LAUREL and TARTAN, or LAUDER and HARDY?
Anyone with the most basic knowledge of Stan Laurel's early years will know that he was born in England but then, in his mid- to late-teens, spent time in and around Glasgow, Scotland. These were Stan's formative years; not only in that he matured from a callow youth to a mature adult, but also in the learning of his stagecraft. At his father's theatre, the Metropole, he witnessed the stage productions of others; acted on stage himself; and had one of his own first comedy scripts made into a stage sketch, namely: "The Fire Fighters of Frizzlington."
At a nearby theatre, the Britannia, he made his first entry into the world of stand-up comedy, which, although he didn't pursue a career as a patter comedian, was the point at which the stage bug bit. And then, over at the Grand Theatre, was where Fred Karno himself took him on as one of Fred Karno's Comedians - a real life-changing step.
Consequently, Stan held a great fondness for Glasgow, and for the Scots themselves, for the opportunities and encouragement he was given to develop his comedy skills. He never forget the debt he felt he owed them and was determined that, one day, he would demonstrate his gratitude. However, his first appearance in Scottish garb, in a Laurel & Hardy film, did not exactly convey the respect he held for the national costume. "Putting Pants On Philip" was based on the comedy premise that maximum embarrassment can be caused to both wearer and on-looker by the kilt blowing upwards, or the underwear falling downwards.
Some years later, in the film "Bonnie Scotland," Stan had the opportunity to repeat these gags, plus add others, but ignored the easy target and maintained complete reverence to the tartan throughout the film. If one doesn't wish to treat this as a tribute by Stan, then one can't help but accept Stan's next appearance in kilt and full regalia as anything but a tribute.
One of the working titles for the film "Bonnie Scotland" had been "Kilts," but it was in the "real" Scotland that Stan chose next to use the kilt to demonstrate his affection for the Scots. In 1947, Laurel and Hardy's film career was all but over and so, finding himself in Glasgow on a stage tour of British theatres, Stan decided that he and Hardy would appear on stage - IN KILTS.
He must have planned this in advance, as he had brought over with him the two sporrans he had worn in the film "Bonnie Scotland" - which necessitates, here, a further explanation: In "Bonnie Scotland" Laurel wore TWO different costumes: one as a member of the Highland Regiment, and one as his own ancestor, 'Angus McLaurel' - the latter seen only in picture form. The kilt Stan wore as Angus was one given to him by Harry Lauder; of which there are earlier photos of Lauder wearing it. This was the kilt Laurel brought over to Britain along with the two sporrans they had worn in the film Bonnie Scotland.
However, when it came to kitting out Hardy in a kilt, all efforts to find him one off-the-peg failed. This necessitated them having one made-to-measure for Hardy, during the process of which it was decided that Stan would have a matching one made. Several days, and several clothing coupons later, Laurel and Hardy's kilts were ready to be displayed to the theatre audiences. The Boys' stay in Glasgow was for two weeks, which turned out to be quite fortuitous, as the kilts had taken over a week to make. Consequently it was Tuesday of the second week before Stan and Ollie paraded them on stage. From at least one local newspaper report, it would appear that the gesture was very much appreciated, and applauded, by the patriots.
So what happened to the kilts after that? Well they were put in storage, and brought out only for a New Year's Eve party, for which the Boys wore the "Glasgow" kilts, and Lucille wore the Lauder/McLaurel kilt. After that they were put back in a travelling trunk and never used or viewed again - not by Stan or Babe anyway.
On their British tours, Laurel and Hardy travelled with FORTY pieces of luggage. When they effected their enforced return to the U.S., in May 1954, a lot of the luggage containing stage wear and props was left with Stan's sister, Olga. The luggage went with Olga when she moved from the Red Lion, in Barkston, to the Bull Inn at Bottesford, but when, finally, she quit the pub trade to retire, she had no desire to take all the baggage with her.
At this stage enter Olga's friend, Ethel. One day Ethel saw Olga sorting through the trunks, with the intent of disposing of the contents, as by this time the possibility of Laurel and Hardy returning to England had vanished.
Ethel said to Olga: "Do you mind if I take some of these costumes for our local amateur dramatic society?"
I would advise anyone of a nervous disposition not to read Olga's reply. Look away now.
OLGA: "Not at all. I wish you'd told me sooner - I've been taking them out the back and BURNING them."
Thankfully, Ethel saved and kept some of the items, among which were the kilts in our story. Sadly, Ethel has since passed on but, thanks to her, those kilts are now in very good hands. One day soon it is hoped they will be used to dress some life-size mannequins of Laurel and Hardy, and be placed on display as a tribute to Stan's Scottish influences.
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