The 20th anniversary of the unveiling of the Eric Morecambe statue was celebrated this week with traders and civic leaders decorating the statue with colourful balloons and an umbrella to shield it from the blazing sun.
Reporter Michelle Blade looks back 20 years ago to reveal the history surrounding the Eric Morecambe statue and how it came about.
The larger-than-life statue of Eric Morecambe, which took sculptor Graham Ibbeson six years to complete, was unveiled by the Queen at Morecambe in July 1999. It captures the comedian in his famous ‘Bring Me Sunshine’ pose with one hand raised and a leg cocked and is surrounded by inscriptions of many of his favourite catchphrases and an exhaustive list of guest stars who appeared on the show.
However, according to Mike Whalley, who was the editor of The Visitor when the newspaper launched the Eric Morecambe statue appeal, the idea for a statue emerged during the mid-1990s when a massive regeneration programme for Morecambe was under way.
Mike Whalley said: “New sea defences and an award-winning public art project was beginning to have an impact.
“The town’s newspaper, The Visitor, of which I was editor at the time, was taking a lead in the resort’s fight-back.
“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.
“Importantly, the project had to have the blessing of Eric’s widow, Joan.
“Fortunately, Joan was impressed by the amount of preparatory work that had gone into the project, and she gave her blessing.
“It also helped greatly that hugely talented and respected sculptor Graham Ibbeson, had agreed to come on board.
“For as little as a £5 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 fund reached about £15,000 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!”
Disaster struck in October 2014, when the statue was vandalised, having had one of its legs sawn off.
The sculpture’s designer Graham Ibbeson and a foundry in London repaired the statue and it was restored to its home on December 11, 2014.
Councillor Jean Parr said this week:“No trip to Morecambe is complete without seeing our award-winning Eric Morecambe statue.
“There’s no doubt that the statue’s unveiling in 1999 sparked the start of a renaissance in the town’s fortunes and, along with the opening of the Midland Hotel, a renewed sense of vigour and optimism.
“The town has changed beyond recognition with new sandy beaches, art work, a wonderful promenade, restored hotels and quality independent shops.
“The latest figures show Morecambe receives 2.6million tourism visits every year, many of whom ‘strike a pose’ with Eric during their trip.”