Eric wife’s emotional return

Joan Morecambe with her chauffeur Mike Fountain and the restored Rolls Royce.
Joan Morecambe with her chauffeur Mike Fountain and the restored Rolls Royce.

“It looks like it came out of a showroom!”

Joan Morecambe is blown away by the restoration job done on the Rolls Royce she used to own with her husband Eric.

After a painstaking two-year labour of love by Carnforth car specialist Peter Yates, the shiny silver Rolls looks brand spanking new.

Joan was excited to be reunited with Eric’s pride and joy last Wednesday. Accompanied by her son Gary, she then took an emotional journey inside the car where they spent many happy hours with her late husband.

Longtime family friend and Eric’s former chauffeur, Mike Fountain, drove them to many of the comedian’s old haunts.

They pulled up outside his birthplace at 42 Buxton Street and the house on Christie Avenue where he grew up.

They visited Lancaster Road Primary where he went to school, and the grave of Eric’s parents, George and Sadie Bartholomew.

And they drove past the former Christie Park where young Eric used to support the Shrimps from the terraces.

Of course, it’s become a Sainsburys supermarket since they were last here, which football fan Gary says he found “a bit sad”.

This trip down memory lane was their first time in the Rolls Royce since 1974 and the following day, Joan was on cloud nine.

“The amount of patience it must have taken Peter to restore that car, he’s done a fantastic job,” smiled Joan.

“Eric would be delighted.”

Mrs Morecambe still lives in Harpenden in Hertfordshire, in the house she shared with Eric for so many years before his death in 1984.

Now 86, she is in excellent health and talks with razor-sharp eloquence and enthusiasm. It’s clear she holds Morecambe very closely to her heart, speaking with great affection for the town.

“I didn’t realise it was so long since I was last here. We don’t have any ties up here any more. Mike is the only connection.

“It’s amazing he was from Harpenden and now he lives in Morecambe. He keeps an eye on the statue for us! They have made that statue a great thing to look at. It’s had a lot of thought put into it.”

Joan and Gary have been staying at the Midland for the first time since it was restored and Mrs Morecambe gives the hotel a glowing review.

“The food is very good and the staff are very friendly. The job they have done on the hotel is quite amazing. Hopefully it will continue to thrive.”

She is also taken with the work being done at the Winter Gardens, where Eric first performed in 1938 aged just 12.

Joan especially loves the new portrait of her husband and Ernie Wise, created by Morecambe artist Shane Johnstone.

“How enterprising of Shane to do that!” she exclaims.

“He’s really captured the feeling of those personalities.

“I feel quite emotional about the Winter Gardens. It’s a beautiful place. I would love to see it finished and put to good use.”

All in all, Mrs Morecambe seems incredibly touched by the love our resort still has for Eric. This is why she and Gary believe the town would be the ideal home for an Eric Morecambe Museum.

“It’s remarkable that his memory never fades. The shows are still popular. The name of Eric Morecambe still means an awful lot wherever you go.

“Myself, Gary and my daughter Gail have just done interviews for a series of shows that are coming out this Christmas, with a lot of new unseen Morecambe and Wise material.

“Every year we think: ‘Well, this will be the last year’ but every year, there is interest. You don’t realise there are people who care so much. It’s the hypnotic effect of Eric.”

The time has come for Joan to return to Harpenden but she leaves knowing the memory of Eric remains in safe hands.

But it won’t be the last time her family will be in town in 2012, as Gail is due to visit later this month. Nor will it be long before Joan gets to ride in the Rolls Royce the car will be used for her granddaughter Amelia’s wedding next year.