Laurel and Hardy Christmas
The 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, although they were still affected by its aftermath. But things were getting better. Most foodstuffs which 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 the Empire 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 matinees. 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 out on stage, and began to do 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 the child had finished his or her act, the funny men encouraged the audience to make the children feel very special, with their applause.
Local boy Bobbie Collins doing his ventriloquist act with 'Ginger.'
Photo courtesy Laurel Hardy Archive Facebook page
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 child receiving the loudest applause was voted the winner, and the big man gave them a prize. And what wonderful prizes they were. There were scooters, not wooden ones made by daddy, but real metal ones, with metal wheels and rubber tyres. There were dolls, lots of them; painting and colouring books; and jig-saw puzzles. There were even bikes - brand-new proper, shop-bought bikes. And hobby horses - the metal ones made by MoBo Toys, which you moved yourself up-and-down on, and the horse went forwards. Each child left the stage clutching something, after shaking hands with the funny men.
Now, sixty years later, the surving children will still look back and ask: '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 more special than that.
Merry Christmas - war is over.
(First printed in The Laurel & Hardy Magazine - 2003. Copyright A.J Marriot)
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