Gary Morecambe's Forever in the Sunshine

Gary Morecambe. Credit: Steve Collins

The latest book by writer Gary Morecambe is, he says, his last on the subject of Morecambe and Wise. Forever In The Sunshine: The Story Of Morecambe And Wise As Only Family Can Tell It is in Gary's words, his 'final say' on the double act after writing about them for nearly 40 years. I chatted with Gary recently and I asked if this really was the last book on the subject. 'Yes this is the last one,' he confirmed. 'I've been toying with doing this for 7 or 8 years.'

The clue to what makes this book different is in the title, 'As Only Family Can Tell It', and Gary - son of Eric - felt it was important that his mother Joan and sister Gail got involved in the project, discussing their stories of Eric and Ern and sharing their own memories. 'For example, it was lovely talking about Eric's schooldays when Gail went to the same school,' said Gary.

It's that insight and those personal family memories that set this book apart from previous work on the duo. Gary has written several books on the subject himself but became mildly annoyed at some of the others on the market. 'The other books are all fine but they're not quite right,' he told me. 'And as my mum Joan says. if you weren't there it's not the same, so they can be well researched but no one can really know what happened unless they were there all the time.'

Image shows from L to R: Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise
Image shows from L to R: Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise

Joan is now 96 but proved very good at remembering details, 'she told me things and then I'd check other sources and it was verbatim to what she's said before in previous interviews or for other books'.

It was also good to have his sister involved for the first time: 'Gail was great but she was slightly reluctant at first. She does between 50 to 100 Morecambe & Wise talks a year, and she likes to tell her stories to the groups she speaks to, but I kept nudging her for a bit more and a bit more'. He also enjoyed how he and his sister sparred over various details of their childhood. 'It was wonderful when I would say something and she'd contradict me and say I don't remember it like that, or that's not how it happened. It gave it a whole new angle.'

By Gary's own admission the book 'doesn't break any new ground,' but it's from the family perspective so 'no one else can do that'. He was also keen to bring it up to date, with a fresh take on the Morecambe & Wise legacy, including thoughts from comedians and fans like Steve Punt, Jonathan Ross, Miranda Hart and Ben Miller. Gary also talks in the book about his contact with Ernie after Eric died, something not many people knew of; it also includes rare and personal family photographs that have never been published before.

The book also takes into account the families' thoughts on some of the dramas that have been made about the boys in recent years. Particular favourites are the one-man theatre production Morecambe by Bob Golding, and the work of Ian Ashpitel and Jonty Stephens with their live shows as Eric and Ern.

Eric & Ernie. Image shows from L to R: Sadie Bartholomew (Victoria Wood), Eric Morecambe (Daniel Rigby), Ernie Wise (Bryan Dick). Copyright: Blue Door Adventures
Eric & Ernie. Image shows from L to R: Sadie Bartholomew (Victoria Wood), Eric Morecambe (Daniel Rigby), Ernie Wise (Bryan Dick). Copyright: Blue Door Adventures

The most successful of the TV dramas has to be Eric & Ernie, the TV biopic of the duo's early years, directed by and co-starring Victoria Wood, which Gary admits was a fine bit of work - despite some inaccuracies. 'With Victoria, she made such a good film it was forgivable that she took some artistic license,' he says.

What grated most with Gary and Gail followed a scene in a café where Eric and Ernie present Sadie with first-class train tickets. As the train then pulls out of the station, she was in tears: 'Sadie wasn't the sort to break down in tears for anything,' says Gary. When he spoke to Victoria Wood afterwards she agreed they had gone too far with that scene.

They were all in agreement, however, that actor Daniel Rigby deserved his BAFTA for his role as Eric - 'he didn't try to look like Eric but he captured the spirit of him - that's great acting' - and Gary thought it was a lovely touch to cast Jim Moir (Vic Reeves) as his grandad, George, as Jim is such a big fan of Morecambe & Wise. 'He talks more about his love for Eric & Ernie now than ever,' said Gary. However, he couldn't talk to Moir about it when he visited the set, as Jim kept in character the whole time, even in breaks during the filming.

However, Gary was less happy with Eric, Ernie And Me, the story of Morecambe and Wise's relationship with their celebrated writer, Eddie Braben. Stephen Tompkinson was terrific as Eddie, even Braben's widow Dee agreed that, but Gary didn't get to see the script: rather, he had it read aloud to him. 'They left stuff out when they read it to me,' said Gary, 'like Mum (Joan) smoking and swearing, which she would never do.'

Of all the books he has written about his father and Ernie Wise, I wonder if this is his favourite? 'You always say your last project is your favourite, but yes, as this is from the personal side of things and also covers their own story, it is.' He also admits that he could have another written 20,000 words but the publishers needed him to stop. 'When you start thinking about it you could go down one avenue, and think I could have spoken to my cousin about that, etc., but the book would have been too long if I had.'

Image shows left to right: Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise. Credit: Thames Television
Image shows left to right: Eric Morecambe, Ernie Wise. Credit: Thames Television

At this time of year, many comedy fans' minds turn to Morecambe and Wise. I asked Gary about this deep association Eric and Ernie still have with Christmas: 'If you think about it, almost 40 years after Eric dying they are still on Christmas night prime time - that's incredible.' It is indeed a testament to the love and affection the public still has for them.

Finally, I wondered what Gary would most like the legendary double act to be remembered for. 'For being funny,' he said. 'They set out to make people laugh and they still do. It's happened - people do remember them still and Eric hoped they would retain a following. That people would want to watch the shows - that all these decades later the shows are still part of Christmas - is flattering and amazing.'

Even for a die-hard fan like myself, who must have a copy of every book about Morecambe and Wise on my shelves, this is a great read. I learnt a lot about the boys' family lives, and the relationship the Morecambes and Wises had with each other. It's truly a book full of warmth, love and sunshine.

Forever In The Sunshine: The Story Of Morecambe And Wise As Only Family Can Tell It by Gary Morecambe is available now in hardback, eBook and audiobook formats, published by Sphere.

Forever In The Sunshine: The Story Of Morecambe And Wise As Only Family Can Tell It

By Gary Morecambe

Morecambe and Wise - the most famous and best-loved British comedy double-act of all time. In this unique book, Eric Morecambe's son Gary sheds new light on the comic geniuses who became the nation's best friends. Gary reveals what it was like behind the scenes, with touching and hilarious stories of life in the Morecambe and Wise family homes, along with memories from Eric's wife Joan and his daughter (and Ernie's goddaughter) Gail, who has never written about her father before.

From a working class music hall act in their early career to their show becoming the nation's greatest TV entertainment from the late 1960s until the early 1980s, Eric and Ernie were not just mass audience television stars, but national treasures whose popularity endures. Gary recalls conversations with his dad and Ernie that paints a vivid portrait of two men who loved each other like brothers, as well as bringing to life the major characters who impacted Morecambe and Wise's lives.

Gary's conversations with high-profile fans today, from Ben Miller and Bob Golding, to Jonathan Ross and Miranda Hart, provide a fascinating look at why Morecambe and Wise remain so popular now, their impact on today's most recognisable double acts, and how Eric and Ernie continue to be a part of so many families' Christmas traditions.

Sweet and funny, touching and poignant, these untold stories and anecdotes let us get to know the two men who became the biggest British comedy act of all time, with the authority that only family can, and never-before-seen photographs. This is the ultimate book for Morecambe and Wise fans, celebrating their days in the sunshine, now and forever.

First published: Thursday 12th October 2023

  • Published: Thursday 10th October 2024
  • Publisher: Sphere
  • Pages: 336
  • Catalogue: 9781408731123
  • Publisher: Sphere
  • Download: 13.43mb

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