No trip to Morecambe is complete without a visit to Eric Morecambe’s statue on the seaside promenade. Unveiled by The Queen, the life-size sculpture shows the comic legend in one of his characteristic poses, and visitors to the Lancashire resort queue to have their photograph taken next to it. But what was one of Britain’s most famous funny men really like?
Michael Fountain was Eric Morecambe’s chauffeur, driving him about in his gleaming silver Rolls Royce, and gaining the comedian’s trust and respect. Eric later offered him a full-time position as his driver, handyman, house-sitter and friend.
“What you saw is what you got with Eric, he was a very down to earth and nice man,” said Michael, who will talk about his life as Eric Morecambe’s driver at the Grand, Clitheroe, later this year.
“They were great times, and I drove many of the top stars in Eric’s car, Tommy Cooper, Elton John and royalty too, The Duke and Duchess of Kent. It would never happen today, a member of the public getting so close to a huge star and becoming their friend and driver.”
The comedy legend, who died in 1984, took his stage name from his hometown and he became a household name when he formed a double act with Ernie Wise on stage and TV. The Eric and Ernie BBC Christmas Special in 1977 was watched by 30 million viewers.
Michael said: “I spoke to children at a primary school in Morecambe about Eric’s life and it was difficult just to explain how big a star Eric was.” The former postman from Harpenden became Eric’s driver to earn some extra cash, adding: “Eric was a prolific writer too. He wrote two children’s books and a very moving novel, Mr Lonely, about a club comedian called Sid Lewis.”
Away from the glitz and glamour of the show business world, Morecambe liked nothing more than coming home to Lancashire to enjoy his favourite pastime, bird watching on Morecambe Bay.
“Eric liked to get away from it all, and Ernie enjoyed the showbiz stuff a lot more than Eric,” said Michael, “he would talk to anybody, and quite often people who had seen him on Morecambe Bay said they’d chatted to him for an hour or more.”
The RSPB even named a bird hide after Eric Morecambe at Leighton Moss nature reserve near Silverdale.
“The statue on the front at Morecambe is a beautiful tribute to Eric in his hometown. Gail, Eric’s daughter, often comes to Morecambe and sits in the café opposite and marvels at all the people having a photograph taken with her dad.”