Laurel and Hardy

Stan and Ollie film is a ‘love story’ says Scottish director

The Scottish director of a new film about the world’s most famous comedy double act, Laurel and Hardy, said when he first read the script he “actually cried”.

Aberdeenshire-born Jon S Baird told BBC Scotland: “It brought tears to my eyes and I thought if it can do this just on the page then it’s got huge potential.”

Stan and Ollie, which tells the story of the duo’s final tour of the UK and Ireland, opens in cinemas this week.

Jon said he and writer Jeff Pope decided the movie was going to be a “love story”.

“It was a love story about these two guys, who just happened to be Laurel and Hardy,” he added.

The film is, in his own words, the “polar opposite” of the director’s last project, Filth, based on the Irvine Welsh novel.

And as well as the script making him cry, it was his childhood memories of watching Laurel and Hardy films on television after school that fuelled his desire to take on this film.

“I had a real love of Laurel and Hardy from a very young age,” he said.

Stan and Ollie opens in cinemas across the UK this week

“I dressed up as Stan Laurel for the school fancy dress party and a friend dressed as Oliver Hardy. I’ve still got the photograph.”

But the director says the focus of the film – a tour of music halls and theatres in the 1950s – was something he know very little about before starting this project.

“I didn’t even know they had done theatre tour. I was just a fan, I knew the films and that there was a fat guy and a thin guy and they were very funny,” he said.

Steve Coogan and John C Reilly take on the roles of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in the movie.

It tells how the double act fell out of favour for a short while and embarked on the theatre tour to restore their reputation with fans.

Jon S Baird said he was delighted to find out about the duo’s connections to Scotland and Glasgow

“There’s a lot of tragedy in their story,” said Jon.

“After the war, tastes started to change, people’s comedy started to change. The horrors that they had seen in the war meant that people had a more cynical sense of humour and that’s why Abbott and Costello – when they came in – they really took over from Laurel and Hardy.

“Laurel and Hardy were doing tours of the UK and having huge crowds and then really within a couple of years they had really fell out of fashion and were getting tiny little audiences, so it must have been a big shock to them.”

Steve Coogan and John C Reilly play Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in the new movie

A surprise for Jon, when he started researching the film, came as he discovered the duo’s strong links to Scotland, and in particular Glasgow.

“There were a lot of connections, which was a real delight to find out,” he said.

“Stan’s mother was buried in Glasgow, he went to school in Rutherglen. They used to play golf at Gleneagles, Hardy was a really keen golfer. They would always come to Edinburgh and Glasgow, and obviously the Panopticon was Stan’s first ever performance.”

Laurel and Hardy appeared in the movie “Bonnie Scotland” in 1935

Stan Laurel was born in Ulverston in England but moved to Glasgow when he was a boy.

His father ran music halls and when he was just 16, Stan managed to persuade the owner of Glasgow’s Britannia Panopticon to give him a slot during amateur night.

“It’s where he cut his teeth in comedy”, said Judith Bowers who now runs the Panopticon Trust.

“He learnt about comedy by skiving off school and coming to watch comedians on stage here.”

Stan Laurel’s first comedy performance was on stage at the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall in Glasgow in 1906

But it wasn’t just the funny side of the business Stan Laurel learned about while in Glasgow, according to Judith.

The double act didn’t make a lot of money from their films and this movie explores the toll on their personal relationship as they went on tour to try to boost both their reputations and their finances.

It offers an insight into Stan as a shrewd businessman.

“His dad went to great pains to make sure his sons were brought up with a good business management brain. He wanted them to approach the entertainment industry from the business end, not from the performance end.

“Stan had really practical head on his shoulders, as well as a great comedic one,” said Judith.

Judith Bowers is hoping the new film will bring even more Laurel and Hardy fans into the Panopticon

Stan Laurel’s connection to the Panopticon continues to draw audiences there today with the building acting “as a site of pilgrimage” for fans, according to Judith.

She’s hoping the new film will bring even more visitors to the building, which currently plays host to events including screenings by the international Laurel and Hardy fan group, Sons of the Desert.

“Every time they come in and show Laurel and Hardy film marathons, it is mobbed in here, absolutely mobbed,” she said.

“And its generations – you’ve got granddad with his son, with his grandson.

“Even the little ones come in and they love it because the sort of humour that Laurel and Hardy portrayed, is still the same humour today really.

“The pratfalling, the slapstick, the stupid things that went on between them, the idiocy of it – it’s just something that even kids today still think is hysterical, even the tiny tots.”

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