Museums: That's another fine mess you've got me into: Who could forget Stan and Ollie? Joanna Gibbon travels to Cumbria for the world's only collection of Laurel & Hardy memorabilia

ALL OF the Laurel & Hardy Museum in Ulverston, Cumbria, is packed into three cosy rooms. The entrance room is low and cavernous, every square inch of wall and ceiling covered with photographs and clippings of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, the cinema comedians. Stan and Ollie in black tie or ragged shirts - with or without friends, relations and business partners - sometimes straight and sometimes doing another ridiculous antic to promote another film.

A cricked neck is the result of looking too carefully at the rivers of smiles. Bill Cubin, the affable founder and owner of the museum, assures everyone that the pictures pinned up are not originals. His love and enthusiasm for the men on celluloid knows no bounds. It is sometimes difficult to insert a question into Mr Cubin's flowing narrative, delivered at high speed.

Because Ulverston is the birthplace of Arthur Stanley Jefferson - later known as Laurel - the museum tends to be dominated by the British side of the Anglo-American partnership. Laurel - who changed his name in 1916 because he felt his own surname was unlucky - was born in 1890 in Argyle Street.

In 1975 Mr Cubin, then a local councillor, had a plaque erected at the house. 'Until then there was no recognition of any kind that Stan Laurel was born there. Even the locals questioned whether he came from the area,' he explains. As a child - 55 years ago - Mr Cubin loved Laurel & Hardy films but felt even then they were being forgotten and overlooked.

Laurel's family moved to County Durham, when he was about seven years old, and then to North Shields, where his father ran a group of theatres; a statue of Laurel was recently erected there. A copy of a letter is displayed at the museum, written by Laurel in 1950, reminiscing about visiting his grandparents in Ulverston. 'I used to go shopping in Market Street with Grandma Metcalfe, that was a big treat for me. Beer's treacle toffee, it sure was good]'

Grandfather Metcalfe, however, was a rather cantankerous old man, given to hitting his grandchildren on their legs with a leather strap covered with horse brasses. Mr Cubin does not shrink from the harsher aspects of life - a replica of the strap is in the museum: apparently, the spirited Laurel threw the real thing out of a train window near Ulverston.

Mr Cubin, whose enormous energy has filled the newly opened third room of his museum - which was founded soon after the plaque hanging ceremony - has even got items from the Metcalfe household on display. A potty, stone hot-water bottles, boot removers and even the comedian's grandmother's rolling pin are all crammed into glass cases. Scattered around are hats of all shapes and size - sadly only a bowler actually belonged to Laurel.

At the end of the room are two life-size wax models of Laurel & Hardy, dressed in sailor's outfits. Mr Cubin tells me to say 'Hello' to the dummies: I obey and one of their hats flies upwards, pulled by a not completely invisible wire. Mr Cubin is proud of a slice of a yellow velvet curtain lined with black material. 'This hung in Laurel's house in Beverly Hills. Apparently he was very afraid of air raids in the war and had all his curtains lined with blackout material,' he explains. Neither of us can work out quite why.

In the third room, Mr Cubin has built a 32-seat cinema with a small screen. He has compiled a video biography of the two comics, including snippets of their films. Laurel went into the theatre in Glasgow and joined Fred Karno's performing circus troupe, with Charlie Chaplin as its star, in 1910. The following year the troupe was in New York, having survived a terrible voyage in a cattle ship across the Atlantic. But it was not until Laurel met Hardy in 1919 that his big break came.

By that time, Hardy - who was born in Georgia in 1892 - had already appeared in over 200 films. The two made films together but did not develop the well-known Laurel & Hardy comedy duo until 1927. They successfully survived the transition from silent movies to talkies and stayed together until 1953, four years before Hardy, an alcoholic, died. His widow, Lucille, helped Mr Cubin's endeavours by providing letters and photographs.

To Mr Cubin, and to many of the 10,000 visitors the museum attracts each year, the strength of Laurel and Hardy's humour is its simplicity. 'The great thing that shines through their work is that it is good clean fun: there is no smut; there are no hidden innuendoes. In America, they are seen as two old guys who have been pushed under the carpet, but they are undoubtedly the finest comedy team the world has ever known.' Laurel, he says, was the brains behind the outfit and Hardy was the foil.

'Many people say their humour is childish but I disagree,' he says emphatically. Recently a young boy visited the museum and laughed so much at a film clip that he fell off his seat. 'He said he loved it when Stan said: 'You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be lead.' I get so much pleasure from reviving memories and seeing people enjoy themselves,' he says.

Laurel & Hardy Museum, 4c Upper Brook Street, Ulverston, Cumbria LA12 7BQ, telephone 0229 582292.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick