Eric Morecambe

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Eric Morecambe

Bronze bust of Morecambe by Victor Heyfron, 1963
John Eric Bartholomew

(1926-05-14)14 May 1926
Morecambe, Lancashire, England
Died28 May 1984(1984-05-28) (aged 58)
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England
OccupationComedian, actor, entertainer, singer
Years active1941–1984
Joan Bartlett(m. 19521984)
(his death)
Children3 (1 adopted)

John Eric Bartholomew, OBE (14 May 1926 – 28 May 1984), known by his stage name Eric Morecambe, was an English comedian who together with Ernie Wise formed the award-winning double act Morecambe and Wise. The partnership lasted from 1941 until Morecambe's death in 1984. Morecambe took his stage name from his home town, the seaside resort of Morecambe in Lancashire.

Stage name pseudonym used by performing artist

A stage name is a pseudonym used by performers and entertainers, such as actors, comedians, singers and musicians. Such titles are adopted for a wide variety of reasons and may be similar or nearly identical to an individual's birth name. In some situations, a performer will eventually adopt his or her title as a legal name, although this is often not the case. Personal names or nicknames that make up the professional name should not necessarily be considered as a "fake name" like Lady Gaga : for example: Miley Cyrus: born Destiny Hope Cyrus, uses her personal nickname "Miley" and her maiden name "Cyrus" as her professional name.

Ernie Wise English comedian

Ernest Wiseman,, known by his stage name Ernie Wise, was an English comedian, best known as one half of the comedy duo Morecambe and Wise, who became a national institution on British television, especially for their Christmas specials.

A double act is a form of comedy originating in the British music hall tradition, and American vaudeville, in which two comedians perform together as a single act. Pairings are typically long-term, in some cases for the artists' entire careers. Double acts perform on the stage, television and film.


He was the co-star of the television series The Morecambe & Wise Show, which for one Christmas episode gained UK viewing figures of over 27 million people. [1] One of the most prominent comedians in British popular culture, in 2002 he was named one of the 100 Greatest Britons in a BBC poll. [2]

The 100 Greatest Britons was a television series broadcast by the BBC in 2002. It was based on a television poll conducted to determine who the British people at that time considered the greatest Britons in history. The series included individual programmes featuring the top ten, with viewers having further opportunity to vote after each programme. It concluded with a debate and final determination of the ranking of the top ten. Although many living people were included among the top 100, all of the top ten were deceased.

Morecambe, who had previously suffered heart attacks in November 1968 and March 1979 as well as undergoing bypass surgery, collapsed from a heart attack as he left the stage of the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury, following a performance; he died in hospital a few hours later.

Coronary artery bypass surgery surgical procedure to restore normal blood flow to an obstructed coronary artery

Coronary artery bypass surgery, also known as coronary artery bypass graftsurgery, and colloquially heart bypass or bypass surgery, is a surgical procedure to restore normal blood flow to an obstructed coronary artery. A normal coronary artery transports blood to and from the heart muscle itself, not through the main circulatory system.

Roses Theatre Arts centre in Tewkesbury, England

The Roses Theatre is an arts centre located in the centre of Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, England. Its main auditorium seats 375 and accommodates 35mm film / digital projection as well as live performance. It offers patrons a wide range of music, theatre, film and dance. The seating layout is based on "the Continental system" avoiding the loss of seats on the axis of the theatre.

Tewkesbury town and civil parish in Gloucestershire, England

Tewkesbury is a town and civil parish in Gloucestershire, England. It stands at the confluence of the River Severn and the River Avon, and also minor tributaries the Swilgate and Carrant Brook. It gives its name to the Borough of Tewkesbury, of which the town is the second largest settlement. It lies in the far north of the county, forming part of the border with Worcestershire.

Early life and childhood career

Eric Morecambe was born in Morecambe, Lancashire as John Eric Bartholomew to George Bartholomew and Sadie (Sarah Elizabeth née Robinson). Sadie took work as a waitress to raise funds for his dancing lessons. During this period, Eric Bartholomew won numerous talent contests, including one in Hoylake in 1940 for which the prize was an audition in Manchester for Jack Hylton. Three months after the audition, Hylton invited Morecambe to join a revue called Youth Takes a Bow at the Nottingham Empire, where he met the then Ernest Wiseman. The two soon became very close friends, and with Sadie's encouragement started to develop a double act.

Hoylake seaside town in Merseyside, England

Hoylake is a seaside town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral, Merseyside, England. The town is located at the north western corner of the Wirral Peninsula, near to the town of West Kirby and where the River Dee estuary meets the Irish Sea. Historically part of Cheshire, at the time of the Domesday it was within the Hundred of Wilaveston.

Jack Hylton British band leader and impresario

Jack Hylton was an English pianist, composer, band leader and impresario.

Nottingham City and unitary authority area in England

Nottingham is a city and unitary authority area in Nottinghamshire, England, 128 miles (206 km) north of London, 45 miles (72 km) northeast of Birmingham and 56 miles (90 km) southeast of Manchester, in the East Midlands.

When the two were eventually allowed to perform their double act on stage (in addition to their solo spots), Hylton was impressed enough to make it a regular feature in the revue. However, the duo were separated when they came of age for their War Service during the final stages of the Second World War. Wise joined the Merchant Navy, while Morecambe was conscripted to become a Bevin Boy and worked as a coal miner in Accrington from May 1944 onwards.

Conscription in the United Kingdom has existed for two periods in modern times. The first was from 1916 to 1920, the second from 1939 to 1960, with the last conscripted soldiers leaving the service in 1963. Known as Military Service from 1916 to 1920, the system of conscription from 1939 to 1960 was called National Service, but between 1939 and 1948, it was often referred to as "war service" in documents relating to National Insurance and pension provision.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Accrington town in the Hyndburn borough of Lancashire, England

Accrington is a town in the Hyndburn borough of Lancashire, England. It lies about 4 miles (6 km) east of Blackburn, 6 miles (10 km) west of Burnley, 13 miles (21 km) east of Preston, 20 miles (32 km) north of Manchester city centre and is situated on the mostly culverted River Hyndburn. Commonly abbreviated by locals to "Accy", the town has a population of 35,456 according to the 2011 census.


Morecambe and Wise

After the war, Morecambe and Wise began performing on stage and radio and secured a contract with the BBC to make a television show, where they started the short-lived show Running Wild in 1954. They returned to the stage to hone their act, and later made appearances on Sunday Night at the London Palladium and Double Six . [3]

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

Running Wild was a comedy sketch show originally broadcast by BBC television, the first TV series by English comedy double-act Morecambe and Wise. The first attempt by the pair at a television series, it aired for a single series of six episodes in 1954. Running Wild was Morecambe & Wise's first collaboration with Ernest Maxin, who subsequently worked with the duo on their second BBC television show.

Two of a Kind: 1961–68

In 1961, Lew Grade offered the duo a series for the London-based ITV station ATV. Entitled Two of a Kind , it was written by Dick Hills and Sid Green. An Equity strike halted that show, but Morecambe and Wise were members of the Variety Artists' Federation, then a separate trade union unaffiliated with Equity. Green and Hills later appeared in the series as "Sid" and "Dick".

The sixth Morecambe and Wise series for ATV was planned from the start to be aired in the United Kingdom as well as exported to the United States and Canada. It was taped in colour and starred international guests, often American. Prior to its British run, it was broadcast in North America by the ABC network as a summer replacement for re-runs of The Hollywood Palace , under the title The Piccadilly Palace, from 20 May to 9 September 1967. All but two episodes of this series are now believed to be lost, with the surviving two episodes existing only as black-and-white copies, bearing the UK titles.

The duo had appeared in the US on The Ed Sullivan Show . In 1968, Morecambe and Wise left ATV to return to the BBC.

With the BBC: 1968–78

While Morecambe was recuperating from a heart attack, Hills and Green, who believed that Morecambe would probably never work again, quit as writers. Morecambe and Wise were in Barbados at the time and learned of their writers' departure only from the steward on the plane. John Ammonds, the show's producer, replaced Hills and Green with Eddie Braben. Theatre critic Kenneth Tynan stated, Braben made Wise's character a comic who was not funny, while Morecambe became a straight man who was funny. Braben made them less hostile to one another.

Morecambe and Wise did annual BBC Christmas shows from 1968 to 1977, with the 1977 show having an estimated audience of 28,385,000. In 1976, they were both appointed OBEs. (Morecambe's wife, Joan, received an OBE in 2015 for her work with children's charities.) [4]

With Thames Television: 1978–83

The pair left the BBC for ITV in January 1978, signing a contract with the London station Thames Television.

Morecambe suffered a second heart attack at his home in Harpenden, Herts on 15 March 1979; this led to a heart bypass operation, performed by Magdi Yacoub on 25 June 1979. At that time, Morecambe was told he only had three months to live. [5]

Morecambe increasingly wanted to move away from the double act, and into writing and playing other roles. In 1980, he played the "Funny Uncle" in a dramatisation of the John Betjeman poem "Indoor Games Near Newbury", part of an ITV special titled Betjeman's Britain. Produced and directed by Charles Wallace, it spawned the start of a working relationship that led to a follow-up in 1981 for Paramount Pictures titled Late Flowering Love in which Morecambe played an RAF major. The film was released in the UK with Raiders of the Lost Ark . In 1981, Morecambe published Mr Lonely, a tragicomic novel about a stand-up comedian. He began to focus more on writing.

They also appeared together recalling their music hall days in a one-hour special on ITV on 2 March 1983, called Eric & Ernie's Variety Days. During this time Morecambe published two other novels: The Reluctant Vampire (1982) and its sequel, The Vampire's Revenge (1983). Morecambe and Wise's final show together was the 1983 Christmas special for ITV.

Morecambe and Wise worked on a television movie in 1983, Night Train to Murder , which was broadcast on ITV in January 1985. Continuing his collaboration with Wallace, Morecambe also acted in a short comedy film called The Passionate Pilgrim opposite Tom Baker and Madeline Smith, again directed by Wallace for MGM/UA. It was released in the cinema with the James Bond film Octopussy and later with WarGames . Wallace and Morecambe were halfway through filming a fourth film when Morecambe died. It was never completed.

Personal life

Eric Morecambe married Joan Bartlett on 11 December 1952. They had three children: Gail (born 14 September 1953); Gary (born 21 April 1956) and Steven (born 1970 and adopted in 1974).

In his leisure time, Eric was a keen birdwatcher, and the statue of him at Morecambe shows him wearing his binoculars. The RSPB named a hide after him at the nearby Leighton Moss nature reserve in recognition of his support. In 1984 the RSPB bought the 459 ha (1,100 acre) Old Hall Marshes Reserve near Tolleshunt D'Arcy in Essex for £780,000 helped by donations to the Eric Morecambe Memorial Appeal. [6]

Morecambe was the nephew of the rugby league footballer John "Jack" Bartholomew. [7]

Morecambe was sympathetic to the Conservative Party and sent a message of support (along with various celebrities) to Margaret Thatcher after she won the 1979 general election, wishing her luck during the 1979 European election campaign. [8] His message ended, "God bless you, Maggie, and good luck in the European Campaign and it is your round next." [9]


Heart problems

In a diary entry from 17 August 1967, when Morecambe and Wise were appearing in Great Yarmouth as part of a summer season, Morecambe noted, "I have a slight pain on the left side around my heart. It's most likely wind, but I've had it for about four days. That's a hell of a time to have wind."

Morecambe was a hypochondriac, but he rarely wrote about his health concerns until after his first heart attack. At the time, Morecambe was smoking 60 cigarettes a day and drinking heavily. He suffered a near-fatal heart attack on 8 November 1968 at the age of 42, after a show, while driving back to his hotel outside Leeds.

Morecambe had been appearing with Wise during a week of midnight performances at the Variety Club in Batley, Yorkshire. Morecambe and Wise appeared there in December 1967 for a week, making £4,000. After that, they were booked to play a New York City nightclub, the Royal Variety Performance and then eight weeks in pantomime the coming winter.

Morecambe headed back to his hotel, and recounted in an interview with Michael Parkinson in November 1972 that, as the pains spread to his chest, he became unable to drive. He was rescued by a passerby as he stopped the car. The first hospital they found had no Accident and Emergency. At the second one, a heart attack was immediately diagnosed.

After leaving hospital, Morecambe gave up his cigarette habit to start smoking a pipe, as he mentioned that he was trying to do in August 1967. He also stopped doing summer and winter seasons and reduced many of his public engagements. Morecambe took six months off, returning for a press call at the BBC Television centre in May 1969. In August of that year, Morecambe and Wise returned to the stage at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens, and received a four-minute standing ovation.

Morecambe suffered a second heart attack in March 1979 [10] and underwent bypass surgery in June. [11]


Morecambe took part in a charity show, hosted by close friend and comedian Stan Stennett, at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, on Sunday 27 May 1984. His wife Joan, who was in the audience, recalled that Morecambe was "on top form". [12]

After the show had ended and Morecambe had first left the stage, the musicians returned and picked up their instruments. He rushed back onto the stage to join them and played various instruments making six curtain calls. On leaving the stage for the final time as the house tabs fell, he stepped into the wings and collapsed with his third heart attack in 16 years. He was rushed to Cheltenham General Hospital, where he died just before 3 a.m on Monday 28 May. [13]

His funeral was held on 4 June at St Nicholas Church, Harpenden with the principal address delivered by Dickie Henderson. There was a private cremation service at Garston. His ashes were later returned to the church for burial in the Garden of Remembrance.[ citation needed ]


Statue of Eric Morecambe in Morecambe, Lancashire, England Eric Morecambe - - 737011.jpg
Statue of Eric Morecambe in Morecambe, Lancashire, England
Sculpture of Eric Morecambe, Upper Lea Valley Walk between Harpenden and Luton, England Eric Morecombe Statue Lea Valley Walk.jpg
Sculpture of Eric Morecambe, Upper Lea Valley Walk between Harpenden and Luton, England


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  1. "Eric Morecambe: Growing up with a comic legend", The Guardian, 17 October 2009
  2. "100 great British heroes". BBC News. Retrieved 15 February 2014
  3. Double Six on IMDb
  4. "Royal nod for Eric Morecambe's widow".
  5. TVAM interview with Morecambe, 18 April 1984
  6. RSPB Birds magazine, Old Essex Coast:Old Hall Marshes, p. 50 (Spring 2005)
  7. Tom Mather (2010). "Best in the Northern Union", pp. 128–142. ISBN   978-1-903659-51-9
  8. "Transition to power | Margaret Thatcher Foundation". Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  11. "This Is Their Life -". Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  12. Joan Morecambe, Morecambe and Wife, p. 180 (1985)
  13. Morecambe & Wise, Graham McGann, (1999), p. 300
  14. "Eric Morecambe statue returns after attempted theft – BBC News". BBC. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  15. "Eric Morecambe's daughter brings sunshine". Westmorland Gazette . 2012. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
  16. "Eric Morecambe's Jensen Interceptor for sale at £150,000 – BBC News". BBC. Retrieved 23 February 2016.

Further reading