Fun that never goes out of fashion

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (Laurel and Hardy)  at the Caledonian railway station in Edinburgh 13/4/1954. The actors were on their way to stay at the Caledonian hotel whilst they were appearing at the Empire Theatre
Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy (Laurel and Hardy) at the Caledonian railway station in Edinburgh 13/4/1954. The actors were on their way to stay at the Caledonian hotel whilst they were appearing at the Empire Theatre
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A FEW weeks ago, I was half-listening to Radio 4 in the kitchen as I appraised Cook on the day’s menu. I wish. In reality, I was listening to Radio 4 whilst cleaning the kitchen.

I have a long-standing love affair with Radio 4. I have, at times, been an avid Archers listener, fallen asleep to the Shipping Forecast... Dogger, Fisher, German Bight... and listened to cricket matches (even though I am not a cricket fan) on the World Service in far-flung places where, as well as applause, there has been the sound of monkeys calling in the trees and the ceaseless cheep of cicadas. I love Radio 4.

So, there I am, Mr Muscle gripped in one hand and a cloth in the other, paused in mid hob-scrub, hearing the words ‘Laurel and Hardy’ and just having to stop to listen. What about Laurel and Hardy? I haven’t heard them mentioned for yonks. And it seems that is the problem.

When I was growing up, Laurel and Hardy films, together with those frothy Elvis musical romps, were the staple of school summer holiday telly entertainment. One or the other would be shown every day.

But the chap being interviewed on the radio - who seemed to be somewhat of an expert on Laurel and Hardy – said that their films hadn’t been shown on TV for about 25 years, let alone in cinemas.

As they haven’t been shown in cinemas since Adam was a lad, TV was their only outlet. And as they hadn’t been shown on TV for perhaps a quarter of a century or more, that meant that a whole generation (and possibly even two) had no idea who Laurel and Hardy were.

This started me thinking back to just how side-splittingly funny they were, just with their actions and facial expressions and the easy-to-read slapstick comedy that had you racing ahead and guffawing in anticipation of the dumb antics that were about to unfold on the screen.

And I wondered why we were letting Mr Bean take all the credit today, his being the only films in this genre our kids might have seen. No, that just wouldn’t do. L&H were too good to be just explained away as some kind of Mr Bean forerunners.

There was to be a remarkable thing called The Laurel and Hardy Roadshow, the expert said, and cinemas all over the UK woukd be showing two L&H films throughout June, to coincide with the centenary of Stan Laurel’s birth.

So that is how Gamford, the YMs and myself came to be in an Edinburgh cinema one Tuesday night, watching County Hospital and then Sons of the Desert, on the very date that, 100 years before, a certain Stanley Arthur Jefferson (later Stan Laurel) was born. Bliss.

For Gamford, at 86, it was a happy stroll down memory lane. For the YMs, it was laugh-out-loud funny from the opening to the closing credits. L&H were pronounced: ‘Brilliant!’ Just two hours watching two men make fools of themselves and they were hooked.

Did it matter that tbey didn’t say too much? No. Did it register with them that it was in black and white? Erm, no. I don’t think they actually noticed until I pointed it out. Was it funnier than the usual comedy they watched? Absolutely! More, please, was the message.

Well, the good news is there is another UK-wide Laurel and Hardy Roadshow planned for September. Sign up at the eponymous website to find out where and when you can swap LOL for L&H. You won’t regret it.