AN INTERVIEW WITH GAIL MORECAMBE
AN INTERVIEW WITH GAIL MORECAMBE
Added 667 days ago. 9 February 2022
Now a professional speaker on the subject of her father’s life, we were delighted to talk to Eric Morecambe’s daughter, Gail, to find out a little more about the man who brought sunshine to so many people.
Gail treasures her memories of her dad.
"There are so many! About Dad in a personal sense, as opposed to him as Eric Morecambe in Morecambe and Wise. I think out of my favourite times at home that really spring to mind, there are two that really stand out.
One is teatime, after rehearsals, he’d come home, it would be about 4.30 pm. He’d always come in looking tired and mum would make a cup of tea, and that became the time where it was just mum, dad and me – and he would suddenly sort of pick up, he’d had a few sips of tea, he’d suddenly relax and he’d do the transition between work and home… and then he’d just be hilarious. And it was just one of the most enjoyable times because he would just be funny, naturally. And it was a time I treasured, I absolutely loved that! It was much later on, it was when they were being allowed more time for rehearsal and I was living at home and going off to college. It was just a very precious time really."
"And the other one, equally precious to me was when I used to go to Luton Town to watch the football with him and it would be one of the rare times when it was just him and me. The time in the car going and coming back, that felt like my time with Dad. And again, just very precious. I think I partly went to the football just to have that special time. Those memories stick out a lot for me."
Some of her most vivid are from spending childhood summer holidays wherever Eric was doing a summer season.
"Well… it was just completely wonderful. Can you imagine? Dad would already be there so it was literally the school summer holidays, and we would have rented somewhere to live. In the early years it would be a caravan, but then it became a house or bungalow or something. Just wonderful! We had books of free tickets for all the fairgrounds. Dad would go to the theatre and Mum would take us along the seafront – so often that they must have got very fed up with us! And we’d keep producing these free tickets for ride after ride. My memories are that it was always funny and beautiful, and fish and chips and vinegar and all those memories come back and hit me.
As I got slightly older and I was more into horse riding, so from about the age of 11, I used to find the local riding school. I’d get the bus route and I’d catch a bus and go to the stables and I’d stay there all day, mucking out everybody’s horses, hoping for a free ride! And so showbiz was able to pass me by a bit, and by the time I was 12 I had my own horse, and I used "
She still watches Morecambe and Wise shows whenever she needs a little sunshine! She still watches Morecambe and Wise shows whenever she needs a little sunshine!
"I absolutely love watching the shows. I mean, let’s face it, television can be a bit grim these days - particularly the news– and they never fail to cheer you up. And of course, there is You Tube now, so you can go on there and just watch a sketch whenever you need a laugh! I have loads of favourites. I have all the favourites which everybody has like Andre Previn, and The Kitchen Routine. All the dance routines… any time Dad and Ernie were doing a tap dance I love all those sketches.
I also thoroughly love The Snooker Sketch with Steve Davis, which is just so good! And another huge favourite of mine was called Starkers and Crutch which was a play on Starsky and Hutch and I was a huge fan of the original Starsky and Hutch show - I never fail to fall about at that one! It’s actually find really hard to pick a favourite. And as time goes by it gets even harder as you see sketches that you haven’t seen for a long, long time, and you think, “Gosh this is amazing! I love this!”
It was very important to Dad that I keep watching them. He said to me not long before he died: “You will watch the videos, won’t you? Because if you don’t watch the videos – it’s all been for nothing.” And now there’s even DVDs coming out, and all that kind of stuff!"
Her brother Gary recently discovered unseen footage in their mother’ loft, which aired this Christmas as ‘The Lost Show’.
"That was amazing, wasn’t it? It is very weird to think it had just been sitting there in the attic all this time. Everybody just assumed it has been taped over at the BBC. And Gary very rarely goes up into my mother’s attic, because you sort of take your life into your own hands up there. He spotted this reel that had ‘BBC’ on it, nothing else. So, it was wonderful, and we we’re just completely thrilled. Now we keep wondering what else is up there - if we feel brave enough to go and rummage!"
She has many memories of Ernie Wise too.
"We saw a lot of him - he was actually my Godfather. I would describe him as a favourite uncle! He was always lovely to us, I have nothing but very, very fond memories of Ernie. He was a lovely man."
What does the song ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ mean to you?
"Oh, it’s so emotional! It is amazing to think it wasn’t written for Dad and Ernie; it was written in 1966 by an American couple, Arthur Kent wrote the music, and the lyrics were written by Sylvia Dee, yet somehow it is exactly right for them. It’s very powerful, a real emotion wells up. It is absolutely wonderful. I think of it now as the Morecambe and Wise anthem."
The family home was always filled with music.
"Dad was very into his music. He loved jazz, but he also loved Matt Monroe. My memories of a Sunday is Matt Monroe playing in the background, the smell of dinner being cooked by Mum, and at some point Dad would pour himself a Martini, perhaps Mum would have a gin and tonic, and still whenever I hear Matt Monroe on the radio I’m instantly transported back. We all had record players in our bedrooms, the radio was on all the time in the kitchen – it was music everywhere. And we had a piano of course - Dad could play any instrument!"
Eric definitely had his favourite foods.
"His absolute favourite meal was a plate stacked high with Morecambe Bay Shrimps. That would be just joy and bliss to him. He didn’t have a huge appetite – especially before a performance, and he certainly didn’t have a sweet tooth. But he did love Mum’s roast dinners! He loved anything that Mum cooked. Sunday lunches were quite a thing in our house. He loved all his vegetables! I think these days he’d probably be a vegetarian… or a pescatarian as he couldn’t do without his Morecambe Bay shrimps!"
Eric was a keen birdwatcher as well.
"He was very much a countryman, like his own father. He genuinely loved the English countryside, and he loved his fishing. The birdwatching came about because after his heart attack he was told to take more exercise by the doctor. And I think he found just walking quite boring, so he used to take the binoculars and it sort of went from there.
Where Dad lived in Harpenden there was a lovely garden with a lot of birds, because it was just a golf course behind them. He would often just sit at a window and watch birds. He would watch for hours, but he became very knowledgeable. He would actually identify the birds and go to trouble of looking up in a book what they were and reading about them. He wasn’t at school very much.
He left school when he was about 11, but he was highly intelligent and he became very self-educated. His general knowledge was very, very good and certainly birds was something he became quite knowledgeable about. "
It was never a masterplan to become a speaker on the topic of your father’s life.
"I was going into a shop in our village. It was a gentlemen’s outfitters, and I went in to buy my husband his birthday present and the shop owner just looked at me and said, “Gail, would you like to come and talk at our Rotary Dinner?” and I just looked at him blankly and I said, “David, what on earth would I talk about?” and he said, “You must do talks on your Dad?” and I don’t know why, but I just said, “Well OK!”. I had no idea what a Rotary Dinner even was! And it turned out to be a huge event. It was a baptism of fire - I had moments when I could feel my legs wanting to carry me home! But that was on a Friday night and then over the weekend I started getting phone calls, and it has literally just gone from there! It was absolutely terrifying - I have no idea what I even said. But they must have enjoyed it if people then phoned up! Then you find yourself on everybody’s speaking list and you get emails and invites and that kind of stuff. But I do enjoy it!"
The desire to entertain is something she never knew she had.
"I think a sense of humour definitely runs through our family, and I’ve been told I’m entertaining but I can’t even begin to compute that because it isn’t intentional! My daughter did train as an actress and my son’s a musician. Doing the talks must mean I quite enjoy standing up and telling stories. I know at school I was the one that everyone would come round at break time as I was telling some story about something that had happened… and apparently I used to almost act it out! So it must be instinctive in some way - I don’t think you necessarily know you are being entertaining."
She is endlessly amazed by the enduring love people still have towards Morecambe & Wise today.
"It’s flabbergasting! I can’t tell you how we feel as a family. When Dad died, we were going to events on his behalf which were already arranged. And my brother and I would go with Mum. We used to sit in the car afterwards and think: “This will last for the year and it will all go quiet”. And then it would be two years, then three years and four years, and it has never done anything except grow exponentially.
It has just been incredible. It’s so powerful and moving for us, because his is such a wonderful legacy. I often joke and think, “Thank God my father wasn’t a politician.” I’d have hated that. But we just can now bask in the sunshine that he has left behind. People remember so much, and so affectionately, and it is so lovely. No one has ever been anything other than lovely about Morecambe and Wise, they never have said anything nasty, or critical. Especially if they ever met him – even if it was just for a fleeting moment to get an autograph done, it’s like it’s the most vivid memory from their childhood.
So it really feels like a privilege and a blessing. I can’t tell you… we’re just stunned. He would be utterly amazed and completely delighted - it would really put a grin on his face. He really meant what he said to me about the importance of us watching the videos to make it all worthwhile – and he really meant family, he didn’t think beyond that. But what he’d think about the shows still being broadcast - they would both just be over the moon."
She doesn’t think there is anyone picking up the mantle of Morecambe and Wise in today’s TV and entertainment scene.
"If I’m brutally honest, I don’t think there is! For lots of reasons. Comedy has changed a lot over the years – and families are less likely to sit around the TV altogether. In a way they, have been replaced by shows like Strictly which is really good family viewing for all ages, wonderfully entertaining, glamorous; that’s the show that has sort of replaced Morecambe and Wise.
I think it’s very tough for comics now, especially now we are getting so precious about what you can and can’t say. I think for a while comedy seemed to get more aggressive than it was. Comedy has changed and also how we view it."
Gail shares one last anecdote with us about her father from her childhood…
"On one occasion I asked Dad if I could go birdwatching with him, and I would have been in my late teens, and he said, “Oh, I don’t know, you have to be very quiet. You have to sit there for quite a long time as it takes a while for the birds to trust you.” So I said, “No, no that’s fine. Can I go with you?” Then he obviously got a bit excited about this, and we’d agreed to go the next day and he bounced through the kitchen and he said, “Come on Gail, I’ve got supplies!” So I had no idea what ‘supplies’ meant, but he had his binoculars round his neck, and off we went.
I kid you not, we literally walked up our drive, turned left, walked about 20 yards, turned left again, walked about another 30 yards, and onto the golf course which is right at the back of our house, and found a hedgerow that we sat in, and then he produced from his pocket - jelly cubes! He’d been in the larder and the cubes you make jelly from, he’d broken them off and taken them out of the wrapper and they were just loose in his pocket, but his pockets were full of tobacco! So he pulls out these very tobacco-y, fluffy jelly cubes – and we ate those. And then he said, “That’s enough we’ll go back now.” And I swear to you that’s what happened. I don’t remember seeing any feathered anything! And we were out for all of 20 minutes. Who can explain it! And his idea of supplies was sneaking Mum’s jelly cubes out of the larder!"
Two new Morecambe and Wise DVDs are out now: Morecambe and Wise at Thames and Morecambe and Wise at ITV, both of which include shows not previously released on DVD. The theatre show Eric and Little Ern is touring until the end of April.