HELPMATES CONVENTION -Holiday Inn Hotel, Chatham, Kent. ME5 9SF– Sunday 1st May 2011
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What Happened Last Time
Holiday Inn Hotel ,Chatham, Kent. Saturday October 28th, 2006.
The Helpmates' Conventions have been held at the Chatham/Rochester Airport Hotel for over twenty years. Those years have seen a few changes of name, and major alterations to the layout. The former has had no influence, but the latter has radically affected the hosting of these events - much for the better.
In the early days, the hotel was open-plan, and the only rooms exclusive to attendees were the two projection rooms. Now, major partitioning has led to the whole convention area being sealed off from the rest of the hotel, with the result that it is almost literally like entering "The World of Laurel & Hardy."
Upon entry, Sons come into "reception" - manned by Helpmates Helpers, adjacent to which is a children's playroom, where the reception volunteers can keep an eye on their activities. First room on the left is the ever-popular Sales Room which houses what has to be the finest collection of Laurel & Hardy merchandise seen under one roof.
Moving on, one enters what appears to be the layout of a Roman Villa. The central quadrant is a huge lounge area, in which are dotted comfy chairs and coffee-tables, where one can relax in the company of fellow Sons. On the day, around two sides of the lounge were display tables. The first one was manned by Dave Tomlinson, and consisted of scores of Laurel & Hardy autographed photos. However, all was not what it seemed - as nearly all were FAKE. Throughout the day Mr. Tomlinson educated Sons as to how to avoid being ripped off by fakes, and also cleverly and engagingly kept them entertained and enthralled with his passion.
Next was a long table at which were seated three authors - all with books related to the Laurel & Hardy theme: "A.J" Marriot - author of "LAUREL & HARDY - The British Tours" and "CHAPLIN - Stage by Stage"; Roy Baines, author of "My Name is Harry Worth" (For anyone who doesn't know the connection - Harry Worth toured with Laurel and Hardy during their 'fifties British Tours); and Ray Andrew, author of "On the Trail of Charlie Hall," the biography of the little man from Birmingham, England, who was Laurel and Hardy's nemesis in several of their films. Although the three said authors were there to sell copies of their books, they did go out of their way to put on a great display of photographs and personal memorabilia, and spend a lot of time answering questions from the interested conventioneers.
Off the lounge, on the right, was the secondary Projection Room. This had a pre-recorded show of films, documentaries, rarities and oddments which, unbelievably ran from 12 noon until 12 midnight. Across the lounge, where the sound couldn't clash, was the main Projection Room. This too had a programme running for almost twelve hours. On the bill were more features, shorts, and rarities.
But then, in the evening, the film show was punctuated by three very special presentations. Opening the live, interactive, section of the bill, to a very enthusiastic and captivated audience was Dave Wyatt, who presented several rarities of Laurel and Hardy caught on the medium of film, but outside the realms of their actual commercial releases. It's amazing to think that, in some cases, over fifty years after they were taken, these film clips had only just been found. Later, DW showed a compilation of brief, mainly very brief, screen captures of Charlie Hall in various films other than his Laurel & Hardy appearances.
Another illustrated talk, prepared especially for this event was "The Life & Times of Stan Laurel," presented by "A.J" Marriot. Although this presentation was shown some three years ago, at two other Tent meetings, it was only in its embryonic stage. Since then the author has spent at least another forty hours in adding more content and improving it. Interlaced with over three-hundred photographs were two previously unknown recordings of Stan Laurel, one with Oliver Hardy, which along with "A.J's" knowledgeable and humorous narration kept the audience engrossed for nearly an hour-and-a-half.
During the "lights-up - let's all have a look at each - hour" it was comforting to see the number of children present. They were featured strongly throughout the drawing of the thirty or so Raffle prizes and, indeed, benefitted from the generous donations of some members who handed over their prizes to them. Other members had generously donated the prizes in the first place, for which go our very sincere thanks. And not forgetting our own Joan Robinson who spent so many hours selling the tickets.
It was great to see representatives from other Tents present, among whom were Roger Robinson, Grand Sheik of the Southend Saps at Sea Tent, with some of his members; Peter Andrews - Grand Sheik of the Bristol Fraternally Yours Tent; Howard Parker from the Derby Hats Off Tent; and Bram Reijnhoudt - editor of the Dutch Blotto magazine, who came over especially for the event. U.K. members came from as far West as Wales, and as far North as Sunderland, although the winner of the "Person who Travelled the Farthest" competition travelled from India - specially to be there. We kid you not!
A big "Thank You" goes to the Helpmates' Helpers who gave of their time and effort throughout the day, and especially to Richard Ellis Jnr. and Snr, who provided and ran the enormous amount of projection and video equipment which provided a programme consisting of almost 24-hours of non-stop films. Thanks, too, go to Kevin Doig, who did a great job compering throughout the day and keeping the programme flowing.
The whole event was organised by Grand Sheik of the Helpmates UK Tent, Rob Lewis. Rob cannot be praised enough for his massive organisation skills in putting the whole Convention together, with its great choice of venue, and huge and diverse programme.
Thanks go to the one-hundred-plus Conventioneers who supported the event, and made it the huge success that it was. This was a wonderful and safe environment in which to bring children, and we only hope that all will be back for the Helpmates' next foray into "The World of Laurel & Hardy."
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