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The sunshine of Joan’s life

Joan Morecambe
PA Photo/Des Willie

Joan Morecambe PA Photo/Des Willie

Joan Morecambe, widow of comedian Eric, talks about their life together

JOAN Morecambe is bustling about her kitchen, proudly pointing out collections of pictures of her late husband Eric and talking about their

life together.

There are reminders everywhere of the comedian, who with Ernie Wise reigned supreme in comedy during their heyday in the Seventies. Then no

Christmas was complete without one of their festive specials which attracted millions of viewers.

Eric died aged 58 in 1984 after collapsing in the wings of a Gloucestershire theatre following his third heart attack. Ernie Wise

died in 1999, also after a heart attack, aged 73.

Currently, the double act are once more back on screen in Bring Me Morecambe And Wise.

The new series on Gold showcases their best-loved sketches and features a host of famous fans, including Lord Grade, who managed their early

career, and Angela Rippon, who appeared in the famous dancing sketch.

“It’s been lovely to play a part in this latest series,” says Joan, 86, who recalls memories of her husband for the programmes.

“I still find it amazing that yet another series has been made about them. Every year goes by and the family and I think, ‘Surely people

can’t still be interested in Morecambe and Wise?’, and every year they are. Their popularity never seems to wane.

“Although all this time has gone by, they still make people laugh. I suppose if something is funny, it never stops being funny.”

Joan and Eric first met in 1951 when she was performing in a variety show and Morecambe and Wise were also on the bill.

“I remember watching him from the wings one night and thinking how special he and Ernie were, they were hilarious,” she recalls.

“On Eric’s part, he always said the moment he saw me, he knew he was going to marry me. He turned to Ernie and just said, ‘That’s the girl

for me’.

“He was very persistent but I took a little time to agree! When we were working in different shows, he’d travel miles to see me just for an

evening. I think he probably ‘joked’ me off my feet rather than whisked me off my feet!”

While his mother, Sadie, was the driving force behind Morecambe in his early life, it was Joan who would provide the strong foundation he

needed as his career took off over the ensuing years.

The couple married in December 1952 and had their first baby, daughter Gail, within a year.

“As we hadn’t planned on having a baby so soon, it was a bit of a shock, and we didn’t really have much time to get to know one another before

becoming parents. We took a big chance on each other really, but it worked out.”

After the birth of their son, Gary, in 1956, Joan stopped accompanying Eric while he toured and remained at home to look after their family.

They adopted another son, Steven, in 1973.

“Eric wanted me to be at home with the children so I could give them 100 per cent, but he’d come back as much as possible if he was working away. He loved family life and adored his kids,” she says.

Life became easier when Eric and Ernie’s TV career took off in the late 1960s and he could commute from filming at nearby Elstree studios.

“Ernie and his wife Doreen arranged their lives differently because they opted not to have a family, and so Doreen went everywhere with Ernie

when they toured and they were never apart.

“But for us it worked with me staying at home, providing calm, stability and a base for him to return to.

“Eric was quite highly strung and I think it was a great help for him to be able to just come home and relax.”

Joan’s chosen not to move from that home in Hertfordshire, taking comfort in being surrounded by some of her husband’s favourite

possessions, but she says the years since Eric’s death have been positive as she’s thrown herself into charity work and fulfilling

commitments on his behalf.

Even in private, she says, his natural wit was irrepressible.

“He was such a funny man with a great sense of humour. He would just automatically come out with a one-liner, which would crack people up.

“But he also had his serious, quiet side. He was very bright, he educated himself and liked nothing better than being in his den, reading, sorting out his fishing gear, or watching football.”

Patently, Joan, a grandmother of seven with one great-grandchild, still finds his loss hard to accept.

“I still miss him, and underneath it all I don’t think I’ve ever really got over his death.

“I knew I would never find anyone to replace him, and it was the biggest tragedy of my life that I lost him so early on,” she says.

“I felt that he had been cheated. He and Ernie had both put in all those years of work to achieve their success and yet he never really got the

chance to enjoy the results of it.

“It had been full on throughout their career and it was ironic that they were just starting to try to cut back on commitments because of Eric’s

health.”

Eric suffered his first heart attack in 1968 at the age of 42 and was saved by a passer-by who drove him to hospital. After a second heart

attack in 1979, he had a heart bypass operation.

“Eric kept saying he was going to cut down on the work in his last three years but he found it terribly hard to say no to things and they were

constantly pursued by agents and TV companies.

“He had a great sense of responsibility and didn’t want to feel he was letting people down because of his health.

“Also, I think he worried about Ernie - there was nothing wrong with him - and he didn’t want to cut back for his sake.”

She’s delighted to still receive fan mail, which is often from youngsters and further evidence of a new generation discovering the Morecambe and Wise humour.

“Morecambe and Wise had magic. Not only were they extraordinarily talented and totally professional but I think people genuinely loved

them. That is so special and Eric would have been so thrilled that his humour has stood the test of time.”

::Bring Me Morecambe And Wise, a five-part series, is on Wednesdays at 9pm on Gold: Sky channel 110, Virgin TV channel 126, and Top-Up TV channel 17

 

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