Month: August 2017

Laurel & Hardy back on UK TV! UPDATED with showing times 20/9


After what must be more than  ten years, Laurel & Hardy are finally returning to UK television, via Talking Pictures television.

It’s really good to see them back. Talking Pictures might not be a high profile channel like the BBC, but it cares about these films, and is giving them primetime airings, which has been virtually unheard of for the last 20+ years.

This is a crucial time for these films to be on TV, with many of the younger generation less aware of who Stan and Babe are (Eugh…that sentence makes me feel very old!). So, if you can access Talking pictures (Freeview 81 – but you need a Freeview HD TV), let’s all watch them to boost the ratings and share the screenings with family and friends.

There will be an autumn season featuring their best Roach features, beginning with BLOCKHEADS on September 1.

You can find the schedule for the channel here.

UPDATE: here are the L and H showing times in the next week. I’ve had a lot of traffic to this post, and some messages from some people new to the team so I’ve included brief  synopses for those discovering them for the first time (you lucky people!)

Mon 4 Sept : PARDON US – 1400. Their first feature film, a prison spoof. Uneven and dated, but some great bits in.

Tue 5 Sept : PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES – 1800. The boys act as surrogate parents for the daughter of their army buddy  who has been killed in WW1 and try to reunite her with her family. Not easy when the family name is Smith… One of their most underrated features IMHO.

Weds 6 Sept, 1800: SAPS AT SEA. the boys take a sea voyage to cure Ollie’s ‘hornophobia!’

Thurs 7 Sept, 1800: WAY OUT WEST. The all time classic featuring the boys having misadventures in the Wild West, complete with ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine! This one and BLOCKHEADS are the ones to show your kids first – they’re the ones that got me hooked 20-odd years ago anyway!

Fri 8 Sept 1800: THE BOHEMIAN GIRL. One of their operettas. The plot and singing are tedious but the boys have some great routines.

Sat 9 Sept, 1800: A CHUMP AT OXFORD. The boys are gifted a scholarship to Oxford when they stop a bank robbery. Whilst there, it emerges that Stan is actually a long lost aristocrat, Lord Paddington… Slow to start but the second half is some of their funniest material.

Sun 10 Sept, 12.35: SWISS MISS. Another operetta, telling the boys’ tales selling mousetraps in Switzerland, and getting mixed up with a composer and his wife. Highlight: trying to carry a piano across a ravine rope bridge, as an escaped gorilla wanders the mountains!

Mon 11 Sept:  1400 WAY OUT WEST.

Followed by another screening of BLOCKHEADS at 1830

Tues 12  Sept: 1400 PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES

Weds 13 Sept, 1400: SAPS AT SEA

Thurs 14 Sept, 1400: THE BOHEMIAN GIRL. One of their operettas. The plot and singing are tedious but the boys have some great routines.

Fri 15 Sept, 0835: SAPS AT SEA

1600: SONS OF THE DESERT. Their other all time classic!

SUN 16 Sept, 1700: OUR RELATIONS. Another rather underrated, marvellous comedy – the boys have twin sailor brothers, which causes no end of mix ups.

Then, a bit of a hiatus, picking up again at:

19.50 on Sun 24 September: THE TREE IN A TEST TUBE. A curiosity rather than a comedy classic, this is a short (mute) colour film the boys made to promote wood products.

14.00 on Tues 26 September: PARDON US

13.35 , Weds 27 September: THE STOLEN JOOLS. Another curio, an all star charity short for respiratory disease, bizarrely promoted by Chesterfield cigarettes. The boys are the brief highlight, but also look out for Buster Keaton,  Wheeler & Woolsey and the Our Gang kids.

19.50, Thurs 28th September: Another outing for that gorilla and piano – it’s SWISS MISS again.

12.00 on Sun 1st October: PARDON US.

Finally, set your record buttons for the early hours of Sunday night/Monday Morning on 1st/2nd October for these public domain L & H chestnuts:

03:50 THE LUCKY DOG. A Stan Laurel solo short with a brief appearance from L & H

04:10 THE FLYING DEUCES. The boys join the foreign legion to help Ollie forget a beautiful French girl

05:30 L & H HOME MOVIES.


That’s as far as the schedule currently runs. I’ll update when more appear.

L & H are a regular feature in the blog here, why not check through the archives for film reviews, rare images and forgotten corners of their careers?



The Emperor of Lancashire

George Formby was the UK’s biggest box office attraction for years on end. The grinning ukulele player and singer of funny, innuendo-riddled little songs (“With my little ukulele in my hand”; “I blew a little blast on my whistle”, etc – you get the idea) was mobbed all over the country as he played, and his tunes and catchphrases have entered the national consciousness.

He’s still loved by many, retaining a far more prominent profile than your average 1930s comedian, yet he is something of a guilty pleasure. Many look down on him snobbily, and he is the target of endless pastiches and parodies. (It’s amazing and a bit sad that many of the same old North-South divide prejudices that Formby faced in his lifetime are still here today).  This nice little documentary from UK comedian Frank Skinner gives him his due, explaining his appeal and talent as a performer rather nicely.

Even this documentary doesn’t give much space to his films, which are often overlooked. Formby made 23 films, and all are usually dismissed as lightweight fluff in a sentence or two in most books or articles. Actually, beyond his songs, he was a fine performer, providing an updated version of the classic silent comedy model. They may not be terribly sophisticated, but his films are an important link between silent comedy, the music halls and the classic post-war Ealing comedies.  Look at them with fresh eyes, and there’s plenty to enjoy, including some terrific visual gags, not to mention George doing his own stunts . I’ve added a page to the directory of comedians that mainly focuses on his film career, with a bit of biographical info added in:

George Formby

And if you haven’t seen any Formby films, I’d probably start with LET GEORGE DO IT, KEEP YOUR SEATS PLEASE!, TURNED OUT NICE AGAIN, NO LIMIT, GET CRACKING  or TROUBLE BREWING.

trouble brewing

Good Time Charley & The Pip from Pittsburg


Charley Chase is one of my very favourite comedians. Charming, wildly inventive and prolific, he turned out dozens of genuine comedy classics in the silent and sound eras. His sound films have always been difficult to see, but thanks to recent showings on TCM, are now coming to light, albeit via non-legit sources such as bootleg DVDs and, of course, YouTube. I’ve collated a few in this post for your viewing pleasure.

The received wisdom among comedy buffs and film critics is that Chase’s talkies are not quite up to the quality of his silents. Ok, it is true that the precision and consistency of his work from 1925-27 was never quite reached again. . Charley’s later films, beginning with his last silents, experimented more, having a more laissez faire approach to the comedy from film to film. Inevitably, some of these ideas were more successful than others, and so the films seemed less consistent.

 If some of the films didn’t quite work out, they were balanced by an equal number of films that worked beautifully, succeeding to equal his silent work, often pushing his comedy in exciting new directions.

One particular group of films that most everyone agrees really did  work out are those featuring his partnership with Thelma Todd. Chase and Todd made an absolutely wonderful team, appearing in romantic comedies with a real human warmth to them. Charley was always generous with his co-stars; unlike many comedians who barely used their leading ladies as more than decoration, he allowed Thelma to thrive as much more than just a pretty face. In contrast to many of the comedies of the time, they seem like a genuine couple, sharing human foibles. You can’t fake such chemistry, and it’s no surprise to hear that Chase and Todd were very close in real life, with many rumours of offscreen affairs.

snappy sneezer

First meeting: Charley & Thelma in ‘SNAPPY SNEEZER’


Their first film together was ‘SNAPPY SNEEZER’ (1929), and gradually Thelma’s roles built up to be more substantial. Even in the films where her role is fairly small, the chemistry between her and Charley is the highlight of the film. ALL TEED UP is a prime example; mainly less than stellar comedy of Chase as a rookie golfer, it’s highest spot comes at the beginning as Charley bumps into Thelma at a soda fountain and the pair are mistaken for a couple. Charley knew a good thing when he saw it and Thelma’s roles soon became much more prominent. In the best of their collaborations, the pair are virtually co-starred, each adding to the comedy and story.  WHISPERING WHOOPEE has a great role for Thelma to show her versatility as a gum-chewing good-time gal hired by Charley to help ‘persuade’ some businessmen to buy his property. When they turn out to be strait-laced, Charley has to pass her off as a society girl.

DOLLAR DIZZY sees Charley inherit a fortune, and so he books himself into a swanky retreat. He soon becomes aware that gold-diggers are everywhere, as a series of girls all try similar tricks to woo him. Locking himself in his hotel room, he is unaware that millionaires Thelma has been double-booked into the same room. Thelma is also on guard for fortune hunters, and the pair each become convinced that the other has broken in to get a piece of the money. This sort of proto-screwball comedy, with Charley and Thelma both strong-willed and possessed of human weaknesses, is one of the special aspects in these films. Thelma isn’t just a piece of eye candy on a pedestal; she contributes actively to the comedy of the films.

LOOSER THAN LOOSE is, for me, one of the most under-rated Chase-Todd films of all. Charley has just got engaged to Thelma when his boss calls up. Charley is required to entertain one of the company’s clients. Unfortunately, this Mr Henderson insists on wild parties with good time girls, much to Thelma’s jealousy. She insists that she come along as one of the girls. Things go from bad to worse at the nightclub; the other girl is cackling Dorothy Granger who humiliates Henderson and comes on to Charley. This leads to an escalating scene wherein Thelma takes her revenge by costing up to Henderson; Charley responds by snuggling with Dorothy, leading Thelma to up the ante, and so on.  With a similar plot to WHISPERING WHOOPEE, to me it stands above that film thanks to some subtle plot changes that heighten the effectiveness of the comedy. For one thing, the film places a focus on Charley and Thelma’s relationship at the centre of the situations, making us care about them more. Much of the funniest moments come less from gags, than their facial expressions: Charley’s pained look when he realises he’ll be in hot water with Thelma; a wonderfully acted scene of disappointment as Thelma sees her new engagement ring for the first time; the pair’s false smiles through gritted teeth. Best of all is the scene where the pair try to make each other jealous by flirting with their new partners: their giggly smiles are amusingly punctuated with snarls and sneers at each other!  Secondly, Charley is now an underdog; he only goes along with the evening because his boss insists, and because he is at the mercy of the client’s whims. It’s a great little film, with a wonderful supporting cast and that catchy Leroy Shield music that makes Roach films of this era such a breeze.

Of course, most famous of all these films is THE PIP FROM PITTSBURG. This wonderful blind date comedy has written about many times before, so I won’t add anything – but here it is. Sadly, this is the only online version I can find – an off 16mm copy. But it’s better than nothing. This film really needs to be on DVD in proper quality! A Charley Chase box set would be nice actually… Well, I can dream, can’t I?

Charley and Thelma’s partnership was, ultimately, a victim of its own success. While Charley wanted to make the teaming permanent and make features, Hal Roach had other ideas. Thelma was made a star in her own right, teamed with Zasu Pitts, and later Patsy Kelly, in an attempt at creating a female Laurel & Hardy. While those films are great fun, they rarely rose to the height of the best Chase-Todd films, and we can only wonder what they might have done next. Thelma would be allowed back to co-star with Charley in one last short, ‘THE NICKEL NURSER’ (1932). This story of Charley being hired to teach a millionaire’s daughters the value of money, was a gem in its own way, featuring  the return of the usual chemistry alongside some great sight gags, and a devastating Greta Garbo parody!  Oh, and there’s Billy Gilbert, too. What’s not to like?

After Thelma moved on to other things, Charley changed direction too. He moved to playing a less confident, more henpecked character he called his ‘nance’ (THE NICKEL NURSER marks one of the first steps in this direction), and subsequently moved into more domestic comedies. He would continue to make some absolutely brilliant films that remain criminally underrated, but the special warmth and magic of these films with Thelma would never quite be repeated. How sad to think that these two young, vital and charming performers would both be gone less than a decade after the films were created. But what a pair they made.