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Vera Lynn, The Forces’ Sweetheart

20th March 2017 by Scran | 0 comments

Dame Vera Lynn shot to fame as a singer during the years of the Second World War. Her performances, overseas and on the Home Front, kept up morale. She became a firm favourite among British troops and this popularity earned her the title ‘the Forces’ Sweetheart’. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1975.

Early Years

Vera Lynn was born Vera Margaret Welch on 20th March 1917 in East Ham in London. She began performing in public at the age of seven taking on regular singing spots at working men’s clubs. She was also a dancer for a time, performing with a troupe until the age of 15. After leaving school at 14, Vera left a short-lived factory job to focus full-time on her singing career and adopted her grandmother’s unmarried name, Lynn, as her stage name. Vera Lynn made her first radio broadcast in 1935, singing with the Joe Loss Orchestra. She released her first solo record, ‘Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire’, the following year. In 1937 she began playing with the Bert Ambrose dance band where she met and married Harry Lewis, another Ambrose singer. Harry later became her manager.

The War Years

When war broke out in 1939, Vera joined ENSA (the Entertainments National Service Association) and toured Egypt, India and Burma. She took part in outdoor concerts for British troops, along with other well-known entertainers of the day, including Max Miller, Gracie Fields and Tommy Trinder. Years later, she received the Burma Star for her tireless work entertaining forces in Japanese-occupied Burma. It was during the war years that Vera recorded her most popular songs, including ‘We’ll Meet Again’, written by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles, and ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’ by Nat Burton and Walter Kent. From 1941, she also began to present her own radio show, ‘Sincerely Yours’. The programme featured songs and interviews with the wives of British servicemen. Vera also made appearances in three wartime films: ‘We’ll Meet Again’ (1942), ‘Rhythm Serenade’ (1943) and ‘One Exciting Night’ (1944).

  • ENSA or the Entertainments National Service Association was set up in 1939 by Basil Dean and Leslie Henson to provided entertainment for British armed forces personnel during the Second World War
  • The first overseas ENSA show was performed in November 1939 in France with Gracie Fields as the headline act
  • ENSA went on to provide a platform for many well-known stars of stage and screen, including George Formby, Will Fyffe, Joyce Grenfell and Evelyn Laye and performed to troops from Iceland to Rangoon
  • ENSA came to an end in July 1946 and was succeeded by Combined Services Entertainment (CSE). It continues to provide entertainment for British troops today as part of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation (SSVC)

The Post-War Years

After the War, Vera returned to the variety circuit and continued her recording career. During the 1950s and 1960s she became a regular on both radio and television and achieved the accolade of becoming the first British artist to reach number one in the American charts with the song ‘Aufwiedersehen Sweetheart’. In the late 1960s and early 1970s she hosted her own BBC1 variety series and was a frequent guest on other variety shows, most notably the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show in 1972. She made four Royal Variety Performance appearances between 1960 and 1990. In 2009 she became the oldest living artist to chart at number one in the British album chart.

Still Singing After All These Years

Dame Vera Lynn retired in 1995. Her final public performance took place outside Buckingham Palace as part of a ceremony to mark the fiftieth anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day. As well as receiving her damehood, she was awarded an OBE in 1969. She continues to be actively involved in charity work, supporting charities which campaign on behalf of cerebral palsy and breast cancer research, Burmese refugees and animal welfare issues.

On 97th birthday in 2014 she released a new album ‘Vera Lynn: National Treasure – The Ultimate Collection’, to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. For her 100th birthday in March 2017, she will release another album to mark her centenary which will include some of her best known songs.

Images © The Scotsman Publications Ltd., Gordon Collection, per East Lothian Library Service, Glasgow University Library, Orkney Islands Council &  Aberdeen City Council Licensor Scran 

 

25th October 2016
by Scran
0 comments

Day of the Dead

The 1st & 2nd November are the Days of the Dead or El Día de los Muertos, the annual festival in Mexico where families remember the dead. It is believed the souls of the departed return to the land of … Continue reading

1791 ‘Currie Powder’ Recipe

10th October 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

07560042We thought we might whet your appetite for National Curry Week!

This page has been taken from recipe books written by Stephana Malcolm & it dates from 1791. This is one of five recipes for curry powder which she included in her recipe books. Ready-mixed curry powder was available in Britain at this period, but either Stephana Malcolm found it hard to get or she simply enjoyed making her own. Several Malcolm family members lived and worked in India and their influence is seen in the many Indian-inspired dishes in the recipe books from Burnfoot.

Stephana Malcolm clearly had curried dishes often enough that it was worth making powder in bulk. In this recipe she advises storing it in bottles and adding the wet ingredients, such as lemon juice and garlic, just before use. The National Library of Scotland holds a fascinating and valuable series of seven recipe books which survive from the Malcolm family. The earliest was started by Margaret Malcolm in 1782, several were then written by her daughter Stephana and her daughter-in-law Clementina, and the last in the series was written by Margaret’s great granddaughter, Mary Malcolm.

Image © National Library of Scotland | Licensor Scran

Elvis Presley – The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll

15th August 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

02499849Famous for his jump-suits and cape, and his trademark “ducktail” hair, Elvis Presley was known as “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” as he stormed across America with his amalgamation of African-American blues, Christian gospel and Southern country, which evolved into rock and roll.

On the 16th August 1977, Elvis died of a heart attack. He had been suffering from health problems and addiction to prescription drugs. President Jimmy Carter said of Elvis: “Elvis Presley’s death deprives our country of a part of itself. He was unique and irreplaceable. Born on January 8 1935, Elvis Aron Presley had a stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley. As their only surviving child, Presley was said to have been inseparable from his mother, Gladys, and cherished by his father, Vernon.His relationship with his mother was so strong that even as a teenager he wouldn’t part from her side unless completely necessary, resulting in him being a very lonely and isolated boy.

02490313Young Elvis

In his youth, Elvis entered numerous competitions – many of which he won – and appeared on television several times. His voice and performance were criticized, and it was suggested he had no true singing career. He was discovered by Sam Phillips and signed by Colonel Tom Parker who became his manager. His approach to music – through his voice, his lyrics and his “gyrating movements” – was different; so much so that he became both an icon for American youth and a symbol of parental anguish. Even when deemed a “danger to American culture” his fame could not be controlled.

Soldier

02490081At the peak of his career, Elvis was conscripted into the United States Army. He served in Germany. Fans demanded his return. Despite this hiatus and the sometimes fickle nature of fans, sales and popularity did not drop and his return on March 2nd 1960 (honourably discharged March 5th) heralded his resumption as America’s – and the world’s – most famous rock and roll artist. His career path was not always even and Elvis staged at least one “comeback” notably using a television special to promote himself. He became a successful staple performer at the casinos in Las Vegas.

Love, Life & Divorce

Despite Elvis’s reputation as a “mama’s boy” and his inept approach to girls, Elvis had several relationships throughout his life, including Dixie Locke in his mid-teens and June Juanico, a former beauty queen. His most famous interests were undoubtedly Priscilla Presley, his only wife, and Ginger Alden, his last girlfriend. After five years of marriage to Priscilla, whom he had met whilst stationed in Germany during his conscription, they divorced and shared custody of their daughter. Ginger Alden met Elvis in 1976 at the age of 17 and eventually became his final girlfriend. This was publicly announced on TV during Elvis’s final televised appearance.

09055855Final Years

His divorce from wife Priscilla, his performing career and public persona eventually crippled Elvis. He became overweight, isolated and addicted to prescription drugs, all of which affected his appearance, performance and health. He played his last live concert in Indianapolis and then all but withdrew from public view with Ginger Alden. On 16th August 1977, at his Graceland mansion, Ginger Alden discovered his body on the floor of their bedroom’s en-suite bathroom. At 3:30pm he was pronounced dead. He was 42 years old. Doctors declared the cause of death as a heart attack. Heart troubles ran in the family. His mother had died from heart problems and his father died two years after Elvis from heart failure.

 

Image © The Herald & The Scotsman  Licensor Scran

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

2nd August 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

  

108600046For three weeks every August the population of Edinburgh explodes as thousands of performers and their audiences fill the city. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world!

History

In 1947, eight theatre companies came to Edinburgh wanting to perform at The Edinburgh International Festival. The Festival had been formed after the Second World War to celebrate cultural life in Europe. As the eight companies were uninvited they did not get to perform as part of the official Festival, but they performed anyway, finding unusual venues for their shows. Every year after that more and more companies returned to follow their example. In 1948 Scottish playwright and journalist, Robert Kemp said while writing about the Edinburgh International Festival: “Round the fringe of official Festival drama, there seems to be more private enterprise than before”, giving this ever growing festival its name.

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Festival Fringe Society, the box office 1977

The Festival Fringe Society

At first the theatre companies performing at the Fringe managed everything themselves, but in 1951 the University of Edinburgh set up a centre point for performers to eat, sleep and meet. It proved popular. The following year the University set up a box office. However, not all Fringe theatre companies used it. In fact, some of them were very much opposed to the idea. In 1959, a year that saw 19 companies perform, the Festival Fringe Society was set up. It ran a drop-in centre, a box office and published a programme of all Fringe performances. Over the years the society, along with the Festival, has grown in size. It has begun to employ paid staff alongside original volunteer roles. Despite these developments the society has maintained the same principle that anyone can perform at the Fringe.

Variety of Spaces & Performances

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Street Performance, fire eater on the Royal Mile

  • It has always been the policy of the Festival Fringe that anyone can perform. Even after the formation of the Fringe Society no person or group can decide who can or can’t perform at the Festival Fringe. This has led to a huge range of performances from classical to bizarre. There is something for everyone regardless of your tastes.
  • A festival of such a huge size requires a lot of venues to house performances. There are a huge variety of spaces used, theatres, old church halls, courtyards, conference rooms, lecture theatres, school gym halls and even the back of a taxi.
  • In recent years comedy has become the biggest part of the Fringe followed by theatre. The Fringe programme is split into different categories; Comedy, Theatre, Music, Musicals and Opera, Dance and Physical Theatre, Children’s Shows, Exhibitions and Events.

The Royal Mile

With so many shows on at the same time the choice for audiences can be overwhelming. Many performers showcase their acts on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. A pedestrianised section becomes an advertising space where performers can make contact with the public, hand out flyers and publicise their shows. Small stages are set aside for actors to perform extracts of their pieces. This area also attracts Street Performers and huge crowds gather to watch them juggle, perform magic, dance and busk.

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A young Rowan Atkinson gets an award at the Fringe 1979

Famous Performers

The Fringe has helped to launch the careers of many now-famous actors and comedians, and for many is still a favourite performing opportunity. Some of the performers who got their big break at the Fringe include Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Stephen Fry, Rowan Atkinson, Steve Coogan, Christian Slater, Derek Jacobi and Emma Thompson.

Image © Cairns Aitken, The Scotsman, Marius Alexander  Licensor Scran

Exhibition Now Open

13th July 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

All The Rage | Memories of Post War Fashion 1940s – 1960s

An exhibition of photographs from the Scran collections curated in partnership with The Open Door’s Good Neighbour Club opens today at The Open Door Cafe in Edinburgh’s Morningside.  Stunning images of fads and fashions from the 1940s to the 1960s are brought to life by club members’ own memories gathered through a series of reminiscence workshops.

fifties fashion

The Open Door supports older people and those with mental health issues.  It offers an inclusive space for social groups, creative arts and volunteering opportunities at its centre.

The exhibition runs from 13th July to 12th August at The Open Door Cafe, 420 Morningside High Street, Edinburgh, EH10 5HY.

 

Image © Scottish Borders Council by kind permission of Woolmark. Licensor www.scran.ac.uk.

From Demob Suits to Chelsea Boots

20th June 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

Post-War Fashions 1940s to 1960s: a community curated exhibition

Fifties Fashion © Scottish Borders Council by kind permission of Woolmark. Licensor www.scran.ac.uk.

Fabulous Fifties Fashion

One Tuesday in September last year Scran went along to The Open Door in Morningside, Edinburgh to deliver a slideshow to showcase our digital archives.  There is nothing unusual in this.  Scran delivers a wide and varied remit of outreach activities.  However, this session was the start of something quite exciting.

Good Neighbours

We had been invited to meet the Good Neighbours Club, a group of older people who meet regularly at The Open Door.  The Open Door initiative has been supporting older people in Edinburgh for over 30 years, offering day services and a range of activities, from art and poetry to gentle exercise.  The Club, a group made up largely of ladies aged 70 plus, meets every Tuesdays for a day of ‘friendship, fun and laughter’.

The slideshow of images of old Morningside, from the 19th century, through the early years of the 20thcentury, to more recent years provoked a lot of chat and debate.  Of particular interest, old photographs of Morningside Railway Station which was closed in the 1960s; the Open Door is based in a building adjacent to the old station platform.

Scran was able to draw on a wealth of material from a range of contributors, including The Scotsman Publications Ltd and the National Collection of Aerial Photography.  As well as the old station, we covered themes of schooldays, shopping and buses and trams.

Exhibition

Following our visit, Kirsteen Powell, Day Care Service Manager at the Open Door, got back in touch.  She wanted to do more work with us and so we met and an idea formed.  With such striking images causing such a lot of interest and reminiscence activity at the centre, why not put on an exhibition?

The Good Neighbours Club chose a theme with social history at its heart – fashions of the post-war era.  And selected images will be displayed in the centre’s coffee shop, a great space fronting onto Morningside High Street.

The exhibition project kicked off in May of this year, with Scran delivering two more reminiscence workshops: we’ve explored the utility fashions and clothes rationing of the forties, the bouffants, brylcreme and big skirts of the fifties and the miniskirts and the sharp suits of the sixties.  With the group’s permission, each workshop was recorded and a selection of their own personal anecdotes and memories in text form will be used to interpret the photographs selected for the final exhibition.

Reminiscence Tool

The project demonstrates the fantastic range of living memory material held within the digital archives of Scran and its potential as a tool for reminiscence work.

The exhibition opens in mid-July.

Images © Scottish Borders Council by kind permission of Woolmark | Licensor Scran

Beltane Festival & May Day

25th April 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

The term Beltane is thought to mean bright fire. The festival’s origins lie in Scotland’s distant past when people lived by herding animals. They marked the seasons with community celebrations. Beltane signified the transition from Spring to Summer.

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Before banks had holidays or even the advent of Christianity, there has been a festival held at the start of May to celebrate the first day of summer. Early agricultural peoples across Europe used seasonal indicators like the flowering hawthorn to mark the start of the summer in northern Europe. For the early farmers, summer was a time of warmth and plenty of food between the winter and before the hard harvest work, a great excuse for a party.

Paganism Plagiarism

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Minister conducting a May Day service, Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

When the first Christians arrived in Britain to spread their faith, they used many of the existing customs as a foundation. Major Christian festivals like Christmas and Easter fall near important dates on the solar calendar like winter solstice and spring equinox. By incorporating familiar holidays and symbols, Christian missionaries could encourage piety without asking their converts to stop their fun or completely change their society. Even today, services are held at the top of Arthur’s Seat as the sun comes up over Edinburgh on May 1st. Images of the pagan symbol of rebirth and renewal, like the Green Man who is particularly associated with Beltane, have been included in Christian gravestones for centuries.

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Green Man screaming in panic

Bring Back the Best Bits

This basic need for a holiday still holds true today. In our increasingly hectic world, people are becoming more curious about their ancient ancestors and customs. Revivals of pagan celebrations of the seasons are becoming popular, and sometimes spectacular events.

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Green Man in the Great Hall at Edinburgh Castle

In Edinburgh, a contemporary Beltane Fire Festival is held on Calton Hill on the evening before 1st May to mark the beginning of summer. This variant of the Beltane festival was started in 1988 by enthusiasts, with academic support from the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Since then it has become an immensely popular event in the city’s calendar, drawing on a variety of historical, mythological and literary influences including the Green Man and the May Queen.

Beltane celebrates fertility and the earth’s ripe abundance. Various rites were performed to ensure the fertility of nature and the fires were believed to purify and protect against plague and epidemics. Modern day Beltane festivals are mainly for public entertainment.

The Victorians

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Peebles First Beltane Queen – Friday 23rd June 1899

The Victorians also realised the value of a celebration for the whole community and began ‘reviving’ local customs in towns across Britain, like the Riding of Marches in Peebles to define the town’s boundaries. Here the Beltane originally celebrated the advent of the Summer Solstice in May and in folklore was a Celtic festival devoted to Baal, the God of Fire.

The modern celebration, marking midsummer, is primarily a children’s festival and incorporates the Riding of the Marches. In 1899, the first Beltane Queen was crowned with all due pomp and ceremony, moving the celebration to mid June. The Peebles Beltane Festival continues into the 21st century bringing tourism to the town.

Images © Scottish Media Group, National Museums Scotland,  Beltane Fire Society & Gerry McCann, Historic Environment Scotland, Collection of Bert Robb & Eric Stevenson  Licensor Scran

Saint Patrick’s Day

16th March 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

Saint Patrick is the patron saint credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland. People all over the world commemorate him on 17th March.

Who was St Patrick?

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Irish Harp © National Museums Scotland

Patrick (c. AD 387–461) is believed to have come from a wealthy family in Roman Britain who had already converted to Christianity. It is thought that his father and grandfather were prominent Church members. Patrick was kidnapped and taken into slavery, possibly to the west coast of Ireland, when he was sixteen. He remained in Ireland until he was twenty two when God told him in a dream to leave Ireland and go home. Patrick escaped and boarded a ship back to the mainland and joined the Church, studying to be a priest.

By around 432 he was a bishop and was called back to Ireland by God to bring Christianity to the Irish people. He is said to have explained the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to people using a three-leafed shamrock or white clover. This plant and the colour green has been associated with him and Ireland ever since. Legend has it that the reason why there are no snakes in Ireland today is because St Patrick drove them all away, believing them to represent evil. Patrick remained in Ireland for the rest of his life and is believed to have died on 17th March 461.

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Guinness Brewery 1949 © Hulton Getty

Celebrating St Patrick’s Day

St Patrick’s Day is a public holiday in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and in other parts of the world where people of Irish descent are prominent. It has also become a celebration of Irish culture as well as a day of religious observance and activities include taking part in parades, holding parties, wearing shamrocks, dressing in green and general socialising.

1681 Irish halfpenny of Charles II © Hunterian Museum

Formerly a day of religious observance and quiet celebration in Ireland, St Patrick’s Day has become more of a carnival. The first recorded St Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York, 1762 when Irish soldiers marched through the city and Irish immigrant communities in America also began celebrating their heritage in this way. These customs have spread all over the world, wherever Irish people have settled.

Images © National Museums Scotland & Hulton Getty | Licensor Scran 

Kings of Slapstick

20th January 2016 by Scran | 0 comments

As the BBC announce they are to begin shooting a new film about the lives of Laurel and Hardy, we’ve trawled the Scran archives and found images of the comedy pair visiting Scotland on a number of occasions in the 1940s and 1950s. Laurel and Hardy  remain one of the best known duos of American film comedy. Their slapstick style and faultless comic timing are still popular today, even though the first of their films was released way back in 1927.

Stan Laurel

Stan Laurel was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson on 16th June 1890 in Ulverston in Cumbria. He was the son of a showman. By the tender age of 16, Stan was performing in music hall. He started as a supporting act but eventually became the star of the show and even understudied Charlie Chaplin. In 1912, he emigrated to America and changed his name to Stan Laurel. He found work but it took 12 years before he was recognised as an act of some merit. He performed eccentric mime and was known as a ‘nut comic’.

Oliver Hardy

Oliver Hardy was born in Harlem in 1892. He started in show business at an early age and by his late teens was a singer and ran a movie house with his mother. He aspired to take up comedy and started working with Lubin Motion Picture in Florida. By 1914 Oliver was acting and over the next two years made an astonishing 177 short films. He played a variety of parts – even women. Movie makers were keen to employ him and Oliver Hardy found himself in demand.

This short silent film clip shows Stan and Ollie in Edinburgh in 1932 making an appearance on stage at the Playhouse Cinema

Comedy Duo

Laurel and Hardy first appeared together in a film called ‘Lucky Dog’ in 1919. However, it was not until 1927 that they starred as the now so familiar Stan and Ollie in the movie ‘The Second Hundred Years’. Hal Roach decided the two should become a permanent duo and for the next ten years he worked with them, making silent short movies, talking pictures and feature films. Most silent movie acts found the transition from silent to talking pictures difficult but the contrast between Stan’s English and Oliver’s American accents and Oliver’s singing added new dimensions to their act.

‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!’

The well known catchphrase, often misquoted, is the most quoted line in the Laurel and Hardy movies. The basic premise of each of their movies was that Laurel and Hardy are two dimwitted men who try and accomplish something simple, but make so many mistakes that they spoil everything. Laurel was portrayed as the dimmer of the two.

They used a great deal of slapstick humour and comical violence. The results of this violence were not always shown but sometimes illustrated by sound effects. Another common but smaller theme was what Stan Laurel called ‘White Magic’ where he would perform a bizarre and impossible feat such a getting dressed in seconds or using his thumb as a cigarette lighter. While their on screen personalities portrayed Hardy as the more organized man, it was the opposite in real life. Laurel wrote most of their material.

Appearance

Visually the two made a great comical pair. Stan Laurel was of average height and build but Oliver Hardy was a large and very tall man, making Laurel seem smaller. They dressed to emphasise this. Laurel wore a tight fitting suit and a bow tie, Hardy wore loose fitting clothes and a neck tie. Both wore bowler hats and had stylized haircuts.

After Hal

After many years working with Hal Roach the duo went on to work with 20th Century Fox and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The films they made there were big box office hits but the duo had far less creative input than they were used to and critically the films were not as well received. Laurel and Hardy decided to take to the stage instead and toured Europe. They made one final film together in 1950 called ‘Atoll K’ but both men were succumbing to ill health and it showed on camera. The film was not well received. After a short recuperation break the pair continued to work, doing small public appearances and making their only American TV appearance on ‘This Is Your Life’. Their final public appearance was for a documentary about the British Variety Organisation called the Grand Order of Water Rats. Their last appearance on camera was a silent home video shot at Laurel’s home which they called ‘One Moment Please’.

Illness and Death

Neither Laurel or Hardy ever recovered from their ill health. Hardy was instructed by his doctor to lose weight and rapidly shed over seven stone. The weight loss may have done more harm than good as he suffered a series of strokes. He lost mobility and speech and after a major stroke on August 7th 1957 he died, a shadow of the man he had been, weighing only 9.9 stone. Laurel was very ill himself, too ill, in fact, to come to Hardy’s funeral. This upset him but he knew his long-term comedy partner and friend would have understood.

Laurel refused to perform again, despite requests, although he did continue to write. He wrote for other film-makers but also continued to write for Laurel and Hardy – material he wrote for his own pleasure. He also enjoyed correspondence and insisted on replying to every piece of fan mail personally. He was awarded an Academy Award for his contributions to film comedy in 1960. He died on 23rd February 1965 in Santa Monica.

Sons of the Desert, Edinburgh, 1985

Sons of the Desert, Edinburgh, 1985

Sons of the Desert

‘The Sons of the Desert’ is the official Laurel and Hardy appreciation society. Set up by a fan and friend of the famous duo, John McCabe, the organisation took its name from one of Laurel and Hardy’s films. Stan Laurel himself contributed to the group’s constitution. The crest bears the words ‘Two minds without a single thought’ in Latin. Each branch has a ‘Tent’ name, again a film title. There are now almost 220 ‘Tents’.

Images & Video © The Scotsman Publications Ltd, NLS Scottish Screen Archive | Licensor Scran

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