Stan Laurel’s 125th birthday set to be celebrated in Ulverston
PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 May 2015 | UPDATED: 17:48 10 May 2016
Ulverston is one of the region’s most vibrant small towns and it’s about to celebrate the anniversary of its most famous son
In 2014 three special people got together in a bid to do something significant to mark the birth of Ulverston’s most famous son. The three are Mark Greenhow, owner and curator of a certain local museum, Dave Crossley, a promoter and local event organiser, and Jakki Moore, owner of the Beggar’s Theatre in nearby Millom.
The person they wanted to honour was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson on June 16, 1890 in his grandparents’ modest cottage on Argyle Street in the old Lancashire town.
Many of you will know him better as Stan Laurel, the inimitable star of stage and screen, a modest genius, who made people laugh out loud for generations, and still does to this day.
Mark, Dave and Jakki had a vision to create a special event to mark his birth. In June 2014, that dream became a reality and the first ever ‘Another Fine Fest’ was held in the town, a celebration of music, comedy, street theatre and art. A truly colourful celebration of the birth of an equally colourful character.
So the scene is set for 2015, and the second ‘Another Fine Fest’, which is being held on Saturday June 20. This year is a going to be a pretty special, with even more fun to be had, as it marks the 125th anniversary of Stan’s birth and the 50th of his passing.
Stan’s mother, Margaret Metcalfe (known as Madge), was born in Hawes in 1861. By the late 1860s the Metcalfe family had made the move to Ulverston, where Madge’s father set up as a shoemaker in Newland Bottom.
His father, Arthur Jefferson known as AJ, first appeared in Ulverston in 1880 working as actor manager at Spencer’s Gaffe, the local name for the Hippodrome Theatre, conveniently located at the end of Argyle Street.
AJ first laid eyes on Stan’s mother when he heard her sing at Holy Trinity Church. He told friends that he was going to marry her and, true to his word, they were wed on March 19 1884 in the very church where he had first heard her sing. After marrying AJ, Madge decided to tread the boards, quickly becoming a very successful actor in her own right.
In 1890 she returned to Ulverston to give birth to Stan. When he was born he wasn’t expected to survive the night but he made it through and spent the next five or six years of a fairly sickly childhood with his grandmother in Ulverston, until he went away to school.
He later recalled: ‘I used to go shopping on Market Street with grandma Metcalfe – that was a big treat for me.’ During these trips he could usually be found in Gillam’s General Store buying his supply of sweets. ‘Beer’s treacle toffee,’ he recalled. ‘It sure was good.’
Despite being away from his parents they had a good relationship. ‘We were seldom together…I was almost always in boarding school or living with my grandparents in Ulverston, but still strange as it may seem, we were always a close family.’
By the early 1900s Stan had moved to be with his parents in Glasgow, where his father managed the Metropole Theatre. Stan too was soon drawn by the footlights and the grease paint. At the aged of 16 he made his stage debut as a comic in 1906. He went down a storm, but that might just have had something to do with his father, who was sitting in the audience…
In 1910, he joined Fred Karno’s troupe of comedy actors under the stage name of Stan Jefferson travelling to America acting as a young Charlie Chaplin’s understudy. From 1916 to 1918, he teamed up with Alice Cooke and Baldwin Cooke, forming the Stan Jefferson Trio.
It was around this time that Stan met Mae Dahlberg, his partner both on and off stage, a person who had a profound impact on his life. In performing circles the number 13 isn’t very lucky and Stan’s stage name ‘Stan Jefferson’ contained that number of letters…he wanted to change it. Mae recalled: ‘One night after the show I was in the dressing room…looking at an old history book…I came to a drawing of Scipio Africanus…Around his head he wore a laurel wreath…I said aloud Laurel, laurel, Stan Laurel…how about that name?’’ That’s how Stan got his name, which he adopted legally in 1931.
In 1917 Stan made his first movie entitled Nuts in May. This led to more short comedies with greats like Gilbert M. ‘Bronco Billy’ Anderson, Larry Semon, and Hal Roach. In 1917 Laurel appeared in a film called The Lucky Dog (1921) with an actor in the cast by the name of Babe Hardy aka Oliver Hardy. The pair met again in 1925 at the Hal Roach studios, though they weren’t appearing together at this point. That all changed, when Leo McCarey put these comic geniuses together and an immediate partnership unfolded. Laurel & Hardy hit the big time, and stardom after appearing in Putting Pants on Philip (1927), the rest as they say is history...