Derek James looks back to when Laurel and Hardy were in Norwich
There’s a new film coming our way all about Laurel and Hardy’s farewell tour of the UK 65 years ago, which included a visit to Norfolk. Derek James reports.
It is a picture taken by our photographer which has been used – understandably – time and time again ... Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy making their way out of the Royal Hotel in Norwich to play the old Hippodrome Theatre.
When I first saw the photo I wondered just why two of the best-loved comedians in the world were travelling up and down this country in the winter of 1953/4. I had imagined them living a life of luxury on the other side of the pond enjoying their wealth.
How wrong I was.
And now Steve Coogan – who is a brilliant actor in films such as Philomena, as well as being Norfolk’s own hapless TV and radio host Alan Partridge in the TV series and the film Alan Partidge: Alpha Papa – is playing Stan, while John C Reilly (Chicago, The Aviator, Walk Hard) is the necktie-twiddling Oliver in the film following the classic double act on their last tour.
‘Stan & Ollie’ is described as a heart-warming, sad and sweet story about why these superstars
were touring in their final days.
The script was written by Jeff Pope, who says Laurel and Hardy were his heroes.
“When I watch their movies, in my head it is forever a Saturday morning and I am six years old, watching the TV at home utterly spellbound,” he says . . . and I suspect many of you will know exactly when he means.
“I am aware of the huge responsibility of bringing their characters to life, but I have not treated the boys with kid gloves or looked at them through rosecoloured specs,” says Jeff. “They are living and breathing characters, with flaws and shortcomings. The research into this story threw up so many details and facts that I had no idea about. But everything I have done has come from a place of love, and more than anything I hope this shines through.”
Director Jon S Baird adds: “Stan & Ollie, at its heart, is a love story between old friends who just happen to be two of the most iconic comedic characters in Hollywood’s history.”
The film also stars Nina Arianda (The Good Wife) and Shirley Henderson (Bridget Jones’s Diary, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as Laurel and Hardy’s wives Ida and Lucille.
The final tour saw the double act travel to theatres and variety halls across the country. It was in February of 1954 when they arrived in Norwich, where they stayed at the old Royal Hotel on Prince of Wales Road and performed at the Hippodrome Theatre on St Giles.
It cost a record breaking sum – more than £1,000 – to bring them to Norfolk and the price of the seats was increased by sixpence.
‘Whiffler’ of the Eastern Evening News chatted to them in their dressing room and reported: “Lancashire-born Stan Laurel, the one ‘bullied’ in the act, was the business manager of the pair, but Oliver Hardy, from Georgia, had the more genial personality of the two.
“I recall him as a perfect gentleman, with very good manners, and an ability to talk in an engaging way on many subjects besides the stage,” said our writer at the time.
As far as the act was concerned, we reported: “Their act was like one of the best two-reeler comedies shortened a little to suit the stage.
“The pair so resembled their film selves that when the curtain went up the audience took a minute or two to realise they were seeing their childhood comedy favourites in the flesh.”
Hardy was not well and three years later died at the age of 65. Laurel died eight years later, aged 74.
Their memory lives on. Look out for the film, Stan & Ollie, coming our way.
Their act was like one of the best two-reeler comedies shortened a little to suit the stage
The blue plaque at Norwich’s St Giles car park, the site of the old Hippodrome, that was unveiled in 2005 by the city’s comedy duo The Nimmo Twins (pictured right).
Comedy greats, Stanley Laurel (left) and Oliver Hardy
Imagine the excitement among local audiences at news of the imminent arrival of the world’s most famous comic partnership, Laurel and Hardy.