Laurel and Hardy

On the trail of Laurel and Hardy — in Co. Cork

Matt Holt & Andy Hollingworth Dún Laoghaire Pier

Bristol’s Slapstick Festival in February will feature an intriguing film about the great comedy duo’s visit to Cobh

Laurel & Hardy: The Last Dance of the Cuckoos is the story of Stan Laurel’s bowler hat making a return visit to Co. Cork. Photographer Andy Hollingworth and cinematographer Matt Holt take a road trip — with Stan’s headgear — beginning in Cobh and finishing at the Olympia in Dublin. The film, which follows in the footsteps of their comedic heroes Laurel and Hardy, visits the duo’s other stop-offs points in Ireland and features interviews with some of the relatives of those who were in Cobh on the day. These include Rob Wilson the grandson of the pharmacist who took photographs of the arrival.

Laurel and Hardy landed in the quiet harbour town of Cobh on September 9, 1953. They thought they were slipping quietly into Ireland in preparation for their final tour of Britain, so were planning on relaxing, perhaps doing some writing, a spot of sight-seeing, and appearing at concerts in Dublin.

Their stopover in Ireland came about because of visa / income tax issues with Ollie, who was a US citizen. They would enter Britain later via Ireland.

Their boat the SS America, docked outside the harbour and a tender brought those passengers who were disembarking to the quayside.

The pair, whose career was on the wane, were unsure how their upcoming tour would be received.

But unbeknownst to them, a huge crowd had assembled at the quay, and gave the actors a resounding welcome. So tumultuous was the cheering that Stan reportedly looked round to see what all the fuss was about.

Then they heard their theme tune The Last Dance of The Cuckoos being played on the bells of St Colman. They knew then that the welcome was for them. They burst into tears.

The couple, whose career had been in steady decline, were overwhelmed with emotion — it was a wonderful boost in the twilight of their careers.

Ever after the Cobh arrival was always recalled as the greatest day of their lives. Stan Laurel later recounted the event: “The love and affection we found that day at Cobh was simply unbelievable. . . . All the church bells in Cobh started to ring out our theme song Dance of the Cuckoos and Babe (Oliver Hardy) looked at me and we cried. I’ll never forget that day.”

Stan Laurel’s hat at the Dublin Olympia (Andy Hollingworth Archive)

STAN Laurel was wrong about the bells. Only one church was responsible, the Cathedral of St Colman. And just one man ‘rang’ the bells, Gustav (“Staf”) Gebruers, who played the carillon in the cathedral. Staf was originally from Antwerp — where he had worked as a cinema pianist — but had subsequently settled in Co. Cork.

St Colman’s was the only church in Ireland to have a carillon — a keyboard that made the bells clang. Staf’s son Adrian Patrick Gebruers, then aged ten, witnessed the great day at first hand.

Around 2017 Andy Hollingworth, who has photographed almost every British comedian you might think of, had his curiosity piqued on hearing the Cobh story. “I wondered,” he said, “if the young Adrian was still alive. He’d be of a certain age — well, he was ten in 1953 so you can do the maths. Turned out he is still alive, and a terrific character.”

Andy, who lives in Yorkshire contacted Father Frankie Mulgrew — as it happens, the son of Jimmy Mulgrew, better known as Jimmy Cricket, the comedian. He wondered if Father Frankie could put him in touch with St Colman’s Cathedral.

“I had the idea of borrowing Stan Laurel’s hat from the Laurel and Hardy Museum, Ulverston, taking it to Cobh, and photographing it in the bell tower — while Adrian playing the carillon his dad had played.”

But then covid happened.

In the meantime Andy met up — through online happenstance — with cinematographer Matt Holt. The idea of a film of the road trip was hatched.

They journeyed to Cobh, where the whole story unfolded.

“The local paper had printed the passenger list of the SS America from New York,” explained Andy. “So news was beginning to trickle out that the two film stars were on board, and would be disembarking in Cobh.

“Some schoolboys, including Adrian Gebruers got wind of the visit. The boys were so excited they badgered their teacher to let them go. So they went running down the hill towards the quayside, going past a girls’ school. The nuns in charge allowed the girls to go too.”

The clamour was now so great that the whole town seemed to know. There were reports that that the entire bank staff at a local branch left their places. The bank was left unattended as the staff rushed to the quayside.


Adrian Gebruers at St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh (courtesy of Andy Hollingworth Archive)

ANDY Hollingworth and Matt Holt’s film is the story of Stan’s’ headgear on tour — his trademark bowler hat is filmed at the top of St Colman’s spire, on the pier at Dún Laoghaire, in the Olympia in Dublin. It is complete tour de force, an affectionate tribute to one of the great comedy teams whose films struck a deep chord in Ireland. No surprise really.

Occasionally we’ve all been in situations where our lives are in danger of turning into a Laurel and Hardy film. Who amongst us has not waited at a railway station to catch the train south to Dublin, only to board the wrong, northbound train? Suddenly and inexorably you’re heading for the United Kingdom. No amount of persuasion, pleading that you don’t want to go to Belfast, will get the conductor to stop at the next station — particularly if you’ve managed to spill coffee on his trousers in your panic. Truly another fine mess.

Andy Hollingsworth and Matt Holt were not immune to this type of thing either. After they had finished filming they were naturally jubilant about the finished product, and quite emotional, to be honest. On arriving back at John Lennon Airport in Liverpool, they were in a state of some excitement. It was then they realised they couldn’t remember where they’d parked their car. Could have been in any of the car parks. Then they had a brainwave — they had filmed their odyssey from the very start of their journey. So all they had to do was find the piece of film where they are arriving at the airport, and play it backwards . . . . .

Laurel & Hardy: The Last Dance Of The Cuckoos

Slapstick Comedy Festival, Bristol

The film will be introduced by Marcus Brigstocke. This will be followed by Marcus in conversation with Andy and Matt.

The evening also includes a screening of a Stan & Ollie short

Thursday, February 15

£15.00 (£12.00/£8.00 concs)

18:00 Lantern Hall at Bristol Beacon

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