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)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing