Park Engineering

 John Park, 32 the Loaning, Motherwell, North Lanarkshire, Strathclyde, Scotland, U.K. ML1 3HE

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Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy

Back where it ol began for Stan

 

Stan Laurel's incredible career began in a former Scottish Music Hall that is finally being restored to it's former glory. The comic made his debut as a bumbling teenager in the world's oldest surviving music hall, the Panopticon in 1906. But he made such a fine mess of his act that the audience rolled around in hysterics at each failure and his career in comedy, most famously as one half of Laurel and Hardy was born. Judith Bowers, who has spent close on 20 years researching and restoring the theatre, in Glasgow's Trongate, said: ""Stan Laurel's debut was comical. Stan knew the  Panopticon's owner AE Pickard because of his dad, AJ Jefferson, who managed a music hall around the corner called The Metropole. He'd always told his son not to tread the boards. But Stan wanted to be a comic. He used to skive off school and come into the Panopticon to watch his favourite comics.  A month before his 16th birthday, Stan got to perform a Friday night amateur spot after telling Pickard he was funny.  He had told his dad he was going to a birthday party but instead Stan went home, took his dad's best suit out of the wardrobe and cut it up comically and then beat up his dad's best hat to make it tramp like, which was the fashion at the time.  He toddled into the Panopticon with a joke he'd bought for a penny in the Saltmarket. By chance, his dad walked past the Panopticon and the owner told him his son was on next. The two men then sat on the front row of the stalls to watch Stan.   Stan told his joke and got grief from the audience. But what was upsetting to Stan was that he noticed his dad sitting in the stalls. His dad was furious because he recognised his best suit and what Stan had done to it. Stan wanted off stage, so took a bow but fumbled the hat and dropped it. He stepped forward to pick it up. His foot connected with it and kicked it into the orchestra. A lady in the orchestra tried to retrieve the hat , tripped, fell on the hat and crushed it. The audience laughed their heads off as Stan tried to get off stage. But it was too early for the trapeze act due next. The stage manager, in a panic walked on with a hook to get the trapeze ready as Stan tried to sidle off. The hook caught Stan's dad's jacket and ripped it clean up the back. The audience was in hysterics as Stan legged it out of the theatre. When he eventually came home, his dad gave him his first whisky and from that moment on encouraged his career. The tale is just one of many found in Judith's book Glasgow's Lost Theatre: The Story Of The Britannia Music Hall, where Sir Harry Lauder and Cary Grant also tread the boards. The meticulously researched book, with a forward by Michael Grade, is setting the record straight on the building that barely elicits a second glance from the outside. Left abandoned in 1938, it had lain untouched since then until a chance visit by Judith in 1997 led to the beginnings of an ambitious conservation project. She said: "It started life as the Britannia Music Hall in 1857."  It is an old warehouse building that had a pub on the ground floor. They decided to utilise the warehouse above as a music hall. Judith, who has worked for many for many years as an archaeologist and later as a Glasgow historian, believes the music hall has survived because city audiences were the most raucous and uncouth. She said: "A music hall in the 1850s was usually the back room to a pub and your bottle of beer was the admission to the music hall. Being upstairs is one of the secrets to it's survival. The couldn't build a music hall behind the pub because it had tenements too close to it at the back. Music halls were all wooden, lit by naked candlelight and heated by coal fires. Everyone smoked pipes and would knock the embers out on the wooden floors. The average life of a music hall was 20 to 25 years before they burned down. But this music hall was one floor up it was more difficult for people to get out to urinate. So they urinated where they stood, which meant the wood was too saturated to ignite. Boys on the balcony would urinate on the acts on the stage as a sport. But if they were at the back of the balcony they woould throw horse manure instead. It was where they came to let off steam. They were wild nights and that is why it is the oldest surviving music hall in the world.  Judith now hopes sales from her book (Glasgow's Lost Theatre) will help raise some of the money needed to restore the original stage. "The first time I walked in, there were bottles of beer still sitting on the benches," she said. "I cried when I first saw the auditorium because I couldn't believe there was such sadness. We are trying to raise money to bring the main stage back." 

 

Laurel and Hardy Perfect Partners. Record breaking run of 107 classic Films together  By Alan Shaw Weekly News 29 11 2014

Laurel and Hardy were the perfect partnership. One fat, one thin, one laidback American, one driven Brit. And they were also an entirely--accidental alliance. The greatest comedy duo in Hollywood's early history might just as easily never have teamed up at all. Both Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy had substantial careers as bit part actors under their belts before they met, with big 'Babe' Hardy having featured in more that 250 films. Despite the later becoming world famous for playing a blustering buffoon  for 30 years, it was Hardy's versatility  -- he played heroes, villains and even female characters -- that saw him in huge demand.  Stan, meanwhile, had arrived in the States with Fred Karno's comedy Company as an understudy to Charlie Chaplin and was working as often behind the camera as a writer and director as she was in front of it. Indeed the pair had actually both appeared as cast members in 1921's Lucky Dog though later on neither could remember filming it at all. So a steady but unspectacular career beckoned both -- before they separately signed contracts with the legendary Hal Roach's film studio. It became increasingly apparent they were the shinning lights and so their parts grew as others shrank, and 1927, their director Leo McCarey suggested pairing them up for the comedy Short Putting Pants on Philip which, when it was released on Dec.3 rd kicked off  recording run of 107 films together. Laurel later admitted: "Of all the questions we're asked, the most frequent is how did we come together? "I always explain that we came together naturally." The pair had starred in the prison-break comedy The Second Hundred Years, which came out a couple of months previously and established the roles they would play for the next three decades -- Laurel the clumsy, childlike pal of the pompous Hardy. But Putting Pants On Phillip was the first time they'd been officially  "Laurel and Hardy", with Ollie playing Piedmont J Mumblethunder who is dismayed  his Scottish cousin (Stan) parading about in his kilt. It set the template for their slapstick--based success and soon the duo had settled on the formula that would serve them so well. And they quickly worked out their trademark attire, too. Stan was of average height but appeared small and skinny next to his strapping six--foot--plus pal, and they subtly altered things to emphasise the contrast. Stan kept his hair at the sides and grew it long on top to create a natural "fright wig" while Hardy's was plastered to his forehead in kiss curls. Hardy's sports jacket was always  a size or so to small while Laurel's double breasted jacket hung loose  and their bowler hats also helper the look. He also took the heels off his shoes to get the proper flat--footed walk -- nothing was too much trouble for Laurel when it came to getting things just right. He'd rewrite entire scripts before getting the cast to improvise on the sound stage, and then spend hours meticulously reviewing the day's footage.  He made so many suggestions, there was often little for a film's director to do. By 1929, he was the head writer and because he so obviously relished writing the duo's gags, his partner was more than happy to leave the job entirely to him despite the fact it meant that he earned twice the salary. Ollie later said: "After all, just doing the gags was hard work, especially if you've taken as many falls and been dumped in as many mudholes as i have.   "I think I earned my money" I should perhaps have mentioned the fact the films mentioned so far were all silent shorts but, unlike many of their contemporaries, the switch to talkies didn't derail Laurel and Hardy. Partly this is because they hardly changed their approach  -- much of their comedy remained visual, just think of them pushing that piano up the stairs -- and partly because their voices, Stan' squeak , Ollie's prissy tones, suited them to a tee. From then on, Hardy's exasperated sigh was all it took to reduce the audience to hysteria. Laurel and Hardy's film career proper ended in 1944, though 6 years later, the appeared in the shambolic Atoll K. Instead they focused on touring and their arrival in Conn, Ireland, in 1952, showed how much they were still loved.      Laurel said; "There were hundreds of boats blowing whistles and people screaming. "The church bells played our theme song, Dance Of The Cuckoos, and babe looked at me and we just cried. a fine sentiment, considering the millions they still have crying with laughter.

Scotland was another fine place to make movies.

Putting Pants on Philip is said to be Stan Laurel's favourite short silent comedies, writes Allan Shaw. And it's quite appropriate that his character is  a knobbly kneed Scotsman. Because though he was a naive Cumbrian born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Ulverston, 1890, his father moved the family to Glasgow where he managed the Metropol Theatre.   While the young comic worked in the box office there, he gave his first professional performance in the city's Panopticon, aged just 16. Hardy had less clear links to Scotland, through his mothers ancestors hailed from there. However the keen golfer headed straight to Gleneagles during their 1932 tour.    And they returned for 1935's full-length feature Bonnie Scotland, the plot of which has them on the trail of Stan's Scot's inheritance before they're into joining a highland regiment of the British Army and posted to India.  Needless to say, Scot's born James Finlayson, the moustachioed comic foil famous for his double take and pained shout of "Dohhhh!" excels as a sergeant major.  Stan hadn't been well for years when he died of a heart attack aged 74 in 1965. and many feel he never got over Ollie's death eight years previously. But he kept us laughing until the end, as he had earlier quipped: "If anyone at my funeral has a long face, I'll never speak to them again"

 

How a talent for truancy got young Stan Laurel into many a fine mess. 15 06 2015

  Blinded by the footlights, he walked diffidently onto the stage wearing a bashed top hat, his father's good suit and the bemused expression that would one day would make the whole world howl with laughter. For the moment, however, faced with the toughest audience in Britain, comedy immortality was a long way off for the young and nervous Arthur Stanley Jefferson, a boy from south of the river Clyde  who had often plunked school to attend matinees in the Britannia Panopticon music hall, on the fringe of Glasgow's wild West End. In the darkness, more more than 1000, raucous, 'keelies' fingered the shipyard rivets in their pockets and reached down for the dollops of dung gathered from the streets on their way to the world's first variety theatre. He knew what to expect if the patrons of the 'Pots and pans' were less than impressed by the theatrical debut of a 16 year old desperate for a career in showbiz. As it turned out he need not have worried. On that momentous Friday evening in 1906, the laughter would carry off Arthur, replace him with Stan Laurel - and put the unsteady feet on a gauche youth on the path to Hollywood and the stardom along side the inimitable Oliver Hardy. 'Glasgow was the absolute key to it al, 'says writer, director and actor Alex Norton, best known to television audiences as Detective Chief Inspector Matt Burke in Taggart. 'If he hadn't been there, playing truant to see matinees in the many, many variety theatres, he wouldn't have honed the skills and techniques he nurtured into a glittering career, first as a solo performer and then in his partnership with the incomparable Oliver Hardy. On the eve of what would have been Laurel's 125th birthday tomorrow - which is being celebrated throughout the month with UK wide screening of the comic duo's classic movies, Norton, an expert on legend, adds: 'It all began in the Pots & Pans. Some stories suggest he got the dung and rivet barrage - but it's a myth. He would write many years later that the audience was very kind to him.  A fearful schoolboy managed what some of the biggest stars of the era had failed. He began brightly cracking jokes cracking jokes he had bought for a penny less than an hour earlier. The audience tittered. He broke into a song and dance, lost his footing and fell. The audience howled at the first of his trademark prat falls. Leaping to his feet, he tumbled again, tore his dad's jacket and kicked his hat into the orchestra where a female musician fell on her bottom trying to retrieve it. The fortunate few who were there witnessed the birth of one of the world's most enduring stars. It is something that couldn't have happened if his family had stayed in Cumbria, where Stan was born, Says Norton. 'As a youngster in Glasgow, a city with an international reputation, he saw the world's biggest stars, performers such as WC Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Dan Leno and Sir Harry Lauder. 'He was a committed perfectionist, watching, listening and probably stealing their best gags. When you add in his innate genius, it would have a huge impact on his career. Within a few years of his debut, Laurel was on his way to the US. By 2017, he was acting alongside Chaplin and heading for a partnership which would produce almost 100 films showcasing the greatest duo in comedy history. It would be a far cry from the city he regarded as home, having arrived in Glasgow as a child with his actress mother Margaret and father AJ, who had been appointed manager of the Metropole Theatre. The family lived in comfort in the southern suburbs, variously in Cambuslang, Rutherglen and Queens Park, where Stan went to primary school. Many years later on a visit to Queens Park and dressed resplendently in a kilt, he would show the children how he had escaped from the playground to visit the theatres where he had learned his craft. Norton said: 'His father had forbidden him to go on stage, deciding his son would follow in his footsteps as a theatrical manager and impresario.   'He didn't learn his son was dogging of school until he got a letter from the headmaster, thanking AJ for all the complementary theatre tickets. Young Stan had been handing them out so the staff would turn a blind eye to his truancy. 'It was inevitable that, by using his family connection, he would approach the owner of the Panopticon and ask for a slot on one of the famous, or infamous Friday night shows. 'As it happened, his dad was coincidently, in the audience. After Stan's turn, there was no more talk of him not going on stage.  Norton is delighted about the screening of the Laurel and Hardy roadshow in 19 cinemas, three of them in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth, saying 'It will be very special' It has been organised by Ross Owen, who runs the Laurel and Hardy forum from Cumbernauld. he says: 'It represents the biggest revival of the comedy duo since the 1970's.   'It is something that is long overdue and, with the 125th anniversary of Stan's birth, we felt the time was right to stage something special. 'The aim of the national screenings is for families, grandparents, mums, dads and the kids to put down their ipods, tablets, iPhones and laptops for a couple hours and enjoy Laurel and Hardy as they were meant to be seen, in a cinema with a packed audience.  It is a view shared by writer and actor Ricky Gervais: 'Anything that helps preserve the legend of the greatest comedy team of all time for future generations is a good thing.     I'm so glad they're showing the glory of Laurel and Hardy in cinemas.  Mr. Owen adds: 'Over 320 years together, Laurel and Hardy appeared in 40 short sound films, 32 silent films and 23 full length features. The first was in 1921, the last in 1955. It was an amazing partnership. 'Stan never forgot the city where it all began, revisiting Glasgow four times, in 1932, 1947, 1952 and 1953-54. He even had a kilt made to celebrate his love for and connection to Scotland.  Norton who was inspired to act by Laurel and had written a play on his debut , says: 'as a child in the 1950's, I spent hours laughing at the classic films. As I got older, I appreciated more of the art that went into his work and how clever he was with his gags.   'Working in this business, I realised what a genius he was. He was an inspiration to me. His father was at first against him going into this business, as was mine, so I knew how he felt. I always remember something Billy Connolly said -- the minute Laurel and Hardy came on screen, you knew instinctively they were your pals. It is the best description of them I have heard.

 

Stan Laurel (1890 - 1965)  

Born in Ulverston Cumbria, he found as half of the most popular comedy duo of the black and white era, Laurel and Hardy who made 107 films together. Unlike most movie stars, his number was listed in the phone book -- and fans were amazed to hear him answer the phone at his Californian home -- aspiring young comedian Dick Van Dyke called him for advice and even visited him there.

                                            

 

 

 

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