Laurel and Hardy

Devizes woman’s real life stories of Laurel and Hardy

A NEW film on the life of iconic comedians Laurel and Hardy has brought back memories of the duo for Devizes woman Barbara Fuller.

Local history lover Mrs Fuller met Stan and Ollie in 1947 when her father was manager of the Empire Theatre in Swindon.

She said: “All the publicity about the new Laurel and Hardy film has brought some happy memories for me from when I lived in Swindon as a small child. I

am really looking forward to seeing the film even though it does actually cover a different Laurel and Hardy Tour in 1953.

Her father Bill Bobby was manager of the Empire Theatre from 1946 until its closure in 1955. The family then moved to live in Devizes after he became manger of the Regal Cinema.

Mrs Fuller said: “During his time at the Empire many famous people starred in various shows and one very special booking was Laurel & Hardy. This was in September 1947. I was very lucky as my father often took me to the dressing room area to meet some of these stars such as Hutch, Wally Patch, Alan Jones, Betty Driver, George Formby, Tommy Trinder and Martha Ray to name but a few.

“Believe it or not I actually met Laurel and Hardy. Although Hardy was rather morose, he just said hello, patted me on the back and went into

his dressing room where I later saw him lying down and his wife massaging his feet.

“Stan Laurel was very different, he was quite chatty, made a fuss of me and talked and joked for some time and also gave me a

photograph on which he wrote ‘Hello Joan’ to give to my sister. I certainly did not realise at the time how lucky I was.

“The story my mother told me was that they were accompanied by their wives, one of whom wore rather loud clothes. I am not sure if this was

the one who, when they were on stage, stood up in the isle and clapped loudly to encourage the audience to do the same.”

An earlier visit by Hardy to The Empire when he was in pantomime is detailed in a book All For The Empire by Roger Trayhurn and Mark Child as well as the 1946 performance.

Mrs Fuller said: “They also tell how the pair, when at Swindon, actually stayed at Hungerford as there were no hotels at Swindon at the time who had en suite rooms.

“I am possibly one of the few people in Wiltshire and maybe even further afield who can claim to have actually met them.”

Mrs Fuller is general secretary of Wiltshire Family History Society and has had a local history book published on Devizes Union.

The film Stan and Ollie is a bittersweet look at the comedians as their glory times faded with Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy.

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