These days you are almost as likely to see a Hollywood star mixing with the public, as you are seeing a tortoise going for a walk without its shell. But, in their day, Laurel and Hardy were always happy mixing with the public. They acknowledged that the public had put them in an esteemed position, and were always quick to acknowledge it.
Examples of this were never better illustrated than when the Boys were touring. No matter how many shows they were doing at that week’s theatre, Stan and Babe would find time to make personal appearances, no matter how small. What’s more, they never profited by it. There was a fee involved, but this was always given to charity. Witness that at the end of the 1947 England and Scotland tour, they presented £1,100 to the charitable organisation the ‘Water Rats’ – which was a colossal sum in its day.
Thanks to Colin Greenwell, keen Son and researcher, another such hastily arranged appearance has just come to light. In the week beginning 14th July 1947, the Boys were playing the Hippodrome Theatre, in Bristol. On the Friday there was a Speedway meeting at the local Knowle Stadium, in Wells Road. At the last minute the stadium manger, Mr. Reg Witcomb, plucked up the courage to invite Laurel and Hardy to attend, and to officiate at the Bathing Beauty competition, which was being interjected between races.
Now the meeting was to commence at 7-30 p.m. Meanwhile, over at the Hippodrome, Laurel and Hardy had two shows to do, one starting at 6.15 and one at 8.25p.m. But - with no advanced publicity; little to be gained for future publicity, as they had only the Saturday shows to do before leaving Bristol; no money to be earned; and a lot of pressure fitting in the speedway appearance between shows - Stan and Babe readily agreed.
As this was a flying visit, there was no press present. How lucky we are therefore that resident stadium photographer Stan Vickers was on hand to take some snaps. The glass-plate negatives were, in turn, bought by John Jarvis, speedway enthusiast and author of three superb books on Speedway, which are bibles to fellow enthusiasts. After an approach from Colin Greenwell, John kindly had prints specially made, of which he said: “Please feel free to make use of the pictures as you like, I’m only too pleased to see them published.”
Well, John, we are absolutely thrilled to see them published, and can’t thank you enough for your most generous gesture. And to Colin we are deeply indebted for tracking them down, and sharing them here. It’s very warming to think that the Boys’ gesture was returned in kind. It took fifty-five years for it to ‘come around’, but the wait was well worth it.
Do you have a story, or a rare photograph, of Laurel and Hardy on one of their tours? If so, we’d love you to share it with us. Please send me Rob Lewis at our usual address.
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