Like my father, I considered school something to be got through...

19th September 2003 at 01:00
...before I got on with life

Portrait by Peter Searle

My schooldays, like the rest of my life, were dominated by my father being Eric Morecambe. When I was young, being a comedian was not considered cool, and at that time my father was portrayed as the stooge. I was hurt by comments from other kids that it was a pity he couldn't get a proper job.

But by the time I went to boarding school Morecambe and Wise had changed their act and become famous, and it was great having a father who was a superstar. Morecambe and Wise was one of the programmes staff considered suitable for adolescent viewing.

When my father collected me on a Sunday for the exeat he always attracted attention. People weren't impressed by the silver Rolls (one boy used to get picked up by helicopter) but by the fact that Eric Morecambe was driving. Occasionally, boys would ask me to get them his autograph, and masters would approach me to ask him to do things like hand out awards, which he did brilliantly. I remember having stomach pains once and going to see the school doctor, Dr Wilson. "Shirt off, breathe in, breathe out," he said, and added: "Your father is very funny."

Thanks to Mrs Prime, who ran a primary school in Harpenden, I had a smooth start in the world of education. She was a nice, patient, grey-haired lady with a bun and she taught me to read. Going from Mrs Prime's to an all-boys prep school - Hardenwick in Harpenden - was like being dropped into hell. I remember being beaten several times for being unable to answer 20 questions on Treasure Island. But one teacher there had a big influence on me, and he never resorted to corporal punishment.

Michael Harris taught English and he used to read us chunks of Charles Dickens, acting out all the characters. He made literature come alive and I have been reading Dickens ever since. Mr Harris was in his fifties, a big man, good at cricket and very old-fashioned with an almost Victorian outlook on life. He dressed in tweeds and always had chalk stains on his jacket. He used to keep his trousers up with a piece of string.

I was in my last term at prep school when my father had his first near-fatal heart attack, and this had a detrimental effect on my school work, which wasn't great anyway. But in those days they made no allowance for pupils' domestic problems. It was thanks to Mr Harris that I scraped through Common Entrance. But like my father, who had left at 12, I considered school something to be got through before I got on with the rest of my life.

At my senior school, Aldenham in Elstree, the English master, Richard Jones, was another favourite teacher. He was a quiet man who introduced me to Graham Greene's work, and he encouraged me to write. He introduced me to extended essays; the average length was three pages, but he wouldn't mind how long an essay was. I wrote one of 25 pages about the sights, sounds and smells of a football match (my father was a director of Luton Town FC and I used to go along with him to watch the team play every week). Mr Jones was so impressed that my name was entered in the school record book of good work.

Mr Jones had a nervous smile, and when you saw his mouth twitch you knew he was pleased with you. Many years later when I became a professional writer I sent him a book of my short stories with a note to say: "Without your interest I would never have done this."

When I left school and went to St Albans further education college to take a business studies course, I tried hard to avoid being identified as Eric Morecambe's son. As usual, I was registered under the family name, Bartholomew, but my anonymity didn't last long. On my third day I walked into class to be greeted by the lecturer demanding: "Which of you is Eric Morecambe's son? Ah, I'm a great fan."

The story so far

1956 Born Enfield, north London

1961-64 Attends Mrs Prime's primary school, Harpenden

1964-9 Hardenwick prep school, Harpenden

1969-73 Aldenham school, Elstree

1975-77 St Albans further education college

1976 Father awarded honorary degree from Lancaster University, freedom of the City of London and OBE

1982 First book, Funny Man, published (anecdotes about father, who died in 1984)

1994 Publication of Behind the Sunshine, co-written with Martin Sterling

1999 Queen unveils statue of Eric Morecambe in Morecambe, Lancashire September, 2003 Publication of biography, Eric Morecambe: life's not Hollywood, it's Cricklewood

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