A Statue's Story
Feature from 2009
The idea for a statue emerged during the mid-1990s, when a massive regeneration programme for Morecambe was under way.
After 20 years in the abyss, the traditional seaside holiday industry having all but disappeared, Morecambe was embarking on what would prove to be a long, difficult road to recovery.
New sea defences and an award-winning public art project, based on Morecambe Bay's internationally important status as a feeding ground for many species of migrant and native birds, was beginning to have an impact.
The news about Morecambe was becoming more positive. And the town's newspaper, The Visitor, of which I was editor at the time, was taking a lead in the resort's fight-back. In order to underline the newspaper's commitment the words, 'Helping to Build a Better Morecambe', were incorporated into the front page, just below the main Visitor masthead. It struck an immediate chord with our readers.
But what more could we do as the town's newspaper Jeremy Gomm, editor-in-chief, decided that the promenade really needed a focal point, a striking feature that would do justice to the regeneration programme. He came up with the idea of launching an appeal to build a statue to Morecambe's greatest son, Eric Morecambe.
I well remember the excitement that the suggestion sparked off within the editorial department - here was a wonderful opportunity to get the newspaper involved at the very heart of the community.
It wasn't easy to prepare the groundwork; everything had to be in place before the official launch on page 1. Importantly, the project had to have the blessing of Eric's widow, Joan. I think Joan will readily admit that she was a little apprehensive at first, which was perfectly understandable. Indeed, we, too, were more than a little apprehensive ourselves as the enormity of the undertaking began to sink in!
Fortunately, Joan was impressed by the amount of preparatory work that had gone into the project, and remembering that The Visitor had a large and loyal readership which took great pride in Eric's Morecambe connections, she gave her blessing.
It also helped greatly that hugely talented and respected sculptor Graham Ibbeson, had agreed to come on board.
The appeal concept was simple enough: for as little as a five pound donation people would be able to have their name inscribed in stone around the base of the statue.
The appeal produced an immediate and quite staggering response. The office was deluged with donations from people clamouring to be associated with what was to become the resort's first ever statue.
Donations were made in the names of parents, husbands, wives, children and grandchildren, both living and deceased. While the main subscribers were from the Morecambe and Lancaster area, many flooded in from overseas, particularly from ex-Morecambrians living in such as Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand. Many different currencies landed on my desk as envelopes were opened!
There were some wonderful stories behind many of the donations. I well remember one young man bursting into our offices, breathing heavily, barely able to explain his presence. It transpired he had dashed straight there from the local maternity hospital where his wife had just given birth to a daughter. He wanted his daughter's name included. And it was. It's still there for her to see for herself.
The newspaper carried weekly stories about the donations and the donors, and also recorded the memories, many aired for the first time in public, of people who had known Eric personally.
The fund reached about fifteen thousand pounds and, inevitably, slowed down. Hundreds of people had already donated and, it has to be said, the money was beginning to dry up.
However, the appeal had proved to be an outstanding success.
Fortunately, Lancaster City Council recognised the importance of the statue concept and agreed it should become part of the overall regeneration project, paving the way for extra funding to see it through to fruition.
And that memorable day dawned when the Queen unveiled Eric...her spontaneous Royal grin on seeing Eric made headlines round the world.
The statue has indeed become a focal point on the promenade...Eric still attracts hoards of visitors every day, winter or summer.
For a seaside resort that had endured years of deprivation here was Eric, a comic genius who took the town's name, giving us all a welcome burst of sunshine!
So far as Morecambe was concerned, these were all the right notes, in the right order.
Mike Whalley was the editor of the Morecambe Visitor when the newspaper launched the Eric Morecambe statue appeal.
© Mike Whalley 2009