Saturday, 25 February 2012

Shine on... Stan and Ollie

Our household was blessed with good fortune last Christmas, when Santa Claus delivered a boxed set of Laurel and Hardy DVDs. My husband was already familiar with a lot of their work, but I must admit that I - to my shame -  knew very little about them. This stain on my character has now been well and truly erased, and how grateful I am.

The breadth and versatility of their comedy is brilliant. Much of it is pure slapstick, but watch closely and you realise how well-planned each move was - everything looks like an accident, obviously, but it must have been carefully choreographed to have achieved this effect.

And there is a cartoon feel to much it, too. It comes as no surprise when, for instance, Stan tries to light a fire in Ollie's fireplace with a can of petrol and a match, that, rather than being blown to smitherenes he emerges with a few patches of smoke on his face. Like Tom and Jerry, the pair are indestructible.   

Even if some of the devices they use become familiar - the car/boat/piano which we know will be reduced to a mangled wreck before the end of the scene; the bar of soap/chunk of ice/carpet sweeper on the floor which we know someone will step on and be thrown across the room or down the stairs - they remain funny. In fact, being able to anticipate what is about to befall the hapless but well-meaning pair, just adds to the enjoyment.

But what has touched me most in learning more about them, is the depth of their friendship. According to Stan's daughter Lois, the pair were closer than brothers, and would even celebrate Christmas twice - once with their own families and then together! Every action, and reaction, every expression and every look to camera, is so well-timed it could only have been achieved by two people who knew, respected and loved each other thoroughly.

Stan and Ollie have been a pretty constant presence in our lives for the past two months - it's a big box of DVDs! - and so what better way to spend my birthday last week than to visit the Laurel and Hardy Museum in Ulverston, Cumbria?

The Museum started life as the private collection of Bill Cubin, and was originally housed in one small room. The collection was occasionally opened for private viewings, and the Museum first opened to the public in 1983. As the collection grew and grew, it was decided that larger premises would be needed. And so the Museum opened at its new home - on the stage of Ulverston's Roxy Cinema - in 2009.

Now the Museum is run by Mark Greenhow, Bill Cubin's grandson, one of whose earliest memories is of watching 'The Flying Elephants' on his grandad's old cine projector.

Mark offers a very warm welcome to what he describes as 'the family business', and the first thing he invited us to do when we arrived was to watch a film! He led us to a cosy, 15-seat cinema and we happily settled down to watch 'Towed in the Hole'.
In the cosy cinema

The Museum is an absolute treasure trove of Laurel and Hardy memorabilia. Through information panels, photographs, letters, and even furniture rescued from Stan Laurel's birthplace when it was renovated, we can follow the lives of the pair, from childhood right through their careers.

Posters, letters and a wealth of memorabilia

This gem of a museum has been beautifully and lovingly put together, and if ever you're near Ulverston, do consider a visit. I think there is a strong possibility that you'll come away with a smile on your face.

And while you're in Ulverston, there is also a Stan Laurel Trail, a short walk around Ulverston, which takes in, amongst other sites, Stan Laurel's birthplace at 3 Argyle Street, and Graham Ibbeson's beautiful bronze statue of the pair - complete with Laughing Gravy the dog - outside the Coronation Hall. A trail leaflet is available from the Museum.

Graham Ibbeson's statue of 'The Boys'...

... complete with dog!  

There is lots more information about Laurel and Hardy on the official Laurel and Hardy Website. It pretty much goes without saying that this site is well worth a visit. Letters from Stan is a fascinating and touching site, too.

Before I go, I'll leave you with this YouTube clip. It features the impromptu dance sequence from 'Way Out West', to the music of The Avalon Boys.

I think this is exquisite. I like the improvised yet precise nature of the choreography, and the casual expressions on The Boys' faces - they seem to be dancing for their own carefree enjoyment, not for our entertainment.

But most of all, there is an unmistakeable affection that shines out here, a palpable sense of contentedness, of two close friends enjoying the simple pleasure of each others company. This, for me, is the essence of Laurel and Hardy's timeless appeal.


  1. I love Laurel & Hardy. I never consider them slapstick though. I think their comedy is far more subtle than that. You're right about the predictability of it though, you know exactly what's coming but somehow it's still funny - not in spite of the fact that you expect it - but because you expect it.

    The Avalon Boys clip is interesting - I guess they had to put in different routines in the longer full length features. I like this one - I think some of the others are less successful - Trail of the Lonesome Pine for instance. It's interesting for me how some of the clips that survive as being popular, aren't really typical of their style. I actually don't think the Piano sketch is particularly good - but it seems to be the standard nowawadays.

    I was brought up on the shorts which were always on the BBC, my Grandad watched them obsessively (no complaints here). Here's one I chanced by on Youtube recently - Hope you like it

    1. Hello northernheckler! Thank you for dropping by, and for taking the time to leave a comment. Now I think about it, slapstick was probably the wrong word. Lazy of me! There is huge subtlety and exquisite timing to their very physical brand of comedy.

      You have left me with another thought: how much of their appeal nowadays is also down to the fact that they speak to our own individual nostalgia? Nothing wrong with that at all - it just adds to their value. My husband grew up on the shorts that were always showing on the BBC, and I think those childhood memories have added to their appeal for him now.

      Thank you for the link. I really enjoyed that. I particularly liked the savage kicks they administer to each other, unseen behind the counter!

      Thank you again for popping by.


  2. I haven't see L & H in ages! What a great post, Sophie! How are you??

  3. Hello Elizabeth! How lovely to see you again. All is well here, thank you. I can tentatively say that I have begun my first novel, which is quite exciting. I hope all is well with you too.

    I actually feel that I've only just discovered Laurel and Hardy, hence this post. It really has added a delightful new dimension to life.

    I'd never realised you were on Twitter, which is pretty silly of me really. It was a lovely surprise to see your tweet this morning. I have followed back...

    Take care of yourself.

    All the best,