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  • Writer's pictureGranny Bonnet

When Laurel and Hardy Played Norwich.

Comedy Duo Laurel and Hardy

As a young girl living in small-town Essex, it was a real treat to visit the local cinema, the Century in Loughton. It was where we could enjoy in glorious black and white, the bowler-hatted comedy duo so popular at the time, Laurel and Hardy.

Tall, thin, less-than-bright Stan Laurel was seen frequently scratching lagubriously at his spiky hair or reduced to tears by the impatient goings-on of his co-star, portly Oliver Hardy.The crumpled tweed suits of the bow-tie-wearing Englishman reflected the corrugations of his vacant face as it went through series of emotions, contrasting starkly with neater-suited Hardy, who frequently waggled his tie in exasperation at Laurel's stupid incompetence.

With 107 films together, Laurel and Hardy were a staple of the 'flicks' for years. Ollie's catchphrase, 'well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into', after a riotous slapstick routine, was mimicked by all of us. So, it came as something of a surprise to learn recently that though the he pair's careers were centred in America, they actually performed live in Norwich, Norfolk, in February,1954.

Hollywood comedy stars Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel pictured on their visit to Norwich in 1954. (Image: Archant)

What a treat for exhausted people struggling to get to grips with rebuilding shattered lives after the war. Laughter must have been a wonderful, if short-term, anti-dote to the miseries of scrimping and rationing.The duo performed at Norwich Hippodrome (sadly demolished in 1966), and stayed at the Royal Hotel at the top end of Prince of Wales Road.

Nearing the end of their careers, they were grateful for the staggering sum of £1,000 it had cost to bring them here, and it would not be long before both were to shuffle off their earthly stage. Oliver died first in August, 1957 which apparently sent Laurel into swift decline, rendering him too ill to even attend his friend's funeral. 'Babe would understand', he said using he nick-name that stuck early in Oliver Hardy's life after a shave left him with skin like a baby.

There is a blue plaque to the men (and incidentally also to Cary Grant), on the site of St. Giles car park which replaced the old Hippodrome.

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