Discover the comedy genius of Stan & Ollie

With their immaculate timing and eye-boggling slapstick, the bowler-hatted pair were gods of early 20th-century showbiz, starring in over 100 hit films. Even in modern times, a major poll crowned them the greatest comedy double-act of all-time. 

With Stan & Ollie released on 11 January, the pair are set to be resurrected by two modern comedy masters: Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly… 

Meet Stan Laurel

Born in 1890 into a theatrical Lancashire family, Arthur Stanley Jefferson made his stage debut at Glasgow’s Panopticon music hall – and brought the house down.

At just 16, he had the physical comedy down to a tee, and was already introducing the bowler hat routines that would become his calling card. Following early US tours with impresario Fred Karno’s comedy troupe, Jefferson got his break in silent comedies like Nuts In May (1917) and A Mandarin Mix-Up (1924), and changed his surname to the luckier-sounding ‘Laurel’. 

Meet Oliver Hardy

If you didn’t guess from his anarchic screen persona, Norvell Hardy was a difficult child, bouncing between military academies in his native Georgia, before running away from boarding school to join an Atlanta theatre group.

In his teenage job as a cinema projectionist, he was convinced he could outdo the actors of the era, and although early roles saw the stocky six-footer cast as an assortment of thugs, his comedic flair got a first airing in the Our Gang series. And that was just the start… 

The greatest comedy double act of all time…

Laurel and Hardy first shared the screen in 1921’s The Lucky Dog – but didn’t join forces again until 1927’s Slipping Wives.

At that point, director Leo McCarey spotted their fizzing chemistry and began creating films to showcase it, with Laurel cast as the kindly cretin and Hardy as the short-fused loudmouth. So began a solid-gold movie catalogue that includes all-time classics like 1932’s Helpmates and 1937’s Way Out West – a film so funny that comedian Frank Skinner would ditch prospective girlfriends if they didn’t snigger at the dance sequence.     


Meet two modern comedians

When it comes to filling those iconic bowlers, only the Academy Award-nominated pairing of Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are up to the job.

Following up his role as media monster Alan Partridge and his subtle turn in 2013’s Philomena, Coogan’s sky-high reputation will only be enhanced by his nervy, note-perfect turn as Laurel. Meanwhile, after acing 1997’s Boogie Nights and 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, Reilly’s hilarious Hardy hits the nail on the head.

“These are brilliant impersonations,” wrote The Guardian, “the kind that can only be achieved by exceptionally intelligent actors. The superb technique of both is matched by their obvious love for the originals.”

A zinging new storyline...

Stan & Ollie could have given us a simple snapshot of Laurel and Hardy at their dizzy commercial peak. But in a genius twist, director Jon S. Baird’s new movie follows the legendary duo in tougher times, as they tour the music hall circuit of Britain in the late-’50s, playing to threadbare crowds and praying for a return to the glory days.

Of course, there are belly-laughs to have you rolling in the aisles – but you can also expect a nuanced film that examines the simmering resentments at the heart of the partnership. It’s sure to be another nice mess – and when Stan & Ollie hits ODEON cinemas on 11 January, you won’t want to miss it for the world.

Horrible Histories: The Movie - Rotten Romans
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