ON Christmas Day 1977 seven-year-old Bob Golding sat in front of his nan's TV laughing hard at two men dressed-up as turkeys.

He wasn't alone; an astonishing 28 million viewers (half the UK population at the time) tuned-in to watch the Morecambe & Wise Christmas special.

Bob (40) has now landed his "dream job" - playing his funny-boned hero in the Olivier Award-winning West End Show, Morecambe.

"To reach that wide range of people was quite unique in those days but they were naturally funny," he told the Press, explaining the continued affection for the light entertainers.

"Eric and Ernie had that natural ability to make the whole family laugh so it brought a lot of us together.

"Eric just had funny bones. As Brits I think we do silly quite well and they were top of the silly tree." The play, and in particular Bob's performance, has received plaudits from Ronnie Corbett, Barry Cryer and Ant and Dec, who said Golding was "spookily brilliant" as Eric.

But it is the praise from Gail Stuart, Eric's daughter, who called the show "a great homage", that has meant the most to the Cambridge-born actor.

He continued, "The family have been incredibly supportive and they've all been to see the show and had a lot of affection towards me, which was lovely. "To get that recognition and approval from his family and his peers is the icing on the cake." Eric Morecambe died in 1984 aged 58. The journey to stardom was filled with career knockbacks, as shown movingly in the play.

Bob's research into the man born John Eric Bartholomew in the Lancashire town that lends his stage name unearthed the setbacks the pair overcame to become small screen stars.

He explained, "I didn't know about their early career failings. Their BBC TV show, Running Wild, bombed.

"The press tore it apart. The People newspaper said, 'Definition of the week: TV set - the box in which they buried Morecambe and Wise.' "That's pretty damning but they had a great ability to dust themselves off and carry on.

"I also didn't know that Sadie Bartholomew, Eric's mum, had that much influence on their act.

"It was her that said, 'Listen, you two know enough silly jokes between you so why not put your heads together and get on stage as a double act?'" Around 28 million Brits were glad they did.

Morecambe is on at the Carnegie Hall tomorrow (Friday). For tickets call the box office on 602302 or visit www.attfife.org.uk