You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone: The Life and Work of Eric Morecambe

by Gary Morecambe

This is, by my reckoning, the sixth book Gary Morecambe has written about his father, and the cupboard is looking pretty bare by now. What else can be left to be said?

By now, only peripheral aspects of the comic icon’s life haven’t already been well covered. So a few old school friends are tracked to reminisce about simpler times (though not revealing much about Eric); there are details of long-forgotten John Betjeman short films which Eric appeared in as a curious postscript to his illustrious career; and a few of the comedian’s own writings are reproduced, including some musings on fishing and a draft of a speech he gave to Luton Town bigwigs.

You might have thought Gary would have unique access to his father’s private files, but although this volume, released to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Eric’s death, does include a few extracts from his personal diary, the vaults – and especially the photo albums – were probably best exploited in William’s Cook’s 2005 collection, Eric Morecambe Unseen.

This new book does have one significant revelation: the fact that Ernie Wise once wanted to quit the partnership in their music hall days due to unspecified ‘animosity at home’ and a dissatisfaction with their work. Thank goodness the feeling passed, or Eric talked him out of it, or we would have been deprived of a pinnacle – arguably THE pinnacle – of British comedy.

The discovery of Ern’s letter understandably received plenty media coverage surrounding the launch of this book, but other insights are thin on the ground, aside from some exploration of Morecambe Snr’s ambivalence to breaking America. But his diary extracts from his working trips to New York are as much concerned with the hotels – including his shock at finding the TV broadcasting at breakfast time! – and who he met for drinks as it is about any career ambitions.

As comics go, Morecambe seemed relatively uncomplicated, and as broadly warm offstage as on, a curse for biographers wanting juicy detail. ‘The biggest reason Eric is so broadly accepted,’ his son writes, ‘is because he was a thoroughly decent human being. You can’t fake that.’ That affable graciousness is evident in the photographs here – a mixture of staged publicity shots and candid family snaps – which can’t fail to elicit fond memories.

Before we get to almost anything about Eric Morecambe, though, you have to get through the second chapter, little more than a puff piece on The Play What I Wrote, the successful, funny, but relatively short-lived West End production inspired by Morecambe and Wise that the author had a hand in, as a consultant. The play has a habit of popping up as irrelevant footnotes throughout later pages, too.

Another chapter is entirely based around stars such as Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy who inspired Eric and Ern; while half of another one discusses modern acts such as Peter Kay, Ricky Gervais and Lee Mack in the context of Morecambe and Wise. The author isn’t really that enamoured of the scene today: ‘[Mack] is the first comedian in a long, long, time to really press my buttons,’ he writes. ‘And the fact that during his act he effortlessly glides into an Eric impression without ever really saying he’s doing it no doubt helps.’

It would be unfair to suggest that the whole book is quite so obsessed with such irrelevancies, but this is certainly an accompaniment to more definitive tomes about Eric’s phenomenal legacy than a must-have purchase. If Christmas isn’t Christmas without Morecambe and Wise, you might be better off getting a DVD to watch them at their unassailable best, rather than raking over the sidelines of their career.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

  • You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone: The Life and Work of Eric Morecambe by Gary Morecambe is published by HarperCollins at £20. Click here to buy from Amazon for £11

Published: 16 Nov 2009

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