Britain's Most Loved and Best Comedy Double Act

Victor Heyfron - Portrait Of Eric

Feature from 2011

The original 1963 version

The larger 1963 version

Victor and Eric
Most people know about the Eric Morecambe statue on the sea front of his Lancashire home town, the stone statue of Ernie in Leeds and the fibre glass pairing in Hungerford, but there is another. Yes, that’s right, there is another statue, albeit a bust, of Eric that gets very little publicity. We didn’t know much about so we endeavoured to track down its creator, Victor Heyfron.

Victor first met Eric really by accident in 1963 while Morecambe and Wise were performing in Bernard Delfont’s Show Time on the North Pier, Blackpool. One of the other stars of the show was, Matt Munro and Victor had been commissioned to produce a model of the famous singer.

Victor explains, “A familiar face appeared round the dressing room door while I was modelling Matt’s head in clay. It was none other than Eric Morecambe! He quipped: ‘Hey, why not do one of me, then I can sit in the dressing room while Ernie does our act!’ He wasn’t joking either! Well, maybe about Ernie, but he commissioned me to start one of himself shortly afterwards.”

“The sculpting of the portrait work was done in Eric’s dressing room. We would sit there chatting as I modelled his portrait in clay. From start to finish it took me eight weeks.”

Victor got to know Eric very well during that phase and is quick to tell us about the real Eric.

“He never displayed any ‘airs and graces’ but exuded a mixture of charm, humour and seriousness. Sometimes as we walked back from lunch he would often manoeuvre us away from over enthusiastic fans, especially if he was in a serious mood. ‘This way, Vic!’ He would understandably say, upon seeing a group of boisterous holiday makers bearing down on him. But when his fans spotted him he was always gracious and, of course, witty!”

When working together, Eric and Ernie seemed to the outside world, to never be apart, but in reality they had separate dressing rooms most of the time. Because of this Victor didn’t see much of Ernie, recalling just one occasion that he popped in.

“He popped his head into the dressing room,” he says, “to ask Eric if he wanted them to accept an offer to open a shopping centre. In response, Eric declined with some witticism! So there is not much I can say about the other important half of the duo – a crucially indispensable one! No Ernie, possibly no Eric!”

Back to Eric and just how did he manage to sit still long enough for Victor to capture his likeness? During many interviews he is a bundle of energy so getting him to slow down must have been quite a task.

“We became quite good friends during that period and we often had lunch together. For a portrait to be successful both parties are dependent upon one another. The sitter, of course, responds to directions to move this way or that way. He has to keep still under intense scrutiny as the artist attempts to transpose what he sees with pellets of clay, hammering them into shapes (sometimes literally!), constantly scrutinising in an effort to capture both the physical likeness and the ‘soul’ of the sitter. To achieve this successfully is not always easy. Especially when working in a confined space and not in my then spacious studio in Belsize Park, London.”

“There is often a degree of tension and inhibition on the part of the sitter. Something to which I’m sensitive to, and tends to disturb my concentration. But not so with Eric! It was a case of ‘I’m here! Let’s co-operate and make a good job of it! And if you don’t I’ll make you see our show ten times!’ And consequently the sittings were ideal.”

“The onus is normally on the artist to put sitters at ease and to initiate discussion so as to keep them from falling asleep! There was no need for this as Eric was full of conversation. We delved into a whole range of topics, mostly contemporary ones such as what we would do with the Train Robbers Money! We also discussed the ‘ins and outs’ of the Christine Keeler and the Profumo Affair and of course, football. In terms of our outlook on life we had lots in common which meant we were never short of conversational topics. “

With such a small working space it must have been difficult; a tribute to the professionalism of both Victor and Eric, but there was more than one piece of clay…

“The first portrait we embarked upon,” he says, “was a half life size one. But after a number of sittings we decided that a full size one would be more desirable. ‘After all’, Eric quipped ‘Matt Munro’s is only having a half size one so that he can save up to buy one of his own long playing records!!’ So it was the full size version we eventually completed, and it is the first of a number of portraits that I have completed of Eric over recent years.”

“The 1963 original was – and I hope still is - in the possession of Joan Morecambe, and that the glasses haven’t fallen off! To my surprise I have never seen it in the background of the numerous TV programmes about Eric that featured his home.”

He slipped in the fact there was more than one, so what of the others?

“About 10 years ago – having been a fan (of course!) of Eric for 40 odd years with countless photos and in possession of all the BBC DVDs of his TV shows– I decided to ‘update’ (and, hopefully improve!) the 1963 portrait. It took a year to complete another life size portrait of EM to my satisfaction. It wasn’t done for any particular reason or project, but for my personal satisfaction. Though the National Portrait Gallery would be an appropriate home for this universally adored comic icon. “

In January 2009 when Bob Golding performed his triumphant characterisation of EM in the play ‘Morecambe’, at the Swan Theatre, Worcester, the management commissioned me to produce a smaller version of the portrait to be present to Bob Golding on stage. Bob loved it and subsequently had a full size one of Eric. And he is the only person to possess one other than myself!. And Bob generously gave additional copies of the smaller portrait to Guy Masterson and the production team of Morecambe.”

Bob was immensely proud and pleased to have received such an accolade, saying; “Vic is a truly lovely man and wow what a talent! Can you imagine my joy when he asked if I would care to own a full size version of the bust! Well it's sitting in pride of place in our hallway where it shall remain. I will never hesitate to champion Vic Heyfron's work.”

So you would think by now Victor would be pleased with this ‘final’ version, but apparently not, and he is still tinkering.

“Although relatively satisfied with this life size depiction of Eric. I have continued from that date to try to capture the spirit of the great comedian, ‘get it right’ as they say, in a smaller version! I have completed at least four smaller version, which I have subsequently rejected to the surprise of friends and colleagues! But now at last – albeit still in clay form awaiting casting –happily I have completed one with which I am satisfied. It is not life size, rather a progeny of the 1963 smaller one first started nearly 50 years ago!”

“My wife, Valerie is happy, she says now I can get on with some overdue gardening! Presently it awaits being cast into bronze or another appropriate material.”

Victors lasting impression of Eric, as with many people who met him, was very poignant;

“I once confessed to him an academic interest in humour. ‘Vic,’ he said, ‘I can teach you how to tell a joke. But I couldn’t teach you how to be funny!’ And that, when all is said and done, is precisely the magic of Eric Morecambe – he was an indefinably funny man! I remember our last meeting in 1963 when I handed over the finished portrait. We had a drink in bar, and his last words to me were: ‘Before you go, Vic, mine’s a half a bitter, and (pointing to the be-spectacled portrait bust he had placed on the bar) –but nothing for my friend – he's ‘legless’!!”

For more details about Victor’s work and more photographs go to his website (Now closed)

A video fo the Eric Morecambe bust can be found on YouTube under Eric Morecambe - Portrait Bust - or follow this link.

Thanks to Victor for providing this great interview and for allowing us to include the photographs and to Bob Golding for his quote.

© 2011

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