Douglas Brown – Laurel & Hardy – 29 August 2017

Douglas Brown, as a fully-paid up and enthusiastic member of the “Sons of the Desert” appeared at our club meeting, shirt hanging out of his trousers and wearing a purple sash and red, velvet fez. Some members, mistakenly believing him to have lost his way from a nearby stag party, tried to redirect him, but no – it was Ayr Rotary club he had come to speak to!

Sons of the Desert are a Laurel and Hardy appreciation society with a healthy Scottish contingent and Douglas was here to tell us all about the duo’s links with Scotland. Beginning with Stan Laurel (born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in 1890), Douglas told us of Stan’s birth in Ulverston to theatrical parents and their moves, firstly to Durham and later to Glasgow where his father had been appointed theatre manager at the Metropole in Stockwell Street. It was at Glasgow’s Britannia Panopticon (“Pots ‘n‘ Pans) that Stan gave his first professional performance at the age of sixteen, and where he polished his skills in music hall sketches with his trademark bowler hat and nonsensical understatement. (Reputedly, the theatre owner, E Pickard, sold tickets on the promise of a free dinner and a fur coat then handed out dead rabbits on entry!).

Stan was schooled initially at Queen’s Park school and then Rutherglen (now Stonehouse) academy but, according to Douglas, was an inveterate truanter. His mother is buried in Lynn cemetery.

Stan moved on to higher things and travelled to the US where at one stage he was understudy to Charlie Chaplin. There he met Oliver Hardy and the two appeared in a silent short called “The Lucky Dog”. It was later, when both were contracted to the Hal Roach Studio, that they teamed up as a comedy duo appearing in a huge number of silent-shorts and eventually making a successful transition into “talkies”.

In 1947, under engagement to Bernard Delfont, Laurel & Hardy made a successful tour of Britain where they were mobbed by enthusiastic fans everywhere. On their Glasgow visit Stan went back to Queen’s Park school where he handed out sweets to the grateful pupils.

Oliver Hardy died in 1957 after a massive stroke the previous year and, in 1961, Stan Laurel was given a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award for his pioneering work in comedy. He died of a heart attack in 1965.

Douglas finished by showing one of Laurel and Hardy’s great film shorts “Our Wife” which, despite the usually unwelcome evening programme overrun, had everyone chuckling merrily.

Kenneth Dickie in his vote of thanks was full of admiration for Douglas’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the lives of Laurel and Hardy and advised Douglas to apply to be a candidate on Mastermind where his specialist subject would surely guarantee him success.

An additional vote of thanks is in order to President Craig who worked hard with uncooperative presentation equipment to ensure everyone’s enjoyment