An iconic Stan Laurel bowler hat has rejoined other rare showbusiness artefacts which were all once part of the same private collection. Blackpool Council is now hoping that a Heritage Lottery Fund bid for a new museum, the first in the country set to be devoted to the history of popular entertainment in the UK, will give the hat a home worthy of its cultural significance.
The black bowler was originally given to local magician Cyril Critchlow in 1947 when Laurel and his comedy partner Oliver Hardy played the town’s Palace Theatre as part of their British Tour.
When he discovered Laurel and Hardy were coming to town, Cyril managed to arrange a meeting with both performers backstage. Laurel and Cyril hit it off, and the world famous Lancastrian comic expressed an interest in Cyril’s passion for collecting props, costumes, posters and programmes.
A few days later Laurel presented a stunned Cyril with one of his bowler hats, signed ‘Hello Cyril, Stan Laurel’ in the lining, to add to his collection. It was also never displayed publicly while it was in his possession.
After Cyril’s death in 2008, and in accordance with his wishes, the Critchlow family donated to the resort his Blackpool collection totalling over 200 objects and 10,000 printed items. However, it transpired that in 1989 the signed bowler hat had been sold by Cyril to another collector, and that it remained in private hands.
Late last year Blackpool Council’s Museums and Heritage service were given the opportunity to reunite the hat with the rest of the Cyril Critchlow Blackpool archive, and earlier this month the Laurel bowler was officially acquired by the Council.
Curator Emma Heslewood said: “Blackpool is the home of popular entertainment so it’s fantastic that a hat from an internationally renowned comedian, originally given to a local performer in the town over seventy years ago, has finally returned home.
We now hope that Blackpool’s plan for Britain’s first museum devoted to comedy, circus, magic and variety can be realised, and that everyone coming to the resort will get the chance to see this piece of incredible cultural history in a venue which will celebrate the nation’s enduring love of showbusiness.”
* Go to the top of the class if you recognised this was a reference to a 1927 Laurel and Hardy short film.
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