In October 1953, the world’s most beloved comedy double act Laurel & Hardy embarked on their third seven-month tour of the UK – just a year after they had completed their previous one. In their sixties and by then so famous that they couldn’t go anywhere without attracting a crowd, they were weary by the time they got to Glasgow on March 1, 1954, for a week-long run at the Empire Theatre. This visit is evoked in the new film Stan and Ollie, which stars Steve Coogan and John C Reilly as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy respectively.

When Laurel & Hardy arrived in a snowy and icy Glasgow, it was during a city-wide power cut which just added to the misery of a particularly cold winter. (The power-cut was possibly also the reason for the elevator at the Central Hotel being out of commission – much to the chagrin of Ollie, by then tipping the scales at 22 stones, who had been assigned a room on the third floor.)

Despite the gruelling circumstances, the show did go on – and earned the pair some impressive reviews. This paper’s critic wrote: “They did a sketch in two scenes about their adventures in a mental hospital after they had inadvertently had a whisky too much. It was a simple and innocuous as one of their own two-reelers, and unexpectedly even more successful.”

Laurel & Hardy’s low-key arrival in Glasgow, with no advance press notices announcing which train they’d be on, was unlike any of the three previous occasions they had come to town. It was also unlike the scenes just two weeks earlier when hundreds of children had gathered outside Central Station from 5am to welcome their favourite singing cowboy star Roy Rogers and his four-legged friend, Trigger the horse.

Back in July 1932, when “the Boys” first came to Scotland together, so many people turned out in Glasgow that there were casualties. Eight thousand people converged on Central Station and the surrounding streets in anticipation of their arrival on the 11pm train from Edinburgh (where they had already had to make a run for the entrance of the Playhouse because the crowd went nuts when their car drew up).

As the stars moved from platform to concourse in Central Station, the surging crowd forced them towards the Hope Street exit. People fainted as the crowd became wedged in the narrow passage to the street, and others were seen frantically trying to avoid being crushed. The police managed to hold back part of the crowd but further large groups of people had taken up positions in front of the hotel in Hope Street, and as Laurel & Hardy appeared from the station’s side entrance, another rush was made towards them. It was a terrifying experience for everyone.

Alison Rowat's verdict on Stan & Ollie movie

The Evening Citizen reported: “Suddenly a stone balustrade in Hope Street, skirting the wall of the hotel, collapsed outwards onto the pavement owing to the pressure of the crowd, and a number of persons were knocked over by falling masonry. The heap of broken stonework fortunately formed a barricade which protected the surging crowd from falling into a basement seven feet below. Immediately help was forthcoming for the injured persons. Three ambulance wagons arrived on the scene, and nine men were removed to the Royal Infirmary.”

Having been mauled by fans who ripped their clothes and left Stan hopping about on one foot because his shoe was damaged, the comedians were left physically and emotionally shaken by the experience (and Stan was left without his wristwatch which had been pinched in the melee – though it was later returned). In a special notice in the next day’s Evening News, the traumatised pair said: “We never expected anything like Glasgow’s welcome, and our visit here will be all the happier now if we are allowed to go around just like a couple of rubber-necks on vacation.”

But that wasn’t to be. Similar scenes nearly unfolded on Sauchiehall Street that afternoon when the duo visited the La Scala Picture House for a personal appearance. On both sides of the street, the police had to join hands to prevent a crowd of over 2000 breaking through when Laurel & Hardy drove up in a car escorted by four mounted policemen.

Addressing the cinema audience, Stan, whose mother was at the event, was overwhelmed with emotion as he spoke about being back in Glasgow, where he had lived for several years. He had only just composed himself when the audience, accompanied by the cinema organist, sprang to its collective feet and sang an emotionally-charged Will Ye No Come Back Again.

When they did just that, 15 years later, in 1947, it was undoubtedly the most eagerly anticipated of all their Scottish visits. This time, they were here to perform – two weeks at the Glasgow Empire in mid-June and a week at the Edinburgh equivalent in July. An estimated 5000 people – many of them children – turned out to meet the Boys off the Manchester train, on Platform 2.

As a Hampden-style roar went up from the crowd, mounted policemen and foot constables kept a clear passage for the comedians and their wives to walk through the station. It was only once the police cordon had gone up that the understandably anxious pair visibly relaxed a little.

The Bulletin report said: “Hardy was magnificent. Wearing an immense dark green coat – it trailed to within six inches of the ground – he acknowledged the record welcome of his present visit to Britain with the majesty of a monarch. Even when he twitched his ridiculously small tie into position, he did so regally. Stan Laurel held tightly to his wife, smiled winsomely to the throng, waved his grey fedora hat and pressed on with all speed toward the safety of the hotel.”

Alison Rowat's verdict on Stan & Ollie movie

Fans chanted "We want Laurel" and "We want Hardy" until they made a brief appearance at a window. At the press conference afterwards, Ollie was asked if his recent weight loss was due to Britain's food rationing (he insisted it wasn't), and was grilled about whether his golf handicap was still four. His reply? "My handicap is 21 stone and about 17, I should imagine."

Their Empire run – performing a sketch about renewing a 1908 driving licence – was a huge hit, with the stars donning kilts (Ollie's was, in fact, two sewn together) for the last five days of their run. Children packed out many of the full houses. Indeed, Stan told the press that most of their fan mail came from youngsters. "And that's good," he added, "for we play dumb to the children in the family who love to think they're smarter than us."

Their packed itinerary for the fortnight included a visit to Lauder Ha' in Strathaven and to Stan's old haunts, among them the Metropole Theatre on Stockwell Street where his father had been the lessee, and Queen’s Park School. On the last day of their stay, they appeared at the gymkhana and sheepdog display in Eastwood Park in Giffnock.

Five years later, in March 1952, the Boys were back in town for another week at the Empire, with their sketch A Spot of Trouble (which would be met with mixed reviews). Following an announcement of their expected arrival time in the local press, 700 fans turned up at Queen Street Station at 10.20pm on a Sunday night to welcome them and accompany them to their hotel where the traditional press reception was to be held.

They arrived at the start of the week in which television came to Scotland so it was inevitable that much of the chat was about that medium which, in America, had unexpectedly provided a boost in Laurel & Hardy’s popularity as many of their old films were being screened regularly on television – not that, as Ollie pointed out, they were making any money from this development.

Indeed, during the 1954 visit which is now the subject of Scots director Jon S Baird’s afore-mentioned new film, Ollie told interviewers that he and Stan were awaiting the outcome of a court case over the film rights. He also explained how difficult it was for him to see the places they visited – because as soon as someone recognised him, he would be swamped by autograph hunters.

“So although I’ve been to Glasgow a number of times, I really don’t know the city,” he said. “I seldom go out and depend on my wife to tell me about it.”

A few weeks later, he told the Edinburgh Pictorial: “I like Edinburgh. I don’t think there is a more restful spot in the world. I just like sitting at the hotel window [in the Caledonian] and looking out at the castle.”

That was the last view that the Boys had of Scotland before they went back to England. The following month, Ollie – who would die in 1957 – suffered a mild heart attack, and they cut the tour short, never to return.

Stan and Ollie (PG) is in cinemas now.