Friday, 13 December 2013

Laurel and Hardy inspire BBC drama

Laurel and Hardy inspire BBC drama

It has always been a source of regret to me that I wasn't alive to see two of my favourite comic actors of the 20th century, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, when they toured the theatres of Britain with their live sketch shows during 1952-53.  Although they were in the twilight of their careers, having completed their final film in 1951 - the unholy mess that was Atoll K (also known as Utopia or Robinson Crusoeland, an absolute disaster of a film and no way to have ended a 25-year movie career - a mixed nationality of actors and crew meant that no-one understood one another, The Boys were both ill and in the case of Stan looked it, he also never really got the creative freedom he was promised so the story was weak as well) - by the following year they were in better health and keen to get out and meet the many fans who still enjoyed their comedy genius.  Stan, the creative one of the partnership, had several new ideas for the team but both agreed that another tour of Europe - where they remained popular - was the first step (they had twice before toured abroad, once in 1932 and again in 1947).

In 1952 they performed a sketch written by Stan entitled "A Spot of Trouble" and it proved so successful that in 1953 they returned with a new performance, "Birds of a Feather".  Playing to packed houses, they were overwhelmed by the joy and affection they still engendered nearly 20 years after their heyday.  On one occasion, arriving by boat at Cobh in Ireland, they were moved to tears by the crowds' cheering and waving and - I'd have loved to have been there to hear it - all the church bells in the town pealing out their theme tune, "The Dance of the Cuckoos".

The 1953 tour was another great success but it proved to be their last, for Oliver Hardy's health declined in 1956 and following a series of strokes he passed away on the 7th August 1957 aged 65, ending one of the greatest partnerships in film.

I'm pleased to see that the B.B.C. has now commissioned a new drama-documentary charting those last two years' of tours, to be written by the same chap who co-wrote the recent critically-lauded film Philomena.  I haven't seen that one myself but by all accounts it is a very good, if heartrending, story so I have high hopes for this forthcoming programme.

It won't be the first time the Beeb have produced a drama based around the last years of Laurel & Hardy, however.  Back in 2006 as part of its "Silent Cinema" season B.B.C. Four broadcast Stan, which was written by Neil Brand (who is also well-known for playing accompanying music - and in some cases composing new scores - for silent films, often shown at the British Film Institute e.g. The Wrecker) and which covered Laurel & Hardy's career in a series of flashbacks as Stan visited Ollie on his deathbed.  That was an excellent production, if sometimes tough to watch, with the actors playing the lead roles well suited to the parts.  Let us hope it will be more of the same with Stan and Ollie; I look forward to hearing more news about it.  In the meantime I can heartily recommend the book Laurel & Hardy: the British Tours by A. J. Marriot as an excellent tome on the subject of The Boys' later live appearances.


  1. Ohhh this is fantastic! Must see! Sharing your post on my fb page now!!! xox

  2. My Grandfather was a huge fan of these old films, they'd have been mainstream viewing in his youth, after all. I remember watching them on the television with him when I was small, they used to show them quite often back then.


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