When Laurel and Hardy came to Portsmouth

A film has just been released about that magical pair of jesters Laurel and Hardy. Starring Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C Reilly as Oliver Hardy, Stan & Ollie has opened to rave reviews.

Twice nightly at the Theatre Royal, Laurel and Hardy.
Twice nightly at the Theatre Royal, Laurel and Hardy.

As they neared retirement the duo toured Britain playing to packed theatres. They appeared at the Kings Theatre, Southsea, in 1947 and for a week in 1952 at the Theatre Royal, Commercial Road. Colin Bradey, the archivist at the New Theatre Royal has provided these pictures.

First of all we see a letter written by Stan to a friend also called Stan. It was written while Stan Laurel was appearing at the theatre and a month before they would return home.

It says: 'My Dear Stan. Needless to tell you how very sorry I am to hear about your operation and can fully sympathise knowing my own experience of those things. I hope by now you are feeling easier and will have a speedy recovery. Evelyn wrote & told me about it & naturally very upset anyway it's over with which is at least a relief to your mind and you can look forward to getting back into good shape again & enjoy your new home. We leave here October 8th for the States so not much time left now '“ the weeks just seem to fly. All for now Stan. All here join in every good wish. Kind thoughts always as ever. Stan Laurel.'

Twice nightly at the Theatre Royal, Laurel and Hardy.

We also see the poster promoting their show and an ad from The Evening News. 

Their take for the week was 70 per cent of the box office which was a lot of money.

If the average seat price was 20p (4s) and 1,000 people saw the show, over seven nights that is 7,000 times 20p divided by one hundred which equals £1,400. So 70 per cent of that is £980 divided between them, not a bad income. Mind you, I expect they had expenses like managers, agents, hotels, travelling costs and staff.

Also on the bill was Harry Worth, famous in the '60s for the Harry Worth Show on BBC television.

A letter from Stan Laurel to his friend, also Stan, written when he was appearing in Portsmouth.

'¢ Remember when British Railways filled their trains after the rush hour with cheap deals? Once the rush had  passed many trains were put into sidings until the evening so special services were laid on. As you can see, on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the 1950s you could get to London from Portsmouth for 10s 6d (53p).

When I was train crew foreman at Waterloo I asked if we could do the same thing. I suggested a 12-car train leave Waterloo at 8.30am arriving at Portsmouth Harbour at 10am. That train could then be filled with Portsmouth passengers and get to Waterloo about 11.45am. Both trains to run non-stop. The idea was frowned on.


Commercial Road and the Theatre Royal as it was when Laurel & Hardy appeared there. Photograph: M Eavis
Special rates to London at just 53p return