Stan & Ollie: The night Laurel and Hardy became burglary victims in Shrewsbury
As legendary comedy duo Laurel and Hardy finished a successful week-long show at the Granada in Shrewsbury in April 1952, there was to be a bitter twist in the tail which was not funny at all.
On their last night, while they were at the theatre, somebody sneaked into Stan Laurel's room at the nearby Raven Hotel and stole £55 which his wife had put in her make-up case, which was found forced open in a hotel toilet.
The crime was to delay the departure of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy – who are subject of the new movie Stan & Ollie starring Steve Coogan and John C Reilly – for their next engagement at the Empire at Edinburgh.
The movie, incidentally, was filmed partly in Dudley, and is centred around the duo's tour of British music halls and seaside towns the following year.
Laurel described what had happened in Shrewsbury a day or two later in a letter to his actor pal Booth Colman.
He wrote: "Had big excitement last Saturday night at the hotel in Shrewsbury while we were at the theatre – someone robbed our hotel room and took £50 in notes Eda had locked away in her make-up kit.
"They took it out of room & forced it open in a public toilet in the hallway.
"It was discovered by the management and when we got back a dozen detectives were investigating etc. I think an inside job.
"Of course we shall never see it again, so no use worrying about it – or writing about. Could have been worse."
The crime was reported in the Express & Star of Monday, April 28, 1952.
It said the comedians had just ended a successful top-of-the-bill variety appearance at the Granada and returned to the hotel to discover the crime.
The article said the victim was "blonde, Russian-born Mrs Ida Katavia Laurel , who is aged 52."
Her name may have been spelt phonetically, as the internet consistently gives her middle name as Kitaeva, and in Stan's letter he spells her first name as Eda.
Mrs Laurel plays a major part in the new Stan & Ollie film, which includes a number of scenes filmed at the Black Country Museum in Dudley.
"First intimation that the staff of the Granada had of the theft was when three men who had been helping back stage called at the hotel to collect luggage," said the report.
"One of them, Mr Albert Phillips, greengrocer, of 138 Belvidere Road, Crowmoor, told an Express & Star reporter that he and Mr Bill Binnersley, and Mr Bob McCreery, had expected to find the side door of the hotel open for them, but it was closed and there were detectives in the hotel.
"Inquiries are being carried out under the direction of Police Superintendent J.W. McKiernan and Detective Inspector E.J.R. Smith."
It is believed the culprit was never caught.
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 Laurel, who was English-born, was rumoured to have relatives in Coleham in Shrewsbury.
The duo's run at the Granada had begun on Monday, April 21, with twice-nightly shows.
Also on the bill were "Lorraine (Singing Cartoonist), Three Adairs (Frivolous Feet), the Sensational Aerial Kenways, the Captivating Starlet Daisy May assisted by Saveen, Jimmy Elliott (Animal Mimic), Mackenzie Reid and Dorothy (Scottish Accordionists), and Newman Twins (Novelty Contortionists)."
Although no photo of Stan and Ollie on the Granada stage has come to light, they were pictured at the police ball at the Music Hall on April 23, and when we published it in 2003 it sparked a number of memories of the pair's Shrewsbury visit.
The photo had come from Martin Haycock of Shrewsbury, whose father Bill Haycock was for many years a licensee at various Shrewsbury pubs.
Speaking in 2003, Barry Brown, of Barnfield Crescent, Wellington, pinned down the date of one of the comedy duo’s shows at the Granada to April 26, 1952 – this would in fact have been the last show on the Saturday night.
“I went with my parents. I would have been 10 or 11,” said Mr Brown, who could be sure of the date because he had a little booklet as a youngster in which he jotted down films and shows he had seen.
He recalled one of the sketches involved Ollie being desperate to get in to a locked house, and Stan climbing in through a window.
Mrs Eileen Cotterill of Shrewsbury was at the police ball with her husband Ron – she is the lady immediately beyond Stan Laurel with a flower in her hair, and her husband is to the right of her as you look at the picture.
She was to recall: "I went back stage and had a chat with them afterwards, with their two wives, who they had with them. They were very friendly and amusing, as one would expect.”
Gordon Wainwright, who lived at the time in Woodfield Road, Shrewsbury, went to the show as a seven-year-old with his parents and sister.
“It was marvellously entertaining. I remember my father remarking it was not quite the same as they were in their films," he recalled.
Anyone who got their autograph made a sound investment – in 2005 an autograph dating from the Music Hall visit sold for over £300 at auction.