How Stan and Ollie made a 'hardy' impression on comedian Jimmy Cricket

Columnist Jimmy Cricket writes his admiration of Laurel and Hardy
Jimmy Cricket (front kneeling) at Rivington BarnJimmy Cricket (front kneeling) at Rivington Barn
Jimmy Cricket (front kneeling) at Rivington Barn

I’ve just come back from doing my one man show at the Slapstick Comedy Festival in Bristol at the Studio adjoining the Old Vic Theatre.

The festival was started by a guy called Chris Daniels who just loves visual and silent comedy. I did my live set sandwiched between movies of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy up on the big wide screen.

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There’s been a resurgence of interest in Laurel and Hardy, mainly due to a biopic of the duo which went on general release in our cinemas recently called Stan and Ollie.

In fact, I’ve been to see it twice. Well folks, our local Odeon Cinema here in Rochdale only charges a fiver to get in.

It’s a moving, tender tribute to one of the funniest double acts ever to grace the silver screen, not only do Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel, and John C Reilly as Oliver Hardy get into the skin of these two lovable clowns, but the ladies that played their wives both give stunning performance as well. Nina Arianda plays Stan’s other half and Shirley Henderson is Ollie’s.

I had a little inside information on this film. Steve Coogan’s Uncle Bernard takes his grandkids to the same school in Rochdale that I take mine, so I get some tasty nuggets of gossip in the playground. I looked at him enviously as he told me about getting the red carpet treatment when he got invited to the premiere of the movie up at the local cinema in Ulverston where Stan Laurel grew up. The only time I get to see a red carpet is when Mrs Cricket hands me the Hoover.

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Now back to the movie. It takes place in 1954, when Stan and Ollie’s best years are behind them and they accept an offer from an English impresario called Bernard Delfont to do a tour of theatres up and down the UK, bringing to life on stage some of their favourite sketches from their movies.

Stan and Ollie always had a full supporting show with them and as it was fun for all the family they liked to have a ventriloquist. Two of the vents they used were Harry Worth and Ray Alan. I became friends with Harry and Ray and they gave me some insights as to what it was like touring with the great duo.

Come closer readers... Harry said they never shattered his illusions, which can sometime happen when you work with people you admire. They were just two down to earth nice people. In fact, Stan used to invite Harry into his dressing room to discuss comedy over a cup of good old English tea which Stan would have missed during his days in Hollywood.

Ray Alan told me about their professionalism. He said “Jimmy, every morning at about 10 am, after their breakfast they’d head for the theatre and rehearse their sketches on stage.”

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Stan and Ollie made it look so easy because they worked so hard at it.

One of the highlights of their tour over here was their visit to Ireland. The boys were taken totally unawares to see thousands of people at the dockside when their boat docked at Cork Harbour. Then when the cathedral bells rang out to the sound of their famous theme tune, The Cuckoo Waltz, they were both moved to tears.

You know folks that sort of story kind of makes me be proud to be Irish.

And there’s more…Speaking of Cork, a native of that same place called William Salmon arrived in Adlington from Ireland with his family in 1900.

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After leaving school at 13 years of age, William worked as a coal miner before opening a cafe in Adlington which he turned into a flourishing business. Then he did

something even more amazing.

The famous Rivington Barn had been used to store ammunition during the Second World War and was ready to be demolished when the War ended. In 1953 William stepped in and renovated it back to its former glory.

His legacy carries on right up to the present day with his son and daughter, Kevin and Trish, who welcome the weddings and visitors and coach parties to Rivington Barn to enjoy its architectural splendour, and to wine and dine and to enjoy the entertainment, like the afternoons with the Houghton Weavers and comic Jimmy Cricket, (never heard of him), and an added bonus is the wonderful scenery.

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