Laurel and Hardy

Laurel & Hardy and their links to Kent as film Stan & Ollie is released in cinemas

As a consultant on the film Stan & Ollie – an affectionate biopic of comedy legends Laurel and Hardy – he was about to sit down and chat with its two stars.

“My God, it made my heart flip,” says the 64-year-old from his home in Gillingham. “I could feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck.”

John C Reilly as Oliver Hardy and Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel in biopic Stan & Ollie - at cinemas now
John C Reilly as Oliver Hardy and Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel in biopic Stan & Ollie – at cinemas now

After a life of devoting his spare time to the legacy of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, he was introduced to actor John C Reilly and Steve Coogan – in full costume.

“John C Reilly was Oliver Hardy. Even his voice was convincing,” he recalls.

“Steve Coogan was really nice as well chatting away, but he only had to have minor changes to his appearance. John was unbelievable.

“He’d undergone this prosthetic make-up and looked just like Ollie. When he shook my hand he just said ‘oh don’t worry that’s my fat glove’ – he even had gloves on to make his hands look fatter.”

Mr Lewis has, since 1977, been one of a team behind Helpmates – one of the affiliated appreciation societies devoted to the duo and part of the global Sons of the Desert fan network (a club derived from one of their feature length movies and whose constitution was created in co-operation with Stan Laurel himself).

And for more than 30 years he has run the Laurel & Hardy Magazine which has subscribers around the world – including several honorary members, among them the actors behind Star Wars icons Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader; Mark Hamill and Dave Prowse who are huge fans.

Comedy legends Laurel & Hardy
Comedy legends Laurel & Hardy

Over that time, he has met and befriended family of the pair; staying at the home of Stan Laurel’s daughter and even inadvertently introducing her to her future husband; meeting Oliver Hardy’s widow, Lucille and a host of co-stars – even Hal Roach, the producer of the stars’ glory years films.

In addition, he has staged conventions across the South East.

Many have taken place in Kent – with events over the years at such venues as Leeds Castle pulling in hundreds of fans.

Today, it attracts around 300 people each year when it block books the Holiday Inn in Chatham for a weekend of movies, experts and chat each November – with one year member Ernie Wise coming down to enjoy the fun.

Former print worker Mr Lewis, who publishes the non-profit magazine, was one of three experts on Laurel and Hardy to act as consultants on the movie.

And his efforts did not go unrewarded by those behind the film at BBC Films and eOne.

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