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Stan Laurel

Stan Laurel (1890-1965) Langside

Stan Laurel, of famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Ulverston in the North of England, and moved with his family to 17 Craigmillar Road in Langside, South Glasgow when he was 15 years old. His father, Arthur Jefferson was an actor, playwright, and theatre manager, and his mother, Margaret ‘Madge’ Metcalfe was a draper’s saleswoman, who became an actress after the two got married (13). Growing up, Stan spent his pocket money on toy theatres and marionettes and loved dressing up, putting on make-up, and performing for his friends and neighbours (67).

He attended Queen’s Park School, often skipping class to hide in an old shed with an entertainment troupe run by his friend Willie Walker (68). After dropping out of school, he began working at the Metropole Theatre (in the city centre, now demolished), which his father managed. Stan first took to the stage at the Britannia Music Hall in Trongate (now the Panopticon, which still holds shows), without his father’s knowledge, and wearing his father’s clothes and ‘topper’ hat. One night, he was shocked to see his father in the audience. Arthur Jefferson described the scene in his unpublished biography:

Giving a subdued yell of horrified astonishment, [Stan] dropped my topper which thereupon rolled toward the footlights. Stan pursued it, tried to grab it and in doing so kicked it accidentally into the orchestra where one of the musicians made a rush to retrieve it and stepped on it, squashing it thoroughly! Then Stan made a dash for the exit but his luck was out. As he ran off, he came in contact with a steel hook fixed in the wings for a trapeze act and the hook ripped off half the skirt of my beautiful frock coat. Exit…loud applause! … smashing the topper and the tearing of the coat was extremely funny! (69-70)

When father and son met afterwards they stood in silence for a while. Then Arthur said, ‘Not bad son’ and got him a whisky and soda. Stan burst into tears. His father wrote:

Imagine his astonishment and joy when I received him with open arms and congratulations and promises to help him achieve his ambition! (70)

He certainly did achieve his ambition. Stan joined the Karno Company of comedians in his teens and was soon understudy to Charlie Chaplin (72-3). He went with the Company to New York, travelling in high style aboard a cattle-boat (having missed the liner they had booked). After another stint in the UK, Stan moved to the US to try his hand at vaudeville (74). He changed his surname to Laurel, figuring fewer letters could be written in larger print on the billboards (75). He had his first film break in Nuts in May in 1917, and went on to become a director, writing and directing several films starring Oliver Hardy, before they ever performed together.

One day, Stan was asked to stand in for Hardy (who had scalded his arm) in front of the camera. Something clicked. Soon the two were performing together as Laurel and Hardy, with Stan writing and directing many of their films, as well as starring in them. They took their double act to the Glasgow Empire, and their films made them two of the most internationally famous comic actors of their time (159). Stan and Ollie made over 100 films together from the 1920s to the 1950s (7), including well-known hits such as The Flying Deuces, The Music Box (which received an Academy Award), and Big Business. Meanwhile, Stan had numerous wives (one of whom he married twice) and two children. He received an Academy Honorary Award in 1961, and a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award in 1964, and died the following year in California.


Today Langside, the area he grew up in, is being considered by Battlefield Street Design, a project led by Sustrans in partnership with Glasgow City Council, to redevelop the area. This project aims to:

  • Redesign public spaces so that they feel safer, more attractive and sociable places to spend time in
  • Make it easier for people of all ages and abilities to travel on foot and by bike to local facilities in the area.
  • Empower residents to influence and become involved in local decision making.
  • Showcase best practice engagement and design to inspire other groups and organisations.

You can learn more about this exciting project here: https://battlefield.commonplace.is/. Here at SGHET, we are collaborating with Battlefield Street Design to bring you short histories of the local area. Stay tuned for more…


By Saskia McCracken



Danny Lawrence. The Making of Stan Laurel: Echoes of a British Boyhood. London: McFarland & Company Publishers, 2011.

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