The new film Stan & Ollie, which sees Steve Coogan and John C Reilly, play one of the world’s greatest comedy teams, Laurel and Hardy, should resonate with people here on South Tyneside.
For one of the famous duo, Stan Laurel, has strong links with the area, as my predecessor Janis Blower reminded readers back in 2011.
At the time, she was reporting on the publication of a book, The Making of Stan Laurel: Echoes of a British Boyhood, by Danny Lawrence.
In her article, Janis wrote: “When Hollywood might as well have been another planet, it was unimaginable that this film star had once hopped across here regularly on the ferry, en route to visit his father’s theatre at Hebburn, or that he counted folk from Shields and its neighbouring towns among his closest friends.
“Here was someone who could write that the smell of North Shields fish quay was like a garden of roses compared to the cat-infested school he had attended at Tynemouth: ‘You could smell the joint from Jarrow,’ he said.”
In his book, Lawrence, a retired sociologist, “brings to life,” says Janis, “the now lost-world of the old variety theatres and halls, venues like the Theatre Royal, at North Shields, which Laurel’s father, Arthur Jefferson Snr, took over in 1895, and which was just one of a number that, like the theatre at Hebburn, he leased across the North East.
“It was a world of precociously juvenile stars, for instance: acts like 12-year-old Jarrow-born George Wood, alongside whom the young Stan appeared in a production of The Sleeping Beauty, with the Levy and Cardwell Juvenile Pantomime Company in 1907.
“The two would become lifetime friends and they were days that Stan would look back on with great affection.
“In a letter written many years later, he would recall, with hilarity, falling into a barrel of fish guts near that iconic North Shields figure, the old Wooden Dolly.”
The Making of Stan Laurel: Echoes of a British Boyhood was published in paperback, price about £29, by McFarland (www.mcfarlandpub.com)
The new film is set in 1953 when, diminished by age and with their golden era as the kings of Hollywood comedy behind them, Laurel and Hardy set out on a variety hall tour of Britain.
The tour becomes a hit, though there are plenty of ups and downs along the way, including the fact that Oliver Hardy’s health is failing (he died in 1957 after a series of strokes), and ultimately, the unfolding of their partnership.
Now here’s a question for you ... did Laurel and Hardy ever perform here on South Tyneside?
Perhaps you or a member of you family saw them on stage; if so please get in touch with your memories.
Meanwhile, back to the film.
Talking of his role as Stan, Steve Coogan says he can relate to the character her plays on screen: “I write comedy, and I’ve performed comedy for 25-plus years. Stan was from the north of England, and I am. I’ve had some success; not internationally the way Stan did, but certainly here...”
Laurel and Hardy are hailed as the greatest comedy duo of all time; what do you think?
What about Abbott and Costello or Morecambe and Wise?
Who were your favourites? Please drop me a line.