Sons of the Desert

Saturday Feb. 7th 2004

To misquote a line from the film Forest Gump: "Life is like a Laurel and Hardy Convention - You never know who's gonna turn up." Well we're delighted to announce that it was a box-full of our favourites who turned up at the recent Laurel and Hardy Day in Rochester. Firstly there was a large contingent of loyal Helpmates, then there were many Sons from other Tents, the largest party being from the Saps at Sea, Southend Tent, along with their Grand Sheik Roger Robinson. Another Grand Sheik in attendance was Howard Parker, from the Hats Off Tent of Derby.

One of the fun events was a map into which attendees were invited to stick a pin to show where they had travelled from. You might think that the three guests from the North East would have won the farthest travellers from within Great Britain, but no. The winner was Philip Soltan who had come over from Cork , Southern Ireland. Other guests came from as far away as Bournemouth, Anglesey and South Wales.

A second prize was for the overseas visitor who had travelled the farthest. Michael Agee from Los Angeles, California, and Marshall Korby from Detroit Michigan were strong contenders, but were beaten by a guest from Japan. Apparently he had heard about the event on the radio, after Mr. Hardy had had a radio aerial erected on his roof. (Joke!)

Laurel and Hardy at the corn exchange Rochester
Bud and Steve

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy Newspaper report
The Press

Bud and Steve ace Laurel and Hardy impersonators

Superb Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy look a likes
The Boys

The Laurel and Hardy famous sales stall
The Sales Stall

The Mayor doffs a Stan Laurel bowler hat for the press
Nick Bowler

The Laurel and Hardy Catalogue Mobile Sales stall
The Sales Stall

We had two rooms screening the 'Boys' films, plus rare footage and documentaries. Michael Agee (Hal Roach Studios) flew in the day before the event and went back to the USA the following day! How's that for dedication? Michael came over specially to give a presentation of his new HAL ROACH STUDIOS web site, and to inform us first of his plans to release a set of DVDs. The presentation was very ably co-presented by Russell Babidge from Bournemouth who will continue to build this magnificent web-site.

Laurel and Hardy painting by Keith TurleyIt was great to see the film rooms full and the bar empty, indicating that the guests had come for the right reasons i.e. to appreciate the films and lives of Laurel and Hardy. The event lasted from 12 noon till 11 pm, so many attractions were needed, part of which was three great displays: First was the sales stall; next was a fabulous display of authentic, signed items from the Charlie Hall Collection, owned and hosted by Ray Andrew; and thirdly a stunning display of original artwork by the extremely talented artist Keith Turley, who was on hand to sign his new limited edition prints.

There was also entertainment in other forms. Firstly were regular attendees Bud and Steve - ace Laurel and Hardy impersonators. As well as performing the dance routine "At the Ball - That's All", they did sterling work throughout the day as "Walk-about entertainers." Then there was a special guest cabaret from diminutive award-winning, comedy-magic entertainer Joe Pasquale Junior, who astounded the packed audience with tricks such as making a full-size 10-pin bowling ball appear from an empty paper bag. Our thanks go to Joe for his unpaid performance in support of our charities of the day.

They say you are only as good as the company you keep. Well we were certainly in distinguished company, for present was not one Mayor, not two, but no less than five Mayors along with their Lady Mayoresses. The Mayor of Medway, Nick Bowler, is actually a Helpmate, and regularly attends our meetings. This time however he was co-hosting the event, and it was he who was responsible for us being able to use the beautiful, and very large Corn Exchange building to stage the meeting.

Nick also did some compering early on in the evening, before handing over to "A. J" Marriot to host the raffle. What could have been a mundane job in handing out around thirty raffle prizes, was turned into an hilarious interlude by "A.J". No winner was safe from "A.J's" ad-libbing, especially the "Saps at Sea" members who, "A.J" said, had done the impossible by winning six prizes after buying only one raffle ticket between them. All was taken in good spirit, and we thank all those who bought tickets, and not forgetting those who donated such fine prizes.

The event attracted the attentions of Radio Kent, local newspaper reporters, and BBC cameras - so we were covered by the three main media. The most pleasing aspect of the whole event, however, was the number of young children present. It's all well and fine for some meetings to consist of huge numbers of male Sons, drinking and singing, but that is hardly bringing the next generation into the fold. Here, in this safe environment, the formula and diversity of attractions kept the children entertained and enthralled throughout the full length of the proceedings and, from this, we know that the future of the Sons of the Desert will continue for hundreds of centuries of generations - as Stan might have said.

It was great to see so many old faces, but equally pleasing to see many new ones. All were welcomed by myself or "A.J", as the two of us spent the biggest part of the day "meeting and greeting" to ensure that no-one, especially first-time attendees, were cold-shouldered. A big thank you goes to all the other Helpmate helpers, such as Howard Parker - who provided equipment and acted as sound-and-lights man; Ian Kerman and Kay on the Sales Stall; and our ever-present Joan Robertson for manning the ticket desk and selling raffle tickets. And no event would be the same without the whirring of a real cine-projector, so a special "thank you" to the father and son team of Richard A. and Richard T. Ellis for screening the evening's great choice of films. And lastly to all those of you who attended, for making this the fabulous family day out that it proved to be.


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