Widow of Eric Morecambe dies on 97th birthday

Joan Bartholomew in 2013
Joan Bartholomew has died after a short illness

The widow of the comedian Eric Morecambe has died after a short illness.

Joan Bartholomew, who lived with the entertainer in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, died "peacefully" on her 97th birthday, her family has announced.

Her son Gary Morecambe said: "Without her there would never have been the Morecambe & Wise we knew and loved.

"She was the engine room that made the whole machine work".

Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise with their wives Joan and Doreen
Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were married to Joan (left) and Doreen up until their deaths in 1984 and 1999 respectively

Mrs Bartholomew married the famed comedian, known for his double act with Ernie Wise, in Margate in 1952.

She was described as a "devoted wife" to Eric until his death nearly 40 years ago in May 1984 at the age of 58.

Her husband was born John Eric Bartholomew in Morecambe, Lancashire, and took his stage name from his hometown.

The couple had three children - a daughter Gail and sons Gary and Steven.

Born on 26 March 1927, she died on her 97th birthday on Tuesday.

Joan and Eric share a joke with then Prince Charles in 1979
The couple attended the 31st birthday celebrations of King Charles III

In 2015, Joan was awarded an OBE for charitable services in the Queen's New Year's Honours List.

She was also the founder and president of the Lady Taverners, part of the Lord's Taverners youth cricket and disability sports charity, from 1987 to 1992.

In 2003, she became the patron of the Luton Town Supporters' Trust, the football club being her late husband's favourite team, and remained in that role until her death.

Tony Murray, chair of the trust, said: "She been our patron since the inception of the trust and it’s very sad news, lovely lady, her support meant a lot to Luton fans and she will be missed."

Doreen and Joan unveiling a plaque in 1999
Doreen and Joan unveiled a plaque to commemorate their late husbands in the hall of fame at Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire, in 1999

Mrs Bartholomew told the BBC in September 2018 that she was still stopped by Morecambe and Wise fans while shopping in Harpenden.

She said: "People don't seem to tire of them, they're everlasting really."

The comedy duo produced 71 episodes of their BBC series The Morecambe & Wise Show between 1968 and 1977.

They were best known for their Christmas shows, the last of which attracted 28 million viewers.

Mrs Bartholomew said the family would watch them together as they were broadcast on Christmas Day.

"Eric didn't like me to know too much about them as he wanted my reaction to be the same as everybody else.

"We really did sit and watch seriously, even Eric laughed at the shows, I rather enjoyed that actually."

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