LAUREL and Hardy played the Empire Theatre in Swindon for a week starting on September 15, 1947.

The engagement was part of a UK music hall tour several years before the one chronicled in new film Stan and Ollie, which stars Steve Coogan and John C Reilly.

Their reception at the theatre, which stood at the town centre end of Groundwell Road and was open from 1898 until 1955, was rapturous.

An Adver reviewer wrote: “From the first moment that the orchestra strikes up the squeaky little signature tune, the audience is in sympathy with the harmless, vacant little Laurel, who is always doing the wrong thing and being picked on by his ponderous chaperone.

“Here on stage is that artistry which in the minds of millions all over the world has placed them as the most loveable pair of comedians on the screen.

“Their sketch, Getting a Driving Licence, in which they are ably assisted by Harry Moreny, provides full scope for their mimicry and will even further endear them to their fans.”

This quotation was used in the definitive history of the theatre, All for the Empire by Roger Trayhurn and Mark Child, which was published in 2013.

The authors gathered all available information about the stars’ appearance, including the fact that the two stayed at the Bear Hotel in Hungerford because no Swindon hotel could offer ensuite rooms.

Stan Laurel, according to those who met the two, was very much in charge of the act back stage in spite of his character famously being dominated by that of his comedy partner.

Oliver Hardy was also reportedly a little gruff sometimes, and spent a lot of time in his dressing room.

In spite of this he was more than capable of friendliness. The book mentions a 16-year-old called Carol Rawlins, who spotted Laurel and Hardy outside the theatre as she cycled along Groundwell Road.

Both stars happily signed autographs, and Hardy told her: “Carol, that’s a purty name.”

All for the Empire notes that the 1947 visit to Swindon was Hardy’s first, but not Laurel’s.

Lancashire-born Stanley Jefferson, 17, appeared in a touring pantomime in October of 1907, and again in 1909. That visit was in January, and in later life he would recall “ was winter, and as we were kids we played snowballs.”

He headed for the US not long afterwards.

All for the Empire is available at the Central Library, priced at £14.95.