April 1952: Hollywood greats Laurel and Hardy were on one of their last ever tours of the UK and Ireland with their music hall act before heading back to the US.
Their slapstick comedy films had made them worldwide superstars after they got together in 1927, and produced hit after hit on the silver screen through the decades right up until the 1950s.
On Monday night April 21 they appeared at the Granada in Shrewsbury – an unusual venue for them as it was the first time they had done their show in person at a cinema. Although the Granada was no stranger to the top acts of the day.
Stan Laurel, born in Cumbria, was married to Russian woman Ida Kitaeva Raphael – his fourth and final wife. He’d been married to three other woman previously, one of them he married twice!
Stan and Ida stayed at a hotel in Shrewsbury. Ida had locked £50 in her make up box thinking it would be safe and they both headed off to the theater for the performance.
But during show somebody sneaked into their hotel room.
Stan described what happened in a letter he wrote shortly afterwards to his good friend and fellow Hollywood actor Booth Colman (famous for playing Dr. Zaius in the 1968 film Planet of the Apes).
“Had big excitement last Saturday night at the Hotel in Shrewsbury while we were at the Theatre – someone robbed our room (Hotel) & took £50.00 in notes – Eda had locked away in her make-up kit – They took it out of room & forced it open in a Public Toilet in the hallway. It was discovered by the management & when we got back a dozen detectives were investigating etc. I think an inside job. Of course we shall never see it again – so no use worrying about it – or writing about – could have been worse.
Got a laugh re you sitting with [Howard] Hughes & [Ronald] Colman – Hope you got up for a bow when Colman was announced! & then gave him an argument about using your name to get into Pictures!”
The story below in the Aberdeen Evening Express is the only record of the theft I can find in the British Newspaper Archive.
Aberdeen Evening Express – Monday 28 April 1952
So which hotel were they staying at? And did the detectives ever get catch the culprit?
The duo strayed at The Raven on Castle Street and their visit is recalled by one woman reminiscing on the Memories of Shropshire facebook group.
One member Marlene Owen said “Mum and me both stood to get there autographs on a very cold night , they came out , they wouldn’t sign the autograph , there was only us two standing there , Laurel never looked up ,Oliver Hardy [was] waving his hand and said ‘Do you mine Hun we got to get to the Raven for [our] dinner and they were gone , it wouldn’t have taken them two seconds to do the autograph .
I remember cos we were frozen standing there , we there for about hour , Oliver Hardy at least spoke to us with a smile and a wave , Stan Laurel was a miserable person , dragging is feet head down to get into car . Them were the days had some great stars and good shows at the Granada.”
On the night of the show they were guests at Shrewsbury’s G division police ball.
The Shropshire Star’s Toby Neal gathered readers memories of that night, both at the ball and the theatre and has kindly given me permission to include them in this blog
He recalls one of the sketches involved Ollie being desperate to get in to a locked house, and Stan climbing in through a window.
Mrs Eileen Cotterill of Shrewsbury was at the ball with her husband Ron –
“I can tell you it was the Music Hall. It was some ball of some sort. I went back stage and had a chat with them afterwards, with their two wives, whom they had with them. They were very friendly and amusing, as one would expect.”
Mrs Joan Boag, of Harlescott, Shrewsbury, said: “I went to a dance at the Music Hall and they just nipped in, and I got their autograph.
“In those days when we went dancing we used to dress up.
“We didn’t go in jeans and with a bare midriff like today.”
Laurel and Hardy were on the platform, and didn’t dance, she recalled.
Gordon Wainwright, who lived back then in Woodfield Road, Shrewsbury, went to the show as a seven-year-old with his parents and sister.
“It was marvellously entertaining. I remember my father remarking it was not quite the same as they were in their films.
“I do know they stayed at the Raven Hotel in Shrewsbury and Oliver Hardy’s wife’s jewellery was stolen, which caused quite a bit of a stir at the time.” Mr Wainwright now lives in St Georges, Telford.
Mr David Trumper said: “He was a friend of Len Bunting, who was the manager of the Granada at that time. He took them along to meet Laurel and Hardy afterwards.
“They had a chat and his wife amused them because when they put on their hats she said that Oliver Hardy reminded her of her grandfather who was an undertaker in London.
“I also had a call from Stan Turner, who was there as well. He said a friend of his went to the stage door afterwards and asked the hand there if he could go and ask them to sign his programme.
“The stage doorman sent him up there and he was able to go and knock on their door.
He told Mr Turner he was confronted by two actors who were a bit sweaty after doing their routine, and they just signed the programme and chatted to his friend for quite a while.
“There are rumours of Stan Laurel having relatives in Coleham at the time.”
The following day they left Shrewsbury and went to Edinburgh, with Stan just getting over a cold, to finish up their tour before heading back to Hollywood.
They returned to the UK a year later for their final tour. In 1957 Oliver Hardy died after a series of strokes. Stan Laurel lived until 1965. Both were buried in Hollywood.
Aberdeen Evening Express – Monday 28 April 1952