Southend's comedy connection to iconic duo Laurel and Hardy
PUBLISHED: 12:41 25 September 2018
Southend has given the great and the good fabulous days of fun beside the seaside for generations, and they keep coming! Petra Hornsby tells the tale of one newcomer who has fallen in love with Southend through a comedy connection with Laurel and Hardy
Southend on Sea is a true jewel of the county’s crown.
From its humble beginnings as the ‘south end’ of the village of Prittlewell consisting of a few fishermen’s huts and surrounding farmland to the development of the resort in the 1790s with improved links to London, visits from society’s elite including Royal patronage from Princess Caroline and the building of its record-breaking pier (in 1830), this lively and resilient seaside town has much to celebrate today.
The pier itself is a significant landmark and tourist attraction which still holds the title of being the longest pleasure pier in the world. Stretching 1.341 miles out into the Thames Estuary, it has some stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Although the structure has suffered some damage from the occasional ship collision and from fire, it remains an essential landmark of the town and is a magnet for the many tourists who visit it each year.
The pier is home to Southend’s Adventure Island – a theme park which offers a family-friendly experience with over 50 rides to suit all tastes and all fun seekers. The Sea Life Adventure Aquarium is certainly worth a visit too for those wanting to learn about marine life and, at the pier head, the RNLI station offers visits by arrangement for those wanting to understand more about the incredible rescue operations that are undertaken by the dedicated, volunteer crew throughout the year.
Aside from these popular attractions, the pier offers its own railway stretching the whole length of the pier, as well as angling, refreshments and, of course, magnificent views.
The Royal Pavilion, which opened in 2012, was built off-site at Tilbury Docks and then transported by barge along the Thames to its current location on the pier. The strikingly designed cultural venue offers a varied programme of plays, concerts and exhibitions, and is also an ideal location for enjoying some refreshments while taking in the splendid surroundings.
There are many annual events that keep locals and visitors alike entertained and they include the Southend on Sea Film Festival, Village Green Arts & Music Festival and the nearby Leigh on Sea Folk Festival and Art Trail.
Southend also attracts plenty of four-wheel and two-wheel motor enthusiasts with the summertime London to Southend Classic Car Run and Classic Cars on the Beach, which is scheduled for this month.
A new resident to Southend on Sea, Diane Pinnock, is also doing her bit for the town by reminding people of two special comedians who visited the resort back in 1952. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were on tour when they stayed at the Palace Hotel and performed at the Odeon, Southend. A blue plaque dedicated to them is displayed at the hotel and two function rooms are named after them also.
Diane, who hails from Derbyshire, has a summertime ‘pop-up’ shop on the pier selling Laurel and Hardy merchandise, but her connection with the duo is a long-held affection. She explains: “As a child, I would watch Laurel and Hardy on Saturday morning TV so, like most people, I have my own memories of them.
“I have a business providing services for outdoor events and this included Friendsfest, which is an event and tribute to Friends, the hit USA comedy series. I had provided merchandise to sell for this event and one item was a poster of Laurel and Hardy which features in the flat of the characters Joey and Chandler.
“I had to apply for permission to print that particular image and the poster went on to sell a staggering 5,000 copies in 2016. On the back of that success, I started researching other items and noted that not much was available. I headed back to the licensors and was granted a worldwide licence and began putting together other novelty merchandise such as T-shirts, mugs and clothing. As part of the licence, I also have access to 2100 images of Laurel and Hardy.”
Diane’s licence allows her to sell many items but there is one that she has exclusive rights to sell and she admits it is a bit special for the British market.
“I saw a Laurel and Hardy Christmas jumper and it would seem that not many other countries have the same relationship with such an item of clothing as we do here so, although I didn’t have any competition as such for it, I can now sell this jumper exclusively.”
Diane’s main business for the whole range is mostly undertaken online, but she also supplies to the museum in Ulverston, Cumbria, where Stan Laurel was born. In the New Year, Diane is looking forward to more interest in the comic pair, and therefore in her merchandise, when a new film about Laurel and Hardy, starring Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly, is released. The film focuses on their final tour in 1953 and she is currently negotiating with the studios on certain product lines.
“We have one popular item, the Laurel and Hardy large umbrella, that should certainly come in handy for the red carpet event when it opens, bearing in mind the release date is January and there might well be some rain!”
And how has the pop-up shop on the pier been going?
“I am based in a beach hut where people get off the pier train and I am in good company with other retailers selling chips, drinks and ice creams. People are sometimes surprised to learn of the connection the comedic duo had with Southend, but everyone is familiar with them and has their own special memories of being entertained by them, whatever their age. Laurel and Hardy’s appeal seems to cover the full age range.
“I have had busy days and quiet days, but it has been so nice meeting some great people and they always go away with my card to help them with future birthday and Christmas present ideas.”
Coming from Derbyshire to the Essex coast has certainly been a dramatic change for this Southend newcomer, but it seems Diane is smitten.
“I never thought any place could steal my heart away from Derbyshire, but it is safe to say my heart has been stolen. I like that you can walk for miles, such as the walk up to Hadleigh Castle, or just stroll along the pier and sit and watch the world go by. It seems wherever you stop, there are people to speak to – all friendly and lovely.
“The area also has a fascinating history and I was particularly moved to learn about the bravery of the local fishermen during the war, who risked their lives to rescue others. All in all, it is a special place and I really love it here; every day feels like a holiday.”
Find out more
You can find Diane’s shop on Southend Pier until the end of the summer or visit Laurelandhardygifts.com to find more iconic memorabilia.