Gillian Haywood-Widdowson Interview: Meeting Laurel & Hardy


Gillian Haywood-Widdowson Interview: Meeting Laurel & Hardy


7 November 2018


Oral history interview with former dancer and Pantomime performer Gillian Haywood-Widdowson.

What's the story?

Gillian Haywood-Widdowson was born in Manthorpe in Lincolnshire in 1933 and moved to Nottingham aged 2, living in Sneinton Dale.

As a child she contracted rheumatic fever and following advice from doctors her mother enrolled her in dancing classes to try and prevent further problems with her joints.

As a teenager she started dancing professionally and performed in Pantomimes at the Theatre Royal, most notably Dick Whittington in 1948, Jack and the Beanstalk in 1949 and Red Riding Hood in 1950.
For these shows Gillian was one of the star performers for Kirby’s Flying Ballet, which performed spectacular aerial routines.

Gillian continued to dance well into her 40s, performing cabaret work, as well as her second career of designing and making bridal veils. She still lives in Sneinton.

In this interview Gillian talks about meeting veteran film comics Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy backstage in 1952, when they were performing in the Empire Theatre next door:

Yes, they were very, very nice. Really nice. Just I and another girl went round. They used to let go in to see the stars. Because our stage door was here and on the other side, just a few steps away was the Empire stage door, so we used to see them more regularly. And we went in, knocked on the door, and it was Oliver Hardy. We thought they’d be together, but they weren’t – two separate dressing rooms. And you sat there on a high stool, no back on it, leaning on a wall and a little dog, puppy, in the corner and he was training it. Of course when, I think her name was Ellen, who was with me, and we went in and said “Aw, look at that, aw, you’re beautiful, come on, come on” and of course it ran to us and I picked it up. But he said “I’ve been over half an hour doing that. Honestly, all that work I’ve put into that and it’s all gone”.

Anyway, he said “What did you want?” He hadn’t asked us, you see, with all this happening. “We’d like your autograph please”. And he said “Well, if you go next door and knock on the door, you’ll get what you want”. And he shook hands with us. Very nice, he was. And Stan, he was marvellous. Really marvellous. You wanted to hug him, and I’m not a hugger, but he was so lovely. He gave me the photograph, and my friend one as well. We both got one.


Oral interview

Location of item

Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall Nottingham


Theatre Royal & Royal Concert Hall Nottingham


Interviewers: Valerie Rogers & Sally Smith
Transcriber: David Chilton