Stan Laurel is known to the world as one of the greatest comic actors of the 20th Century and one half of the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. His strong links to Glasgow are an important start of his story.
Although born in Cumbria in 1890, Stan Laurel’s family moved to Glasgow when he was a teenager and he completed his education at Rutherglen Academy, now known as Stonelaw High School. Laurel’s father, Arthur Jefferson, was appointed theatre manager of the Metropole Theatre on Stockwell Street in 1906, employing his son at the box office which could be said to be Stan Laurel’s first step into theatre as people would collect tickets their from him.
The love of theatre was passed on by Jefferson to his son with Stan giving his first professional performance at Glagow’s Britannia Panopticon when he was 16 which was where his boyhood hero Dan Leno had also performed. The panopticon is recognised as the world’s oldest surviving music hall and Laurel’s debut performance is commemorated with a blue plaque.
During those teenage years, Laurel lived in the southside of the city in a tenement flat at 17 Craigmillar Road with there to also be a plaque mounted to the wall on the block by Historic Environment Scotland to commemorate where he once lived. As recently as last year, there was another plaque unveiled in Glasgow but this time at the legendary Scotia Bar which is where the site of the Metropole Theatre once stood.
His mother sadly passed away whilst she lived in Glasgow in 1908 and was buried in Cathcart Cemetery meaning that Stan always retained a strong affinity with the city. When Stan alongside his partner Oliver Hardy returned to Glasgow to perform in 1947, they were met with huge crowds in the city centre.
They were booked to play a two-week stint at the famous Glasgow Empire and stayed at the Central Hotel, which they had previously visited 15 years prior. Upon their arrival, due to the sheer volume of crowds, police had to call on horses to help contain them on the corner of Gordon Street outside the hotel.
Recalling that day in Glasgow, Oliver Hardy said: “Ever had a bad scare? Once, he gulped. But that wasn’t in a picture, either it was in Glasgow. Stan and I went abroad on what we thought would be a pleasure trip, but the next thing we knew we were making personal appearances for nothing, and that’s no pleasure. As our train wasn’t due at Glasgow till half-past ten at night we didn’t think there’d be anybody to meet us.
“But there was a terrific crowd at the station. I’m not saying this to brag, but just to show you what we ran into. Those people meant well, but there was no holding them back. We never expected to reach the station alive, and when we finally did make it most of our clothes were torn off. They took everything we had on us for souvenirs, even Stan’s wristwatch, but it was returned next day. After that experience we didn’t dare the hotel together – it wasn’t safe.”
Their final appearance came in 1954, before Oliver Hardy passed away three years later which devasted Stan Laurel who died at the age of 74 in 1965. He remains an adopted son of the city and his legacy is still visible today.