Standing Ovations: Researcher explores Best of British comedy legends immortalised in sculpture

As social media buzzes with debates over the diminutive dimensions of ancient Greek statues’ private parts, Dr David Wright from the University of Warwick’s Centre for Cultural and Media Policy Studies dives into a more British sculpture exploration: the world of British comedy immortalised in sculpture.

This International Sculpture Day, Dr Wright takes us through England’s towns and cities, where statues of beloved comedians reign supreme.

From the hearty laughs of Eric Morecambe in Morecambe to the witty charm of Victoria Wood in Bury, these statues stand as monuments to the integral role of comedy in British society, shaping not only our sense of humour but also our collective identity.

In his paper, Wright looks at the debates surrounding nostalgia, popular culture, and heritage, shedding light on the cultural and political significance of these statues in the contemporary landscape.

Speaking on his research, Associate Professor in the Centre of Cultural and Media Policy Studies, David Wright, said: "On International Sculpture Day, it is important to recognise the continuing role of public art in shaping our cultural landscape. Through my research, I aim to unravel the intricate layers of nostalgia, popular culture, and politics embedded within the statues of comedians in English towns.

"These sculptures not only celebrate entertainment icons but also serve as poignant markers of collective memory, belonging and identity. Sculpture - and especially representational statues of specific people - can be seen, in artistic terms, as an ’old-fashioned’ form. Yet there is still a drive to commemorate and celebrate people in these ways.

"As we celebrate the art of sculpture, we should also reflect on its power to provoke thought, inspire dialogue, and illuminate the complexities of our shared heritage."

Furthermore, the research looks into the broader socio-political landscape of contemporary Britain, delving into issues of regional inequality, changing demographics, and political identity.

The figures in these statues are deeply rooted in their northern identities, they used humour to both reflect persistent myths of northern working-class life and expose class inequalities.

Wright’s research serves as a call to reevaluate our understanding of nostalgia and its role in shaping collective identities.

In the places where these figures lived, families’ involvement in campaigns for these statues develops the sense of shared experience and ownership of sculptures in public spaces.

With this all set against a political narrative that often portrays towns as victims of change, celebrating these figures’ journeys through art and sculpture signifies a claim for continuity and retrieval. It emphasises that these places and people have a rightful place at the heart of the country’s national story.