Eric Morecambe: Lost And Found, by Gary Morecambe

Book review by Steve Bennett

'I wrote in an earlier book about my father that it would be my last written work about Eric Morecambe,' says Gary in the introduction to this, his fifth tome about his dad.

But Britain's love for Morecambe And Wise is so strong - even 28 years after Eric's death, that the demand for books seems insatiable.

Gary gives as the reason for compiling this volume a discussion with his mother, who spotted a photo in a newspaper  neither of them had seen before, and decided a collection of lesser-known  images would make  great book.

Odd, then, that this is not primarily a photo book. True, there are  some nice candid shots that show Eric larking about at dinners and charity events with his showbiz friends, but most are just printed on normal book paper stock in old-fashioned black and white dots. And there are some strange choices: Do we need five shots of their Madame Tussaud's waxworks, for example?

Rather than being photo-led, the bulk of the book is instead a series of reminiscences about the duo, like a digital channel's talking-head compilation show.  Some of these come from those who knew them, some who worked with them, and some who just knew them from the telly. And we all knew them from the telly.

Miranda Hart's opening chapter is a beautifully evocative piece that brings home what Morecambe and Wise meant to the nation in general, and her in particular.  All she remembers of one show was: 'dancing along to a routine and being absolutely mesmerised when this round-faced, puffy-eyed cheeky man smiled a ridiculous grin at me down the camera. I distinctly remember the feeling it gave me. Obviously I laughed. But I also remember being loved, like a best friend was inviting me into their play world'. The emotion when, as an adult, she was invited into the Morecambe family home, is palpable.

But sadly the rest of the contributions aren’t nearly as emotionally heartfelt or as incisive, simply an array of celebrities and supporting cast explaining – often in just a few short paragraphs –  what Morecambe and Wise meant to them, with plenty of mentions of how they were consummate professionals as naturally funny offstage as on. Eddie Izzard, Simon Pegg, Ken Dodd and Jim Davidson are among those chiming in.

Some of this is pretty anodyne stuff. Brian Conley imagines: ‘If I’d appeared on one of Morecambe and Wise’s shows, I believe that Eric would have got my name wrong and called me something like Billy Connolly'; Lionel Blair recalls: ‘Eric and Ernie often used to mention my name in their shows’; dancer Jan Clennell says: ‘We ate lunch together and I felt included in their chats’.

This is not a book through which you will get to know the ‘real’ Eric and Ernie, who have already been biographied – if that is a word – more than most. There is some insight in the few pages of Eric’s notebook  reproduced here - but mostly that proves that their magic was all in the chemistry, not in the cheesy gags committed to paper.

One great example of Eric’s sense of humour is, however, told here, even if not for the first time. The story goes that there was a car-park attendant at the BBC called George, who had lost one arm in the war. They would regularly exchange pleasantries, and one day George asked Eric if there was any chance of a pair of tickets to the next Christmas show. ‘No,’ said Eric, to George’s obvious surprise. ‘Why not?’ the dutiful BBC staffer replied. ‘What’s the point? You won’t be able to clap.’

The one thing Eric Morecambe: Lost And Found might do is evoke a few fond memories of their timeless work. But surely a better way to do that would be to actually watch the DVDs and experience them as they were meant to be experienced?

Oh, and George got his tickets in the end.

  • Eric Morecambe: Lost and Found by Gary Morecambe was published last month by The Robson Press, priced £18.99. Click here to buy from Amazon for £13.29.

Published: 26 Oct 2012

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