A plan for a bronze sculpture of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise on Morecambe seafront has been scrapped.
The giant monument to the comedy duo may now be built outside the town - possibly in Blackpool.
Sculptor Graham Ibbeson, who also created the Eric Morecambe Statue, said: “There appears to be a general lack of enthusiasm for the project from the community.”
His business partner, fundraiser Jim Cadman, said they were pulling out because the council told them there wasn’t enough support in Morecambe.
Mr Cadman also said a public letter put out by Lancaster City Council in July casting doubt on the location for the sculpture had “damaged the fundraising efforts”.
City council tourism chief Darren Clifford said it wasn’t the council’s fault and urged Mr Cadman to offer refunds to Morecambe people and businesses who paid towards the scheme.
Midlands-based entrepreneur Mr Cadman has provided accounts to The Visitor, has spoken to key patrons and said he is happy to talk to anyone who donated money.
He also wants to create an Eric and Ernie heritage trail in Morecambe instead of the planned bronze relief – at no extra cost to the town.
This would make use of Mr Ibbeson’s work on the wall art which had already been started.
The original plan was to raise £70,000 from public donations to pay for a huge bronze sculpture of the comedy duo, possibly opposite the Winter Gardens.
This would have been a new tourist attraction for the town to join the Eric Morecambe Statue which pulls thousands to Morecambe each year.
The sculpture of Morecambe and Wise was to stand in a ‘Hall of Fame’ style garden.
But most fundraising activities were suspended in July after Lancaster City Council asked if the public wanted the Eric and Ernie frieze in Morecambe but only eight people replied.
Mr Ibbeson said today: “There appears to be a general lack of enthusiasm for the project from the community.
“Although I have a great affection for the town of Morecambe, I do not want to encourage people to house a public work of art when their own hearts are not in it.
“Although my Eric Morecambe Statue will continue to dance on Morecambe seafront hopefully for many years to come, it is with personal regret that I now feel it is time to move on as a sculptor.”
Mr Cadman said today: “Several design ideas and scale models have been produced by Graham over the past 12 months and I am now speaking personally with everyone who has contributed to the project so far about how we best utilise this work.
“Our proposal is that we create a ‘Morecambe and Wise Heritage Trail’ in the Bay area during 2016 marked by 10 plaques incorporating aspects of Graham’s designs.
“The plaques will mark key locations throughout the area and will celebrate the 75th anniversary of not only of Eric changing his name from Bartholomew to that of his home town of Morecambe but also the theatrical debut of Morecambe and Wise as a double act.”
Councillor Darren Clifford, Lancaster City Council’s cabinet member for tourism, said: “The city council remains extremely grateful to Mr Ibbeson for the excellent repair work to the damaged statue of Eric and it is with regret that he has now decided not to pursue this latest project.
“Our position has not changed – as we have said all along, we support the principle of the project but we are not able to enter into any binding agreements at this stage and it is not within the council’s remit to help a private entrepreneur fundraise for a self-promoted independent project.
“Mr Cadman has previously indicated that he accepted our terms and that once the full amount of funding for design, production and installation costs had been raised, the council would be prepared to consider accepting the money as a grant to then commission the sculpture direct with the artist. From the council’s point of view things have not changed.
“The fact that he has now announced that he wishes to move the project on in a different town would seem to indicate that he has not been able to generate the amount of enthusiasm and level of funds that he had first hoped, but this no fault of the council’s.
“What concerns the council now is that people have donated money to this project on the basis that the wall art will be erected in Morecambe.
“I would urge Mr Cadman to make clear what his intentions are for these funds and confirm that he will contact and offer a full refund to anyone who wishes one.
“No doubt Mr Cadman will have a full set of accounts and audit trail to make this relatively easy to achieve.”
Mr Cadman has provided accounts to The Visitor giving a breakdown of income and expenses on the project to date.
He said a total of £13,523 has been raised towards the original scheme.
£7,095 of this was from activities, £2,428 from a raffle and auction at The Visitor’s Sunshine Ball in May, and £4,000 from patrons.
Mr Cadman also said he had more than £20,000 pledged from supporters across the country but not if it is sited in Morecambe “in view of the uncertainty created by Lancaster City Council”. He said an additional £2,500 had also been pledged from people in Morecambe.
A total of £11,300 was spent on the project on printing costs, administration and postage, travel, an Eric Morecambe website (ericmorecambestatue.org), accounting and on preparatory work to create the wall art - including a mini prototype of the sculpture.
Mr Ibbeson said he had ploughed £12,300 of his own money into the project.
Mr Cadman said no extra fundraising would be needed for the Heritage Trail and that no salaries had been taken.
The trail would be made up of 10 plaques, using the design already drawn up for the Morecambe and Wise bronze relief.
They would be placed in locations around Morecambe and unveiled between January and August next year.
Mr Cadman said locations for the Morecambe and Wise plaques could include the house where Eric was born, the Jubilee Club in Torrisholme where he had his first gig, Morecambe Bay Primary School (then Euston Road School) and Lancaster Road School where he went to school, the Globe Arena, the Winter Gardens, Cross Bay Brewery, the Royal Bar and the Morecambe Hotel.
He also said anyone who has donated so far is welcome to contact him if they are dissatisfied and has offered to make a donation to a charity of The Visitor’s choice for next year’s Sunshine Ball.
“Everyone who has contributed has had something in return, but we do have a full set of accounts and an audit trail and people are welcome to email me,” he said.
THE ERIC AND ERNIE SAGA – A TIMELINE OF EVENTS
The idea for the free-standing ‘wall art’ of the much-loved comedy pair came about after the vandalism of the Eric Morecambe statue in October 2014.
An attacker sawed through the standing leg of the sculpture and it was removed for repairs, leaving behind just Eric’s boot.
There was widespread public outrage after the attack.
Mr Ibbeson worked with Lancaster City Council round-the-clock to repair and return the beloved sculpture that December.
Shortly after the statue was attacked, Mr Cadman unveiled plans for the Eric and Ernie relief at a public meeting at the Midland.
Mr Cadman had previously worked alongside Mr Ibbeson on other sculpture projects of famous people throughout the country – including comedian Les Dawson in Lytham St Annes, cricketer Fred Trueman in Skipton and football manager Don Revie at Leeds United Football Club.
Lancaster City Council supported the scheme in principle and although no formal agreement was drawn up, they told Mr Cadman they would commission the sculpture once the full amount for design, production and installation costs was raised.
Eric Morecambe’s family also backed the campaign.
The comedian’s son Gary Morecambe described the plans as “really fantastic”.
The Visitor then christened the appeal ‘Morecambe Gets Wise’.
Mr Cadman gave more details on the project at another public meeting at The Platform in January 2015.
He proposed a ‘Sunshine Garden of Fame’ - a Hollywood-style ‘Walk of Fame’ featuring floor plaques engraved with names of celebrities who worked with Morecambe and Wise or were fans of the comic pair.
Mr Cadman originally announced a target of £50,000 and hoped the wall art could be ready in time for July 23 2015 - the anniversary of the unveiling of the Eric statue - proposing a special ‘Eric Morecambe Day’ to pay tribute to Morecambe’s favourite son, who died in 1984.
Plans to raise the money included a VIP dinner at the Globe Arena, an Eric Morecambe magazine, the sale of limited edition Eric Morecambe miniature statue maquettes, an all-star variety show and two celebrity golf days.
Then in March 2015, Mr Cadman announced a new fundraising target of £70,000 and said an extra 12 months’ fundraising would be required.
The new opening date of July 2016, set to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Morecambe and Wise first performing as a duo, was because Mr Ibbeson wanted to increase the size of the finished artwork to ensure public expectations were met and because of the huge interest in the project both inside and outside the town.
A series of fundraising events and initiatives between March and May 2015 were extremely successful and attracted strong support from local people.
The first of these was a celebrity darts night at the Trimpell starring darts personality Bobby George in March 2015.
Next came an Eric Morecambe Tribute Dinner at the Globe Arena in April 2015 attended by more than 200 guests.
Entertainment included a performance by Eric and Ernie impersonators Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel, who have appeared as the comedy duo on the West End stage. VIP guests on the night included Gary Morecambe, Eric’s chauffeur Mike Fountain, ex-footballers Malcolm MacDonald and Paddy Crerand, and David Morris, MP for Morecambe.
This was followed by The Visitor’s Sunshine Ball at the Midland in May where money was raised for the appeal.
The main local patron of the campaign was Cross Bay Brewery, owned by Peter Cross, which brought out a special ‘Sunshine Ale’ to help raise funds.
During the Queen’s visit to Lancaster Castle in May, Her Majesty was told about plans for the Eric and Ernie relief. “That’s good, they were inseperable in life,” she said.
Then in June, Lancaster City Council sent a map to Mr Ibbeson with a proposed location for the Garden of Fame on Marine Road Central opposite the Winter Gardens.
But in July 2015, Mark Davies, chief officer (environment) at Lancaster City Council, wrote a letter to The Visitor which for the first time cast doubt over the project.
He said: “Location on the land opposite the Winter Gardens has certainly been discussed with Graham Ibbeson and even been mocked up as part of the design process.
“At the same time, however, the council has made improvements in this area and it has recently been landscaped to provide an open aspect to the promenade.
“This work has attracted positive comments from the public and has improved the area.
“There are also further public realm works in the pipeline which we would not want to jeopardise.
“In view of this the council would need to give serious consideration to locating something there that might conflict with the works that have taken place so far and the wider plans that are being developed.
“There is, therefore, a long way to go before any final location on public land is agreed.”
Mr Davies also asked for opinions from the public on whether the Eric and Ernie frieze should be placed on public land.
By that point, Mr Ibbeson had begun preparatory work on the landmark and created a smaller ‘prototype’ version.
In response to Mr Davies, Jim Cadman said at the time: “We have now written to Mark requesting clarification of the council’s position on the location for the Sunshine Garden of Fame and the bronze wall art of Eric and Ernie.
“We are making positive progress with our fundraising with over 20% of our target figure being reached with contributions and pledges.
“Over 60% of the income required for this project will be generated outside of Morecambe but we have been pleased with the support of the local residents in the town and the wider business community in our fundraising efforts to date.”
Mr Cadman said he had never received a reply from the council.
He told The Visitor he was upset at the timing of Mr Davies’ letter and wondered why public opinion had not been sought when the project was launched.
After Mr Davies’ letter went out, most fundraising events were put on hold, apart from an exhibition of Mr Ibbeson’s work in London in October.
A Lancaster City Council spokesman said there was very little response from the public survey with “just eight people sending their views, which perhaps shows the level of interest in the project, and the majority said they wanted to see the frieze located in the West End”.
Then came today’s news that Mr Cadman and Mr Ibbeson will not be going ahead with the bronze relief in Morecambe.
Mr Cadman said the planned events in support of the 75th anniversary of Morecambe and Wise would continue in other parts of the country and he would now look for another site for the Eric and Ernie tribute outside the resort “as a matter of urgency”.
The Visitor understands that Blackpool is being looked at as a possible location.