16/07/2024
Norwich, GB 15 C
Researching and reporting on the lives of some really interesting people (RIP)

JOAN BARTHOLOMEW, aged 97

BRING ME SUNSHINE

Born Joan Bartlett in Margate, Kent, where her parents ran a pub.

She became a beauty queen and won Miss Margate 1951, followed by Miss Kent that same year.

Miss Kent Beauty Competition 1951 (courtesy Shutterstock)

Joan then took to the stage as a dancer and singer. Her manager was impresario, Lew Grade.

Lew Grade (courtesy Britannica)

Grade contacted her and sent her to the Edinburgh Empire. One of the girls in the chorus line who had a small speaking part had gone down with appendicitis.

Edinburgh Empire (courtesy The Scotsman)

When Joan arrived at the theatre, one of the other girls introduced her to the comedian on the bill, Eric Bartholomew.

Young Eric (courtesy Trash Fiction)

He immediately asked her out on a date – and she accepted. It was love at first sight.

Out of her hearing, Eric told the other dancer, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.”

Bartholomew had a stage name. He called himself ‘Eric Morecambe’ after the Lancashire town in which he had been born and brought up.

In later years, Joan gave a different version to Eric on how they became a couple.

Joan said she told him she was appearing in Morecambe soon afterwards, and he was to play Margate. They invited each other to stay in their parent’s homes.

She said when Eric turned up at her parent’s pub, he came with half of Billy Cotton’s band.

Billy Cotton and his Band (courtesy Fusilier Museum London)

Joan and Eric were married in Margate in December 1952. Their wedding reception was in the Bull’s Head pub. The couple were absolutely devoted to each other.

Ten months later, a daughter, Gail, was born. She would be followed by two sons, Gary and Steven. The family bought a house in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

Eric was part of a comedy duo with Ernie Wise – named ‘Morecambe and Wise’.

Ernie was married to dancer Doreen Blythe.

Joan and Doreen Wise did not get along. Although Eric and Ernie had a close working relationship, the families rarely socialized outside of work.

Eric was a heavy smoker – over 50 cigarettes a day.

In 1968, Morecambe and Wise were signed up to BBC for a comedy series. Their popularity was about to take off.

Morecambe and Wise (courtesy The Sun)

At almost the same time, whilst in Leeds, Eric had a heart attack. He was driving his car. Consequently he vowed to stop smoking.

Joan with Eric after his first heart attack (courtesy Daily Mail)

By the early 1970s, Morecambe and Wise was the most popular programme on British television – especially the Christmas specials. Joan remembered the whole Bartholomew family got together to watch them, and Eric laughed as much as everybody else.

Eric had another heart attack in 1979.

In May 1984, as Eric was coming off stage after a charity concert in Tewkesbury, Eric had a fatal heart attack. He was 58 years old and had been married to Joan for 32 years.

Joan said that Eric had always been driven by a fear of failure. He had also been concerned that his comedy would die with him. “I do hope we won’t be forgotten. I do hope we’ll be remembered.”  She said he would be ‘over the moon’ to realise how popular Morecambe and Wise are still.

She absolutely hated being called ‘Mrs Morecambe’, because…it wasn’t her name.

Ernie Wise died in 1999, aged 73.

In the same year, a statue of Eric was erected on the seafront at Morecambe, sculpted by Graham Ibbeson. Joan was the main guest at the unveiling and was to revisit the statue frequently.

In 2003, Joan became Patron of the Luton Town Supporter’s Trust – the team Eric followed.

Joan was also a founder and President of the Lady Taverners, an offshoot of the Lord’s Taverners cricket charity, which provides the opportunity for young and disabled people to play sport.

In 2015, her charity work earned her an OBE.

The following year, Joan was invited to Blackpool to attend the unveiling of another statue by Graham Ibbeson.. It was eight feet tall and was of Eric and Ernie. She was accompanied by her children, Gary and Gail.

Shockingly, whilst Joan was away, her home was burgled. Watches and a lot of jewellery were stolen. It is believed the thieves were alerted to her absence by posts on social media.

Even in old age, Joan was constantly stopped by fans of Morecambe and Wise. She said she could not even go shopping without being interrupted. She loved it. “People don’t seem to tire of them. They’re everlasting really.”

On her 97th birthday, Joan died in the home she had shared with Eric. She had lived 40 years without him.

TV presenter, Nick Owen, had interviewed her back in 1984, shortly after Eric’s death. He said, “Joan was just a lovely woman. She had such charm and was such a pleasant person to be with. I was very fond of her.”  Owen and his wife, Vicky became  close friends with Joan.

Her son, Gary, said, “Without her, there would have not been the Morecambe and Wise we knew and loved. She was the engine room that made the whole machine work”.

RIP – Richly Inspirational Partnership

 

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