Welcome to Ulverston Laurel and Hardy!! So said Ken Dodd at 4pm on Sunday 19 April 2009 as he unveiled the long-awaited statue of the boys in front of the Coronation Hall in County Square.
Several hours before this though, we (Mike Beadle, Ian Kerman, Anthony Quarterman, Julian Thomas and myself) were among the first few to enter the newly-located Laurel & Hardy Museum which opened its doors at 9am the same day. Situated in a rear area of the Roxy Cinema behind the Coronation Hall, it is vastly different to the original, which, personally speaking, I had a great liking for. There are now a lot of professionally produced information boards charting the history of Stan and Ollie from their early days, as well as displays of letters, personal possessions, figures etc. A small cinema area is planned with the option of using the big screen in the Roxy when necessary. Obviously, it is early days for the new museum and Im sure much will be written of the development as times goes on.
The previous day Saturday 18 April had seen us making the pilgrimage to Stans place of birth 3 Argyle Street. Yes, we had all been there before, but no visit to Ulverston would be complete without going to this quiet little street where an Arthur Stanley Jefferson was born in his grandparents house in 1890. As we stood there looking, the door opened and we were allowed inside to sign the visitors book and meet the owner Mabel Radcliffe. Photographs were taken and then the short walk taken to the Stan Laurel Inn for much needed refreshment. There, we met John Ullah, Mandy Finney and Pat Finney who had just arrived from Birmingham. Several more Sons followed in due course.
And now, to the reason we were all there. In 1992, the late Bill Cubin decided that Ulverston should have a statue of Laurel and Hardy to commemorate the fact that Stan Laurel was born there. 17 years and much fund-raising later, the day had finally arrived when the statue would be revealed for the world to see! We arrived at County Square, after our visit to the Museum, at 11am and were joined by Dave & Denise Tomlinson and bagged our place to get a prime view of the unveiling (Yes!! More on that later!) Events got underway at 1pm with the Ulverston Town Band and top lookalikes Haurel and Lardy. Television cameras and the press were in evidence with a group of us giving a rendition of We Are The Sons of the Desert for the ITN team. Unfortunately or fortunately! this must have ended up on the cutting room floor. It has not even made You Tube!! The time was approaching when Ken Dodd would arrive in County Square in the Model T Ford with Haurel & Lardy and the mayor of Ulverston. Suddenly, those of us who had arrived early for a front row view, were highly disappointed (putting it mildly) when invited guests flooded into the area right in front of us! I suspect the vast majority of these special guests would not know which was Stan and which was Ollie and this was very bad planning by whoever was responsible. I am not alone in thinking this; just ask the other 2000 people who were there! However, we were able to hear what was going on!
The mayor of Ulverston, to be fair to her, did apologise and assured us all that once the unveiling had been done and the guests had gone to their post-unveiling cucumber sandwich buffet (my words, not hers!), Ken Dodd would come out and recreate the unveiling especially for us (More on that later too!!).
The whole of County Square in front of the Coronation Hall has been redeveloped, with the statue and related paving being the major part of it not forgetting, of course, that every penny of the money for the statue has been raised by the Sons. A bit surprising then that Harry Knowles, chairman of the Market Town Initiative, in thanking those involved, mentioned this very fact rather briefly at the end of his speech! It was then down to our own, yes our very own, Eric Woods to do the honour of presenting the statue to the town of Ulverston on behalf of the Sons of the Desert and he did us proud! Councillor Jeanette Jenkinson, the mayor of Ulverston, accepted the statue and duly handed over to Ken Dodd. Now, those of you have been to one of Kens shows will know that he is not known for finishing early, so we were in danger of having a rather long unveiling speech! Ken Dodd did us proud too, giving an affectionate speech about Stan and Ollie, calling them the most famous, wonderful and fabulous comedians in the history of show business. Saying that he had met and worked with many Princes of comedy, Ken Dodd meant every word when he called Laurel and Hardy the Kings of comedy. He went on to say that Stan was a modest man, and I think we will all agree with him when he said that Stan would have been thrilled but a little embarrassed by the statue. He also paid tribute to Bill Cubin and thanked Bills widow Lucy. His words were, quite rightly, rewarded with cheers and much applause, together with another chorus of our anthem! It was then time for the countdown 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and the specially made cover was duly taken off and the special guests saw the statue before those who genuinely wanted to see it!! Ken Dodd was then presented with the original maquette which I believe was Graham Ibbesons working model.
Once the area was cleared, we had our first full view of what can only be called a top class work of art by sculptor, Graham Ibbeson. I could write a paragraph describing it, but there is no need the best thing is to just look at the photos or, even better, make that trip to Ulverston. Samuel Johnson once said about The Giants Causeway, It is worth seeing, but not worth going to see. There are those among the Sons who were not in favour of the statue that is their choice and prerogative but I assure you, it is worth making every mile of the trip to Ulverston to see it. The newly paved area includes paving blocks circling the statue into which the names of some L&H films have been engraved, with others featuring some of the boys well-known quotes.
Unfortunately, the promised recreation by Ken Dodd of the unveiling did not take place, but he did come out and made his way around the crowds, chatting and signing autographs. He declared Laurel and Hardy as the Kings of Comedy, but, without a doubt, Ken Dodd is another King of Comedy as he proved that night in a sell-out show at the Coronation Hall. Long may he reign!!
Sadly, Bill Cubin is no longer with us to see his dream come true, but he was looking down on us all that day. Who else could have made sure the sun was shining for the whole of the weekend!
It would also be remiss not to give more mention to Eric Woods. He has co-ordinated the fund-raising and been the voice of the Sons in this project, not to gain special recognition or to be singled out, but because he knows how much this meant to Bill and how much it means to the Sons and to make sure that the magic of Laurel and Hardy lives on for many more years to come not only in Ulverston, but the world over. Thank you Eric for what you have done.
How better to end this article than with the very same words of Ken Dodds that I began it with
Welcome to Ulverston Laurel and Hardy!
Additional photos with thanks to Stephen Neale.
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