Another fine mess over town's memorial to Stan

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The Independent Online

A Cumbrian town's attempts to commemorate Stan Laurel ­ its most famous son by a short mile ­ have landed it in another fine mess for the second time in as many years. The projects would probably not have appealed much to the quiet man who was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in his grandparents' home on 16 June 1890 but to Ulverston they promise a valuable tourism opportunity.

The Laurel plans are currently centred on 3 Argyle Street, the two-bedroom house where the star of slapstick was born and which recently came up for sale when its occupant of 27 years decided to move.

Marion Grave, the curator of Ulverston's Laurel and Hardy Museum, in which many of the house's original furnishings are displayed, was granted lottery money to buy the property and make it a museum piece.

When the property went up for sale at £60,000, the owner, Mabel Radcliffe, 83, declared herself sad to leave behind her cherished visitors' book with "hundreds of names from all over the world". But as proposals were formulated to remove the house's modern furnishings, Mrs Radcliffe withdrew it from sale.

The reasons remain unclear since Mrs Radcliffe has declined to speak on the issue but the timing ­ three days after plans for the house were made public ­ was lousy.

Ulverston has been left to plough on with what has proved another vexatious idea ­ to erect a statue of Laurel, sculpted by Graham Ibbeson, in the town. This project appeared to be reaching fruition when Morecambe, a town across the bay, earned fine publicity for Ibbeson's bronze statue of the comedian Eric Morecambe, which was unveiled by the Queen two years ago.

Ibbeson took up designs depicting Laurel and Oliver Hardy leaning against a lamppost but in commissioning him civic leaders overlooked Clive Barnard, who claims to have been offered the coveted sculpting job eight years ago, before the project hit funding problems. The scheme has been delayed by legal wrangling.

Mrs Grave insists there are no hard feelings over Laurel's birthplace but the statue ­ now the most achievable goal ­ seems some distance away. A £40,000 fund-raising campaign has secured only £17,000 to date.

"There's always been a great interest in Stan but it's not been mass interest so it takes time," Mrs Grave said. "There's a new Laurel and Hardy book about to come out and £1 from every sale will go the statue so we hope that's going to help."

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