On Tuesday 4th September on BBC Radio 4 performer Ken Dodd will be speaking to Matthew Parris about the life of Stan Laurel, with the help of expert Glenn Mitchell.
Made by BBC Bristol and Produced by Assistant Producer Toby Field; Great Lives: Stan Laurel looks into the influence of Stan on the life and work of the legend that is Ken Dodd. We are thrilled that Toby has taken some time off from the radio studio to write a few words for us.
“It was June and I was in a hotel room in London. I picked up my phone, dialled a number and was greeted by a very familiar voice. “Hello” I stumbled, “Is that Ken Dodd?”
Great Lives is a biography series in which we ask a well-known guest to pick someone who they admire and who has inspired them in some way. We try and approach guests who have something to say, not just about their person who they’re speaking about but also about themselves.
When Ken Dodd agreed to take part I knew it was going to be a fascinating programme to produce. “Who would you like to pick?” I said. “Stan Laurel.” The next question is always “Why?” Ken went on to explain that he’d unveiled a statue of Stan in his birthplace of Ulverston in Cumbria, which is also home to the Laurel and Hardy Museum.
That was my first surprise, I’d always assumed that Stan was American. He talked about how much Stan was loved in the UK, and how he feels that 90% of comedians are in some way inspired by him.
I learnt a great deal about Stan Laurel both in the research and making of this programme – his work-rate was terrific; he was as comfortable behind the camera and in the cutting room as he was performing in front of it; he had a chequered love life, and as Ken mentioned on more than one occasion, he wasn’t really wasn’t very good at the business side. “You could have been his agent” Matthew tells Ken. “I’d have done a better job than Stan did himself” Ken replied. I got to listen to Stan being interviewed, and his low voice came as quite a shock compared to that trademark high-pitch cry. But you could hear his warmth shine through. I’m also indebted to our expert Glenn Mitchell who provided me with many useful tips and facts along the way.
However the real joy of Great Lives is finding out something about the guest. As you’ll hear from the clip on the website Ken Dodd is still no fan of tax inspectors, but what really came out was his passion for comedy, gags, and the performers who paved the way for people like him.
As he says of Stan “Good performers and clowns are admired. Really good comedians are revered, praised and treated as heroes. Really really great comedians like Laurel and Hardy, are loved.”More info about the programme can be found below and on the Great Lives website . Our Thanks once again to Toby Field, BBC Bristol.
In London in 1910, Stan Jefferson was understudy to Charlie Chaplin in comedy impresario Fred Karno’s latest production Jimmy the Fearless. Chaplin decided it wasn’t up-to-scratch and pulled out, on the eve of the opening. Stan stepped into the breach. The show was a tremendous and immediate hit, and Stan Jefferson emerged as one of the great comedy talents of the twentieth century. Or Stan Laurel, as he became known: the Laurel of Laurel and Hardy.
Ken Dodd, best-known for his marathon live shows, the Diddy men and the jam-butty mines of Knotty Ash cites Stan Laurel as his inspiration for going into comedy. He feels that good comedians are admired, really good comedians are revered, but great comedians like Laurel and Hardy are loved. He praises Laurel’s brilliance as a clown and a creator of gags, but feels that he was financially exploited and unlucky in love.
In Great Lives, Ken Dodd speaks to Matthew Parris about Stan’s humble beginnings in Lancashire, his move to the States, his partnership with Ollie ‘Babe’ Hardy, his tireless work behind the camera as well as in front of it, and his generosity and warmth towards his fans. They also speak about his final years in Santa Monica, and his somewhat colourful love life. Ken also reveals a little bit about himself on the subject of his own journey into comedy, his relationship with his audience, and on the more prickly topics of money and marriage, insisting that although he does have another life, when the front door closes, the front door closes!