Early next year, the film Stan & Ollie will be released staring Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C Reilly as Oliver Hardy. The movie tells the story of their 1953 tour of Britain and is based in part on AJ Marriot's book Laurel & Hardy - The British Tours.
The duo first touted the UK in 1932. Originally, it had been planned as a holiday after making 50 films (including shorts) in 5 years, with Stan visiting his family. However, their studio realised that they could turn it into a publicity campaign instead. While they were mobbed in a way that wouldn't have looked out of place if they'd been The Beatles at venues from London's Leicester Square to Edinburgh's Playhouse, they didn't visit Nottingham on that tour.
They returned after the war in 1947 and this time they visited Stan's sister and father who were living in Barkston, just outside of Grantham. That was on the way to Butlin's in Skegness, where they would perform for a week. As well as putting on their show in Skegvegas, the Hollywood legends would also find themselves judging "holiday lovelies" and "knobbly knees" competitions.
Their 1952 tour finally brought them to Hoodtown with a week of shows at the Empire. They were staying in the County Hotel, which used to be on one side of the Theatre Royal, while the Empire was where the Royal Concert Hall is now. Despite only staying some 250 yards away, the duo would still require a taxi in order to get through the crowds. While in the vicinity, there was time for another family reunion, this time at The Bull pub in Bottesford.
They returned again in 1953 with a four week run at the Empire that coincided with Christmas. They brought their new show, Birds of a Feather, which was no relation to the terrible tv sitcom from the '90s. At one point they were doing three shows per day - their own show twice and then hosting the "Christmas Party", a show that featured Tony the Wonder Horse and Betty Kaye's Pekinese Pets. They even went back to Bottesford for Christmas dinner.
While it seems absolutely incredible that icons such Laurel & Hardy came to Nottingham, it's straight up unbelievable that they would spend time in little local villages such as Bottesford. But they did and AJ Marriot's talk showed an excellent level of both knowledge and passion for the topic.
AJ Marriot spoke at the Lace Market Theatre on the 3rd of August