Laurel and Hardy on Blackpool: ‘We were lucky to leave the town in one piece’
The cinema success of the month is Stan and Ollie, the story of the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy on their final British stage tour, in 1953.
The wonder is that it took so long for the industry to make any kind of drama about the Hollywood comedy legends, whose popularity crossed all language and age barriers.
What the younger generations won’t know, after seeing the movie, is that the duo made three British tours – in 1947, 52 and 53 – and they got one of their best receptions in Blackpool.
The film was inspired by AJ Marriot’s very detailed book about the tours.
The book is in the local history section of Blackpool Central Library but much of the resort’s role in the book came from Gazette cuttings.
In a Gazette and Herald article in October, 1972, Bill Burgess wrote of being with Laurel and Hardy when they stepped onto the balcony of the old Palace Theatre (which stood on the promenade block immediately north of the Tower) where they were topping a variety bill for the week beginning Monday, June 2, 1947.
It was a warm day and they were welcomed by a huge crowd of holidaymakers. Traffic slowed and people waved from the top deck of trams.
Burgess reported the beaming Oliver Hardy as saying: “Stanley, you remember Blackpool”?
“Will we ever forget it, Ollie?”
“Never,” said Ollie, “we were lucky to leave the town in one piece.”
He was referring to the ecstatic reception they had enjoyed 15 years earlier, when they came to the resort on an MGM promotional tour.
The Gazette has often recalled that visit, when huge crowds cheered them at the Metropole Hotel, and mobbed them when they visited the Winter Gardens, the Palace and the Tower.
On that 1932 visit they did not give any performances.
Their 1947 visit saw them perform a sketch twice-nightly at the top of a bill that included eight supporting acts.
It came midway through a 28-week tour of major city theatres, including three weeks at the Palladium.
The late Bernard Crabtree, Tower Company publicity manager at the time, said Bernard Delfont offered “the boys” to the company for £1,500 for the week.
“He said he was doing us a favour but a special meeting of the directors had to be called to approve it.”
Eric Littler wrote in the Gazette: “You will laugh, as packed houses did last night, not so much at the script as at the stars themselves, who in all their movements from the flick of Ollie’s tie to the plaintive smile of Stan, suggest you are getting a four-dimensional view of their latest film.”
Sadly, there wasn’t actually a latest film, which was why they were on a stage tour of Britain.
The week was a big success but the Tower didn’t repeat it on the later tours.
And my view of the film?
Wonderful performances by Steve Coogan as Stan and John C Reilly as Ollie, a wicked portrait of Bernard Delfont by Rufus Jones, and a delicately sustained feeling of sadness by director Jon S Baird.
There’s a dilemma here for the Academy Awards selectors.
Stan and Ollie – inseparable. Steve Coogan and John C Reilly – can’t be separated.
Solution – twin Oscars!