it took a long time to perfect. Times have changed as well: today’s culture, obsessed with rapidity, multi-tasking, and immediate results, makes sitting down at a prescribed time and have a relaxing hour of clean comedy with the whole family seem a bygone era. And perhaps it is.