As one of Britain’s two favourite comedians, during the period from the late Fifties to the early Eighties, Eric Morecombe rarely “died” on stage – in the parlance of those in The Business. But after years of trouble with a dicky heart, he almost did literally.
The occasion was the 28th of May, 1984. On this occasion, he was without his small friend (there’s no answer to that) appearing in a special show organised by Stan Stennet. At the end, he just WENT for it – improvising bits with the orchestra.
Finally, to thunderous applause, he walked off into the wings – collapsed and died.
This event occurred only 44 days after Britain’s other favourite comedian – Tommy Cooper – had died ON stage – in front of a TV audience of millions.
The occasion was a live, primetime TV broadcast from Her Majesty’s Theatre, London. For those who are young, Tommy was a be-fezzed, 76″ lumbering giant with an insane cackling laugh, who peppered a “magic act” – with some of the worst jokes ever written.
A member of the prestigious Magic Circle, he would always do ONE trick that worked – just to keep the audience on its toes – but the rest of his act was a train wreck. Nevertheless, it was LAUGHS that Tommy sought – and they were the last thing he would ever hear.
Tommy had a reputation for being mean – but this writer still believes the reason Tommy pressed a TEA-BAG into the hands of those who opened doors for him – with the words, “‘Ere you are – ‘ave a drink on me” – was for the LAUGHS.
Unlike many comics, Tommy was a riot OFF stage as well as on. And anyone with sense FRAMED those tea-bags – rather like the cheques written by Picasso, on the plain back of which he would draw a small picture – usually a bird – and then sign it. Few of the cheques were ever cashed.
Anyhoo, on that fateful night, Tommy strode onstage and began a bit where he would have produced large objects from a cape, fed to him from behind a large, thus heavy curtain.
A gorgeous showgirl walked on and gave him something (I don’t recall what – although I had the VCR running, I erased the tape as, knowing what had ACTUALLY happened, it creeped me out to watch it) and Tommy swayed – leaned against the heavy curtain and slid slowly down to a seated position.
Then the curtain was lifted and he was slowly dragged behind it. The last thing the audience saw of him was the soles of his enormous shoes. They laughed hysterically, thinking it was part of the act. After which, in the spirit of Showbiz, the show seamlessly continued. Only at its END, was his death announced.
Thus the very last thing Tommy had heard was the laughter he craved.
And an era was over. These two men had dominated British comedy for twenty-five years. They were giants (in Tommy’s case, literally. Although Eric was actually quite short – he was only known as “The Tall One” because Ernie was TINY).
After their demise, the face of British comedy would change forever. A whole new legion of comedians would emerge from the Comedy clubs – Stephen Fry, Hugh Lawrie, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Harry Enfield, Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson, Ben Elton, Julian Clary, Harry Hill, Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson and Rowan Atkinson, to name but thirteen.
And now, even THEY are classed as “veterans” by the latest wave of comedians. (SH*T! I’m getting OLD). If you want to see Eric and Tommy at work, check out “My YouTube” in the bogroll at the top right of this column. Their like will not be seen again.