Feature from 2010
“Eric was my uncle,” begins the conversation, “but it gets a bit more complex than that.”
At the wedding
We were in Morecambe to meet and chat with Michael Threlfall, or as he likes to be known, ‘Wiggy’.
A close family relation, Wiggy has many tales of Eric as a young boy, and has a mass of photographs to back them up. Wiggy takes a deep breath and tries to explain how he is related.
“On one side he is my uncle and on the other, half cousin to my father. Eric’s father George, and my grandfather’s mother, were brother and sister. Does that make sense?”
We politely nod and exchange confused glances.
“So my grandfather and Eric’s father married sisters. I told you it was complex.”
“My father and Eric were close, almost like brothers in the early days. Because of that I got to see a lot of him. But being young at the time he was just Uncle Eric. Not a famous person on the television.”
“He was a typical uncle. He taught me to play chess. He even came to stay with us a few times.”
“As a boy my father and I would go fishing on the canal, and if Eric was in town he would join us. He was starting to get a bit more popular at this point though, so it wasn’t very often.”
“He did enjoy his football too. He always tried to go see Morecambe with my father. Even when he was a director at Luton, he was still a hardened Morecambe fan.”
“His house on Christie Avenue backed onto the pitch almost, until they build the stand. It’s all gone now though, Demolished. I’m not sure the new ground will feel the same, especially for us older supporters.”
“I have memories of going there with Eric after he became famous. I would have been about 11 or 12, and he would kneel down so he was at my height and say ‘Shhhhh... don’t tell anyone I’m here will you. I’m here to watch the match, that’s all.’”
“I think he wanted to be left alone to concentrate on the game and just be himself. Only natural really if you are a supporter. The last thing you want is someone coming up to you and chatting while the game is on.”
“He loved it here. He had his big house and his villa in Portugal, but he still came back here. It was like a pilgrimage I think. To remind himself of where he came from.”
“Sometimes he would go see his old friends from Christie Avenue. One old man was not impressed, Mr. Lees I think his name was.”
“He would sit there, next to his fire with his pipe in his mouth and look at Eric for a while and then say; ‘Eee lad. I don’t know what they find funny in thee.’ He would then spit into the fire and continue smoking.”
“During a visit when he was about 23 or so, he borrowed a three wheeler bike, put a school cap on his head and rode up to the corner shop he always went to as a lad. He strolled in and asked for his lollipop.”
“It wasn’t always fun and games though, he always tried to visit the old folks homes here. He made the effort to put something back into the town, he was like that. It wasn’t for money because he wasn’t paid, it wasn’t for the recognition and it was for publicity because no one knew he was there.”
“The stars of today always seem to want things without putting in the effort.”
At this point we break out the photo album and begin turning the pages. Before we get a chance though, Wiggy points to an old tea service on his sideboard.
“That tea set is Eric’s very first prize he won. It was for his first talent contest here in Morecambe when he was about 12. It was held along with a Punch & Judy show by the clock tower, and he later gave it to my grandmother as a present.”
“Sadie, Eric’s mother wanted my father to join Eric as a straight man, but he always refused. ‘I don’t want to bloody tap dance and make a fool of myself.’ he said. What could have been eh?”
Back to the album and the first thing we see is a picture of Wiggy’s wedding. Stood there, next to him and his wife is Eric.
“When he came to my wedding he told the press that had gathered that he was there for the wedding. Not to entertain or crack jokes. ‘This is there day’ he said, ‘not mine.’”
“He said he would sign autographs and pose for pictures after the wedding, but asked to be left alone to enjoy his nephew’s day.”
More photographs are shown, and more anecdotes are told.
“He once, in the middle of a speech to some dignitaries in Morecambe, spotted an old friend in the audience. He stopped in mid sentence. ‘Now then Alan’, he said, ‘I haven’t seen you in ages. Come down to the Legion tonight for a drink.’ He then went on to complete the speech.”
“That night, as you can guess, the Legion was packed.”
Wiggy is now in full flow and the stories just keep coming.
“He often used things he noticed here in his sketches, and vice versa. He once went to London with my mother and father. At this time she had this really old box brownie thing, ancient it was. They took her to this modern photography shop, packed with all the latest cameras. She went in and walked up to the counter, behind which was a very young shop assistant.”
“She held up her camera. The lad looked at it and asked what it was. She replied that it was her camera and that she required a film for it. The lad had no idea what it was and just stood there. On turning round my mother saw Eric and my father roaring with laughter outside.”
“Just the kind of thing that you see in the shows. In the Thames shows there was a sketch about a man who kept pigeons. Much of Eric’s character in that came from a man who lived next door to him on Christie Avenue. He had this huge pigeon loft in his garden, and was just like the character.”
Back to the family album again and he produces something we recognise, a young Eric, holding a huge lollipop in what looks like a very early publicity shot. We have seen this before, but this is the original photograph!
Next we have a nice family photograph showing Sadie and Eric, looking about seven years old, accompanying that we have a very young Morecambe and Wise picture with the boys aged about seventeen.
More family pictures, this time of George and Sadie (Eric’s mother and father) in various shots, plus a nice one of Eric fooling around in the garden at Christie Avenue.
Wiggy has fond memories of Eric. Memories of a kind man that to millions was known as Eric Morecambe, to Wiggy though, it’s just plain uncle Eric.
© morecambeandwise.com 2010