A Magical Christmas

   Laurel and Hardy at the Empire NottinghamThe year was 1953. Peace had been reigning for eight years. The children born since the cessation of the war had not had to endure the hardships and horror that war brings, but were still affected by its aftermath. But things were getting better. Most foodstuffs that had been rationed were now available in quantity, and fruits that hadn't been available at all during the war were once again being imported. Christmas presents had been almost non-existent, and those the children got had been mostly hand-made, from salvaged materials.

But this Christmas was very special for the children who assembled in one particular theatre in Nottingham. Each night, they were visited by two very special visitors. So special were they that had Father Christmas and the Three Wise Men themselves appeared, they would not have caused as much pleasure as these two. Firstly, these two men were very, very funny.

The children knew they were funny, for they had seen them on the big screen, at the children's matinee. But now, they were about to see them "live on stage." Could this be possible? Could the world's funniest film double-act really be appearing in this theatre? "Is it really them, mummy?" might well have been the question on every child's lips. Then the two walked on, and began to act out a comedy sketch. The laughs grew and grew, issuing equally from children and adults alike. Yes it was them, and they were still funny - very funny.

"Wouldn't it fabulous if I could go up on stage and say 'hello' to those funny men," must also have been prominent in each child's mind. And then it happened: "If there are any children who can sing, dance, tell a joke, say a nursery rhyme, or play a musical instrument, make your way up to the stage now," said one of the funny men. Following the crashing of tip-up seats, and the stampede of dozens of tiny feet, the stage quickly filled with children. Each child was then interviewed by one of the funny men, and properly introduced. When their act ended the funny men encouraged the audience to make the children feel very special, with their applause.

When all the children had finished, the thin man went along the line of children, holding his hand above their heads in turn, whilst the audience clapped for their favourite. The one with the loudest applause was voted the winner, and the big man, gave them a wonderful prize. But that wasn't the end of it, for the stage was littered with prizes: there were scooters, not wooden ones made by daddy, but real metal ones, with metal wheels and rubber tyres. There were bikes; dolls, lots of them; painting and colouring books; jig-saw puzzles; and even rockin' horses. Each child left the stage clutching something, after shaking hands with the funny men.

Now, exactly fifty years later the children look back. Was it really true? Did it really happen? Yes it was true. The children had been to a Christmas Party, a very special Christmas party. It was Laurel and Hardy's Christmas Party, the real Laurel and Hardy, and they don't come any better than that. Merry Christmas - war is over.

[AJM]

Taken 17th of December 1953

Here is the original press caption

When it comes to mixing puddings, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy know a thing or two- or they think they do. Mr. A. C. Yardley, chef at the County Hotel, Nottingham, isn't so sure, and keeps a watchful eye on the pair as they add a few more raisins and take part in the final stir. Laurel and Hardy are here for their four-week Christmas Party show at the Nottingham Empire.

Photograph with thanks to A J Marriot, author of "Laurel and Hardy The British Tours" book.

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