Eric and Me - playing Harpenden's iconic comic
PUBLISHED: 14:27 07 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:18 20 February 2013
Iconic comic Eric Morecambe lived in Harpenden for many years – and now his life is being played out by an actor just a few miles down the road in St Albans, as Louise McEvoy discovers
COMIC actor Bob Golding, who lives in St Albans, plays the late great Eric Morecambe in a theatrical tribute to the astonishing talent, who formed a comic partnership with Ernie Wise that lasted 43 years.
The stage play Morecambe covers the triumphs and tribulations of the unique comic, from his humble beginnings to his status as a national treasure.
Morecambe made its debut to great acclaim at last years Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and opened at Londons Duchess Theatre before going on UK tour. It won Best Entertainment in this years Laurence Olivier Awards.
In an exclusive interview, Golding tells of his love of acting, his love of St Albans, and what really makes him sweat!
How did you get into acting?
My first professional break in theatre was probably the same as many actors struggling to earn an Equity card, so it was with small scale touring theatre companies, namely Back to Front in Hitchin. I also toured with another Hertfordshire-based actor, Glen Davies, with a childrens play called Mum Theres a Martian in the Shower! Enough said!
I was hell-bent on becoming an actor from about the age of eight, when I saw my first pantomime starring Bill Owen (Mother Goose, Intimate Theatre in Edmonton). It inspired me to join a drama club and I was cast in various plays and musicals, where my passion and interest in theatre grew and led me to study drama at North Hertfordshire College from 1986-89.
How did the idea for Morecambe come about?
Many people have commented on my looking a bit like Eric over the years, but it wasnt until Guy Masterson, the director, and I worked together in 1997 and he mentioned doing a piece about Eric. The idea was somewhat forgotten, then myself and Guy Anna Murphy, the associate producer, and writer Tim Whitnall, got together in October 2008 with a view to producing a play celebrating the life of the man.
How long did it take to perfect your portrayal of Morecambe, and how did you achieve this?
The project was green lit in October 2008, and from then until now its been constant watching DVDs, listening to recordings, and speaking to people who knew Eric. Its really a dream job.
Does the fact it is a one-man show make it more difficult to pay tribute to a man best known as one half of a comic duo? Is Ernie represented at all?
Yes, this was our first hill to climb, and I know Tim as writer was very careful about not being disrespectful or clumsy with how Ernie was represented. Ernie is very much in the play from start to finish, but as a ventriloquists dummy. This on paper may seem like we are dismissing Ernie somewhat, but this is in no way the case. Tim has written Ernies persona very true to how Ernie was with Eric a guiding light and voice of reason.
Does the play focus on a particular point or aspect of Morecambes career?
Not really. Tim tried to cover the whole of Erics life, albeit squeezed into two hours, so its a biopic, or bioplay.
Broadly speaking, what can an audience expect from the show?
Many bioplays try to uncover hidden sides of the subject or even dwell on dark elements such as addictions, but we hope the audience will be refreshed by the fact Eric simply didnt have any skeletons in closets. Far from it, he really loved making people laugh, so we try to show Eric the man, the husband, the father, the comic duo partner, and friend.
What do you enjoy most about playing the part?
Hes always been a huge hero of mine; both of them actually. Its a shame people tend to write off Ernie as merely a feed, as this is so untrue. Ernie was a brilliant entertainer in his own right and I love playing the wonderful chemistry between the two.
What do you find most challenging about playing Morecambe?
Well, 60 plus pages of monologue was pretty challenging to learn, but I think any actor will tell you they love their work, and even the challenging bits are a pleasure. Playing a national treasure comes with its pressure, and I try to never rest on my laurels. Its a fast-paced piece, especially the first act, and that needs concentration and a bit of luck, and hopefully some nice warm energy from a responsive audience.
How has the play been received by audiences so far?
Never have I experienced a reaction to any play I have been in like this gets! The affection for Eric and Ernie is still very much alive and well, and quite right too.
The play does make many references to famous comedy moments from the shows, which always get a rousing response, but some more emotional moments do tug at the heartstrings.
Did you ever feel daunted about playing a national treasure?
Of course, but this didnt come until Id learned all those lines and sound cues, plus lighting cues and song lyrics, dance moves, props and costumes. Im sweating now just thinking about it! It was only when we had our first proper opening of the show in Edinburgh that the enormity of playing someone so loved hit me!
How would you sum up Morecambe the man?
Truly wonderful. He was a family man and the all-round brilliant entertainer, professional to the core, and silly with heart and soul.
How long have you lived in St Albans, and what do you most like about the city?
Ive been here for 11 years. I had a girlfriend from St Albans in the eighties and fell in love with the citys charm, the market, the history and the pubs.
How would you recommend a first-time visitor to St Albans spend their day?
Thats easy! Spend the morning at the abbey, stroll down into Verulamium Park and into St Michaels. Have a pint or two of excellently-kept ale in the award-winning The Six Bells pub, then climb beautiful Fishpool Street up to George Street and have lunch in one of the many eateries Darcys being my favourite! Then spend the afternoon shopping and booking a ticket to see some first class theatre at the Maltings Arts Theatre, before spending the night at the gorgeous St Michaels Manor. Pop into Mokokos for a perfectly-made cocktail by trained engineers in the art of booze...and invite me!
Morecambe is touring the UK until July 1. For more information and to book tickets, visit www.morecambetheplay.com
Eric Morecambe lived in Harpenden from the 1960s until his death on May 28, 1984.
His funeral was held on June 4, 1984, at St Nicholas Church in the town, and more than 1,000 people attended to pay their respects. Morecambes ashes are scattered in the churchs Gardens of Remembrance.
The Eric Morecambe Hall a public hall in Harpenden is named after the much-loved comic.