Bring me sunshine
Beloved comedian Eric Morecambe is still making ‘em laugh 25 years after his death, so producer Guy Masterson decided it was about time to celebrate his life.
As compliments go, it was a double-edged one: in 1997, actor Guy Masterson turned to the man playing his son in a Fringe production and told him he looked exactly like Eric Morecambe. Bob Golding was only 24 at the time, but while the beloved late comedian may not have been a pin-up that every young man would want to be compared to, he was delighted.
As the years passed, his resemblance increased and now the pair are back at the Fringe, with the premiere of a new play about Morecambe’s life, starring Golding and directed by Masterson.
It coincides with the 25th anniversary of the comic’s death but his work, along with stage partner Ernie Wise, is if anything more popular than ever. Their old shows are repeated every Christmas and subsequent double acts like Reeves and Mortimer and Ant and Dec frequently acknowledge their influence.
“They’re iconic,” agrees Fringe veteran Guy Masterson. “I grew up watching them, like so many people.”
But even with the physical resemblance, playing such a recognisable figure is certainly a challenge for Bob Golding, a musicals performer who’s also the voice of many children’s programmes, including The Tweenies.
“When we began, I didn’t really think about it but since then people keep asking me if this is the most intimidating role ever and I’ve started to worry a bit – he’s a national treasure, what am I doing?” he laughs. “But I’ve got to take it with both hands. I’m not a comedian, I don’t have his talent, but what I can do as an actor is maybe tell the story of the man who did have the talent.”
The one-actor ‘bio-play’ telling the story of a famous life in an hour or so is a perennial Fringe fixture, but often hard to get right. “The play has to stand up on its own two feet,” says Masterton, whose long list of theatrical credits includes biographical shows about Jonathan Swift and Richard Burton. “It serves the purpose of a biography but the audience also want to get a sense of what it was like to be in the presence of that person. We all adore Eric and hope to make the audience smile and go away feeling that they’ve sort of met him.”
And in keeping with Eric and Ernie’s theme tune, the Morecambe they’ll meet in this play is deliberately a sunny portrait, rather than one of the darker ‘tears of a clown’ portrayals made recently of some other 70s favourites. Writer Tim Whitnall concentrates more on the public persona of the man, born Eric Bartholomew, who loved to perform – and there’s a special ‘representation’ of his pal Ernie, too.
“I think Eric would be touched, flattered even, at least I hope so,” says Bob Golding. “We’re just trying to say that he was a lovely man and probably one of the funniest comedians this country has ever produced.”
Morecambe, Assembly @ Assembly Hall, 6 – 31 August, 4.10pm, £8 (previews) – £15