Entertainment & Arts

Laurel and Hardy receive anniversary makeover

Laurel and Hardy Image copyright CCA
Image caption During their career Oliver Hardy (left) and Stan Laurel made 107 films

It's a decade since classic comic duo Laurel and Hardy were last shown on British TV screens - but now some of their best work has been digitally re-mastered.

Four films will be shown for the first time in HD across UK cinemas to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Stan Laurel's birth.

During their career, Laurel, who was born in Ulverston, then in Lancashire, and American Oliver Hardy, made 107 films together.

Comedians including Ricky Gervais, John Cleese, Matt Lucas, Steve Martin and Steve Coogan cite them as influences, while the Homer Simpson catchphrase, "D'oh!", originated in one of their films.

As late as 1975, one of their songs, Trail of the Lonesome Pine, was at number two in the British charts - nearly 20 years after Hardy died.

"It's time to introduce the next generation to Laurel and Hardy," says Ross Owen, the organiser behind the Laurel and Hardy Roadshow, and the screenings.

"And we want to do it on a big screen, which was what the original films were intended for.

"Most of them are being re-mastered and restored in the USA, to preserve them for the future."

Image copyright CCA
Image caption Despite the duo's success they did not become wealthy - Hardy reportedly had to sell his house to fund his medical bills

The double act's appeal to younger viewers, according to Owen, is that "they are the original Dumb and Dumber".

"They just pick themselves up and dust themselves down and go on to the next disaster.

"I don't think kids today would be put off by the films being in black and white at all. Many of us growing up in the 1970s had colour television, and yet I was fixated by them.

"I don't think there are many other comedians who could make three generations of a family laugh together these days - big belly laughs as well. And yet that's what Laurel and Hardy could, and still can, do."

Both Laurel and Hardy started their careers in silent movies, and were introduced to each other in 1927.

The duo won only one Oscar, for a short film in 1932 called The Music Box, which memorably saw them trying to lift a piano up a set of stairs.

However, their catchphrases, such as: "Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into", became as famous as they did.

When they toured, towards the end of their career in 1950, they were nearly crushed in the streets by fans.

Despite this, they did not become wealthy. Hardy - who died in 1957 - reportedly had to sell his house to fund his medical bills.

Image copyright CCA
Image caption Stan Laurel wrote most of the duo's material

Laurel lived in Santa Monica, in California, until his death in 1965. Actor Sylvester McCoy, who has played Laurel twice during his career, says the comedian would have died in poverty had not actor Jerry Lewis fought a legal battle on his behalf to get him TV royalties.

"They really had no idea how big they were, and how much they meant to people, even when they toured," says McCoy.

"Stan Laurel's phone number was in the telephone book and so fans, as they rediscovered them, would just phone him up for a chat.

"He really was an incredibly humble man, and yet he wrote most of their material.

"Oliver Hardy was a real southern gentleman, who liked to leave work at five and go and play golf with Bing Crosby. It was Stan who was the workaholic genius."

Comedian Vic Reeves believes their unique appeal is the "absolute joy they bring audiences".

"You just can't be sad and watch a Laurel and Hardy film. It's just impossible."

Radio DJ Danny Baker, another fan, adds that they are "the perfect double act - just like Lennon and McCartney".

"They are just not an acquired taste - it's mass popular comedy, there for everyone. They aren't exclusive to gender or country borders.

"If someone says they don't like Laurel and Hardy, then it's not like saying, 'I don't like football', or 'I don't like Renoir'. If you can't find them funny then I think there's a hole in your soul."

Image copyright CCA
Image caption Screening organiser Ross Owen says he has received requests for the films to be shown in countries outside the UK, including India and Australia

Ricky Gervais has said Tim, played by Martin Freeman in BBC sitcom The Office, was modelled on the exasperated mannerisms of Hardy, calling the rest of his workplace creations "Stan Laurels".

But comedian and actor Robin Ince believes it's impossible to copy or re-create their personalities "because of the goodness and the depth of the friendship between the originals".

"They are far more than slapstick - even though I can laugh again at something I've seen 50 times before," he says.

"It's the humanity between them- the relationship between Stan saying: 'I've got an idea', and the inevitable chaos that ensues.

"They really became friends later on in their career, when they spent time together on the road.

"If you look at the later footage in particular, after Ollie had been very ill, there is something there in their eyes.

"Even after Ollie died, Stan kept on writing Laurel and Hardy sketches because that was what they did. It was real love between them."

The four re-mastered films - Way Out West, Towed in a Hole, The Music Box and Block-Heads - will be shown at venues throughout the UK and Ireland in October and November.

But Ross Owen says he's had requests for screenings from as far afield as India and Australia.

"That's what we'd like to do next year if we can," he says. "But I think it's time that Laurel and Hardy were also returned to British TV screens. That type of humour never ages."

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