Tonight I have the pleasure of introducing my six year old daughter Laura to Laurel and Hardy, as together we watch a DVD of their short classic film ‘The Music Box’. This endearingly silly tale of their attempt to deliver a pianola to a house at the top of a long flight of steps demonstrates their perfect comic timing and chemistry. It also contains ample reminders that the silent film era had only just ended, with some of the other characters clearly trained before the spoken word was at their disposal.
At first Laura is bemused by the monochrome footage.
“I wish it was in colours,” she says, used to bright Disney Pixar animations.
I explain that when the film was made, nearly 80 years ago, they only had the technology to make films in black and white.
“No, Mummy, there’s grey in there too.”
I have a vivid memory of my grandfather watching the same film on television about 40 years ago, when black and white television was all we had. He was in rosy paroxysms of laughter, as he must have been when he’d first watched it in his youth. Tonight his great-granddaughter is in much the same state, totally immersed in the pair’s misadventure as she shrieks in delight at their mistakes.
“You don’t need to do that!” she shouts, as they lug the piano back down the steps, following the postman’s advice that they could have brought it up more easily by the sloping approach road. She leaps to her feet to join in their tapdance, executed as they unpack the pianola from its wooden case.
At the end of the filmshe is clamouring for more, but bedtime intervenes, and she has to make do with the promise of another Laurel and Hardy film tomorrow. I will look out my ancient video of ‘Way Out West’, featuring that sublime dance routine on their way into the saloon. I must have seen it hundreds of times but it still transfixes me every time.
Will my great grandchildren watch the comedy favourites of my youth? Morecambe and Wise, The Goodies’ giant kitten, Monty Python’s dead parrot, Tommy Cooper, Mr Bean, Fawlty Towers? I’d rather put my money on the timeless Laurel and Hardy than on any of them. Matching their achievement is still the ultimate comic Holy Grail. But the best double acts aren’t only about comedy: for me, my daughter and I are up there with the greats.