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RIP Joan Morecambe, Eric Morecambe's widow, at 97. By William Cook

Blog | By William Cook | Mar 27, 2024

Eric Morecambe statue in Morecambe Photograph by Lupin


Joan Morecambe, who died on 26th March, on her 97th birthday, was a perfect exponent of that crucial yet underrated role, the showbiz wife. From the 1950s, when Morecambe & Wise were just jobbing comics, to the 1980s, when they’d become Britain’s biggest stars, her love and wisdom sustained and nurtured Britain’s greatest entertainer.

She met Eric Morecambe at the Edinburgh Empire in 1952. For Eric, it was love at first sight (for Joan, it took a little longer). Eric was doing his double-act with Ernie Wise. Joan was appearing as a soubrette. A beauty queen and an accomplished singer, dancer and comic feed, she might have become a star. Instead, she devoted herself to Eric, as a mother, homemaker and lifelong companion. Her support and influence were central to his success.

Their early married life wasn’t easy. Eric and Ernie weren’t short of work, but TV stardom was a distant dream. Their working life was an endless round of Variety shows – a different town, a different boarding house, every week. Joan and Eric’s first child, Gail, was born in 1953, and it was no joke weaning her in a string of provincial B&B’s. After their son Gary was born in 1956, Joan made a home for them in Harpenden. As Eric became the most famous comic in the country, this cosy family refuge became an essential retreat.

So many showbiz marriages crash and burn, torn apart by fame, absence and temptation, but Joan and Eric were inseparable. Indeed, when I visited her in Harpenden, in the smart, understated house where Joan and Eric raised their three children, she said her only regret was that they hadn’t had more time together.

Throughout their marriage, Eric was always busy. When he died, of a heart-attack, in 1984, aged just 58, he was planning to slow down. She outlived him by almost 40 years, a gracious guardian of his legacy. But there was always a hint of sadness that their happy marriage hadn’t lasted twice as long.

William Cook wrote Morecambe & Wise Untold and edited Eric Morecambe Unseen for HarperCollins, with the cooperation and approval of Eric's family