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.

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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.

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