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No messing as Stan and Ollie hit town

By Toby Neal | Shrewsbury | Theatre & Comedy | Published:

"Are you going to do anything special while here?"

Oliver Hardy had just stepped off the liner Queen Elizabeth on his arrival in 1947 with Stan Laurel to do a tour of British shows.

"Well," he told the interviewer, "try and keep the people happy... "

Stan, standing next to him, starts tapping on Ollie's shoulder.

"Will you keep quiet a minute!" says Ollie, before turning back to the interviewer "and have a good time, and everyone else have a good time..."

Stan taps again. "I'm talking to the gentleman! Will you keep quiet a moment!" barks Ollie, "...and then after a couple of weeks we might..."

Stan is urgently tapping again.

"What is it!" says an exasperated Ollie.

Ollie and Stan during their Dudley run in 1947 with Mrs Marie Jones, of the Gate Inn, New Invention.

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"You're standing on my foot," says Stan.

Classic Laurel & Hardy. And an old routine which was vintage Stan Laurel. Because he was the comedy brains behind the duo, writing all the material, and that was just fine by Ollie.

Their slapstick and gags have brought laughter cascading down the generations, one of those partnerships sprinkled with magic dust, with many regarding them as the greatest comedy duo of all time.

"That's another fine mess you've got us into" has become a standard quote, although Hardy's words were actually "nice mess."

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Stan was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson on this day, June 16, in 1890, in Ulverston, which at the time was in Lancashire, but is now in Cumbria.

While it's gone down in the history books that he was from Ulverston, he apparently saw himself as a Geordie because he spent most of his childhood in North Shields, and for a long time it was thought he had been born in the north east, until somebody found his birth certificate.

A good review for their 1954 Wolverhampton show.

The family later moved to Glasgow – his father was an actor and theatre manager, and took over the lease of the Metropole Theatre in the city. It was in Glasgow that 16-year-old Stan made his stage debut.

He went to America on tour with Fred Karno's troupe, of which Charlie Chaplin was also a member, before going into films, although it was to be years before he teamed up with Oliver "Babe" Hardy with a comedy formula of "two minds without a single thought," with the antics of simpleton Stan and pompous Ollie creating situations which would spiral into chaos.

Their first official pairing was in a 1927 silent movie, but they moved seamlessly into the talkies era, working together on over 100 shorts and feature films. They are today hailed as comedy legends, while the sentimentality and pathos of Chaplin has not fared so well with modern audiences.

Stan actually forgot how the stage name of Laurel came to him, but told one interviewer that he had a vague idea it had happened in 1918, and also remembered that his impelling reason to seek a new name was superstition, because Stan Jefferson was 13 letters.

Stan's daughter Lois Laurel Hawes visits his birthplace at Ulverston for the first time in 1979.

According to Australian singer and dancer Mae Charlotte Dahlberg with whom he had an early double act – she was also his common law wife – she saw a book left in a dressing room showing a Roman wearing a laurel wreath around his head, aired it aloud as she knew he was looking for a new name, and he thought it sounded good.

After Laurel and Hardy's huge success, they came to Britain after the war with some trepidation, fearing they were a forgotten act, and were amazed at their enthusiastic reception. After the 1947 triumph, there were to be further British tours in 1952, 1953 and 1954.

Their last ever stage show was at the Palace Theatre, Plymouth, on May 17, 1954, when they only performed on the opening night as Ollie fell ill, and all other shows were called off.

Ollie died in 1957 and Stan, who had four wives, in 1965. "If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I'll never speak to him again," he said.

Let's take a dip into the records and remember their shows – at least those we know of – in our region.

Dudley Hippodrome was packed for the 1947 show with Stan and Ollie.

......

MAY 12, 1947.

VENUE: DUDLEY HIPPODROME.

A week-long run topping the bill of a variety show, our reviewer of the packed opening night saying: "They are in fine fettle behind footlights instead of arc lights. They are, indeed, past masters of their particular type of comedy."

And Stan was to have an unusual reunion during the run, when he met Mrs Marie Jones, of the Gate Inn, New Invention. The last time he had seen her was when he had nursed her as a baby. Her father, Billy Moran, had appeared with Stan in Fred Karno's company.

Others on the bill included the clowning Slim Rhyder, who rode and fell from a variety of bicycles; Len and Bill Lowe with a cross-talk act; Olga Varona, Australia's "queen of the air" with a trapeze and rope act; juggler Mariora; and Yeaman's Sporting Dogs.

The pair stayed at the Station Hotel, Dudley.

Ollie and Stan during their Dudley run in 1947 with Mrs Marie Jones, of the Gate Inn, New Invention.

........

APRIL 21, 1952

VENUE: GRANADA THEATRE, SHREWSBURY

A week-long run which was marred on the final day when somebody sneaked into Stan Laurel's room at the Raven Hotel and stole £55 which his wife had put in her make-up case.

Stan thought it might have been an "inside job." The crime appears never to have been solved.

Ironically only three days before the theft the pair had been guests at the Shrewsbury Police Ball, held at the Music Hall, popping in after their show.

An interesting sidelight on the affair is that Stan was rumoured to have relatives in Coleham in Shrewsbury.

..........

Before the crime at Shrewsbury. Stan, right, with his blonde Russian wife, Ida, and Ollie's wife on the left, pictured at a reception in Shrewsbury.

SEPTEMBER 15, 1952

VENUE: DUDLEY HIPPODROME

Topping a variety bill, and again our reviewer loved it: "Highest tribute that can be paid to this bill is the simple statement that it is headed by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

"The incomparable pair were welcomed back to Dudley last night with an affectionate warmth that mingled with gratitude and delight. Maybe their familiar antics are a little less robust these days, but the matchless fantasy of their relationship proved as happy and as irresistibly amusing as ever.

"Their comedy sketch allows all the well-loved mannerisms, expressions and situations that have kept more than one generation laughing – down to Ollie's tie flicking and Stan's bewilderment about his headgear."

Other acts during this week-long show included the magician, Cingalee, animal impressions by Jimmie Elliott, triple barrelled ventriloquism by Archie Elray, accordionists, acrobats, and dancing by the Lonsdale Sisters.

........

They returned to the Dudley Hippodrome for a week in September 1952.

MARCH 8, 1954

VENUE: WOLVERHAMPTON HIPPODROME

The pair were billed as "Hollywood's Biggest Comedy Stars." They seem to have gone down a storm – here's our reviewer on the opening night: "It is some considerable time since a new Laurel and Hardy film has been seen in Wolverhampton or, for that matter, any other town.

"But the reception given last night to this Anglo-American combination, on their first joint stage appearance in the town, surpassed any at this theatre for many years.

"It was not until the second half of the show that they made their entry, but then they held the stage in a two-scene sketch that lasted for almost half an hour..."

There were eight supporting acts, including Derrick Rosaire with his horse Tony "an almost human creature which does nearly everything but talk," as well as Harry Worth (remember him?), who at that time was a ventriloquist, and Jill, Jill, and Jill – and that does seem to be how they were billed – who danced.

Laurel and Hardy stayed at the Queens Hotel in Birmingham and drove 15 miles to Wolverhampton every night to do the show.

Their only Wolverhampton appearance was at the Hippodrome.

According to author A J Marriot, who wrote a book about the comedy duo's tours, they may not have enjoyed their Wolverhampton shows.

In a letter to the Star in 1991 in which he appealed for information about the Wolverhampton appearances, he wrote: "Apparently the two comedians had a miserable time there. On their next stopover, Hardy remarked of Wolverhampton: 'Not a very nice place to have come from'."

He also thought the pair had attended the opening of Wolverhampton's annual flower show, but had no confirmation.

According to one account the pair played Dudley a third time in 1954, although if that is correct we don't have the date.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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