We Interview Joan Morecambe
InterviewThey say behind every great man, is a great woman, and in Eric’s case he was lucky enough to have two. His mother was the driving force behind his early life but his dedicated wife Joan was the strong foundation he needed as his career rocketed beyond his imagination.
In August 2008 we were invited to interview Joan at her home in the now famous Harpenden.
The full interview did not originally appear on our site as it may appear in the forth coming anniversary book, written by Gary Morcambe. Now the book has been released we can now publish our FULL interview.(December 2009)
Your early life was spent in Burma. Can you recall those days?
Yes, quite plainly. I lived there for 5 years from the age of 3 or 4. My father was in the army, the medical corp. He was in pathology and actually went through the Burma war. He saw a lot of action.
My brother and I were schooled out there and we lived in a completely different environment from England. What struck me the most when we came back and the thing that I couldn’t understand was the colour. We had come from this wonderful technicoloured world and it seemed we had been brought into this grim black and white place.
We went from the Burmese landscapes to the metropolis of London with its air pollution and dirt. It was much worse then than it is now and I kept thinking to myself, “We can’t be staying here, we must be moving on soon.”
It was a shock to come from vibrant colours into this black and white place, a real shock.
How long did you stay there?
Not long. Shortly after we arrived war was declared so we had to move out of London more or less overnight. It was like the films, myself and my brother were there in the train station with labels around our necks waiting to be taken somewhere safe.
It turned out to be a catastrophe. You always hear the stories of the cockney boy and girls moving into posh houses and causing havoc, what you don’t here is the other side. The children who were brought up in a nice home with good manners and a high standard of cleanliness, going to places where the people could hardly read or write and being treated very badly.
Did you go back afterwards?
No. It was a bit strange. I never re-joined the school. I went to live with my grandmother in Surrey. My mother was there too but my father still in the army, by this time he was an officer so we moved again to the army camp at Tidworth.
It all sounds so long ago but it wasn’t. Even now my own children find it hard to understand just how little there was then. The shops had nothing, no shoes or clothes. Even by the time I was married things were still in short supply.
What about school, or education?
I was at a school in Tidworth, but in those days children left at 14 or 15. I stayed on another year, but then there was nothing after that. There was no opportunity of further education, no college or university. You left school and got a job.
I managed to get a job at a local garage. The owner had a few small businesses there, a garage, a vegetable store and he was into farming too. They were looking for someone to work in the office at the garage.
It was pretty much teach yourself back then because there was no chance to go to college and get taught. I had to learn to type and do the book keeping, how to serve customers, how to do the accounts. All this at sixteen, far removed from the teenagers of today.
Was it at this time you won a beauty contest?
It was all spur of the moment, something for a bit of laugh really. I was at the seaside with a boyfriend at the time. We had never had a holiday because of the war, so we both thought it would be a good idea to go to this holiday camp.
There were the usual competitions and everyone was pushing their friends into them. I got pushed into the beauty contest and surprisingly I won. The prize was a modelling course at Lucy Claytons, a modelling agency.
Once we were back at Tidworth I then had to decide whether to go and take a chance or to just stay at the garage. I was bursting to have a career, to do something with my life and I had all right proportions to be a model. Luckily my mother agreed to let me go so off I went to London.
I commuted every day for the training and afterwards they took me on as a model. There wasn’t a lot of modelling about and most of the top models got the best jobs. I did a lot of work for a tailors in Knightsbridge, modelling their clothes in the shop. My previous experience with customers in the garage also came in handy as I was expected to serve as well.
Didn’t you win a bigger beauty contest later?
Yes, that was after the war. My Brother had come out of the war without a job, as many did, and my parents put up the money so he could go into the pub and restaurant business.
He bought a pub in Margate and they held the Miss Margate contest. I entered and won.
How did you get into show business from there?
I had met up with the Grades, and they were looking for tall girls to go on tour with their shows. It wasn’t anything special; you just had to be tall and good looking. Sometimes I would help out a comedian or appear in sketches, what ever was required.
It all sounds very glamorous but it was far from it. Some of the places you had to stay in were awful. Because you would only be there for a week while the show was on, they treated you badly and always took advantage of you. They just wanted your money and the next performer.
It was the same for all performers so I was experiencing the same things that Eric and Ernie had to put up with. Dirty digs, nasty landladies and hard work, doesn’t sound so glamorous now does it?
It was whilst touring that you met Eric. . .
Yes. There was nothing between us at first, just normal touring people helping each other out. He was due to play Margate and I was going to Morecambe. He said that I should stay with his parents and I told him to stay with mine.
The only problem was, when he turned up at my parents’ pub, he brought half of Billy Cotton’s band show with him! Somehow they all managed to fit in, that’s how it was back then, very friendly and always helping each other.
© morecambeandwise.com 2008