Retired Sunderland policemen remembers the day he met Laurel and Hardy
Just imagine it. You're a massive fan of two movie stars - and then get to meet them!
But that’s exactly what happened to former policeman Bill Ford who recalled the day he came face-to-face with comedy legends Laurel and Hardy - twice.
Pc Ford was on duty in around 1954 when he was controlling the massive crowds who had arrived to see the stars.
He was patrolling on Low Row, along from the Hat and Feathers pub at the junction with High Street West.
Sure enough, the famous duo turned up to great acclaim ..... but it was Bill who got to meet them first by knocking on their car window!
“It wasn’t just an ordinary car they turned up in,” said Bill, now 92. “It was a taxi which had been converted with a high top.
“I was on duty and in uniform. I was with another policeman George Poole and he said ‘look, there’s Laurel and Hardy’ so I just ran up and knocked on the window.”
“Hardy turned round and wiggled his tie at me!”
But an even more exciting episode soon followed.
Pc Ford was controlling the crowd at the stage door at the Sunderland Empire where they were appearing. “They expected quite a lot of young people round,” he explained.
Instead of just watching the crowds, though, Bill got a very special offer that day.
“I was invited in to meet Laurel and Hardy,” he said and the famous duo lived up to their reputation by performing an impromptu comedy routine for Bill in their dressing room.
“I always remember Hardy with his funny expressions. He was juggling his hat on his head and Laurel was acting like a policeman and grabbing hold of his hand.
“The only thing they said to me was small talk like ‘are you a policeman in this town?’”
On top of all that, Bill also got to see the live show and remembered they did comedy sketches.
“When the curtains first came down, they were acting like they had got lost in the curtains,” he remembered.
A new generation of fans are catching up on the memories thanks to the new film, Stan & Ollie starring Steve Coogan and John C Reilly.
But Bill was a big fan back in the day and said: “The only thing I regretted was I never got their autographs.”
He said the show and the chance to meet the stars would “live with me forever.”
But lots of Sunderland people might remember Bill for another reason. He was quite the entertainer himself during his 30 years police service in Sunderland as a Pc and then a Detective Sergeant.
Every Christmas while he was in the Force, he would perform a comedy act at Christmas for the children of police officers.
Venues such as Seaburn Hall, The Roker Hotel and Wetheralls all saw Bill perform his comedy routine.
It went down an absolute storm for years and he even got his five children - George, Paul, Stephen, Lorraine and Elizabeth - involved in the act.
These days, Bill is a loving family man with five children, 13 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren to adore.
But there’s lots of wonderful memories of a working life well lived to reflect on.
“I have never had any regrets about joining the police force. I would do it all again,” he admitted.
Watch out for more from Bill in a special feature in our Wearside Echoes nostalgia pages next week.