ON July 28, 1952 two familiar figures, in trademark bowler hats, walked onto the stage at Bradford’s Alhambra Theatre.

“Hollywood’s greatest comedy couple - here in person!” said the billboard. Stan and Ollie, stars of the big screen since the 1920s, were in town, and packing ‘em in at the Alhambra.

Laurel and Hardy’s appearance - topping a bill that included comic Harry Worth and ‘the Great Cingale, Silent Man of Mystery’ - was followed by a second show at the Alhambra in 1954.

Telegraph & Argus entertainment writer Peter Holdsworth interviewed the comics during their second visit. “From behind the dressing-room door loomed the features of Oliver Hardy. Superimposed on the expression we have grown to love - the one with more dewlap and jowl than a pugnacious Boxer puppy - was an extending grin which lifted a pair of spectacles higher and higher,” wrote Holdsworth.

“Stan Laurel was hiding his freckles under greasepaint. He had already fixed his head, a thin band forcing his auburn hair skyward like scorched grass. He, too, added a smile of welcome to the features which normally wear a doleful air. Stan told me it was two years since he and Olly last visited the Alhambra.

“They had not had any offers of film parts recently, although they were willing to make a new one if invited. Stan said the film industry in the United States was being hit very hard by television. ‘Incidentally,’ he [Stan] continued, ‘dozens of our old pictures are being shown on that medium in the States'.”

Laurel and Hardy’s 1950s UK theatre tour is the focus of new film Stan and Ollie, released this week. Starring Steve Coogan and John C Reilly, it’s a “handsomely crafted valentine” to the much-loved double-act in their later years.

When wool clerk-turned theatre impresario Francis Laidler opened the Alhambra in March, 1914 his vision was to bring big stars from London and overseas to Bradford. The new theatre, offering twice-nightly variety shows, gave audiences a touch of luxury - even the cheap seats were comfortably upholstered - and visiting performers enjoyed home comforts in their dressing-rooms, not least hot and cold running water.

After the First World War renowned variety producers Moss Empires Ltd became the Alhambra’s booking agent, and for over 40 years, drew in big variety stars, including George Formby, Morecambe and Wise, Frankie Howerd - and Laurel and Hardy. The duo appeared twice at the Alhambra, staying at Bradford’s Midland Hotel the first time (and Queens Hotel, Leeds, in 1954).

In 2014 the T&A reported that the duo’s autographs, obtained by a fan during one of their Alhambra appearances, were expected to fetch up to £500 at bidders at Bonhams in London.

In his 1954 interview, Peter Holdsworth revealed that Oliver Hardy had been sightseeing: “The first thing he did was praise the beauty of Harrogate and Knaresborough, which he had just visited. ‘It’s really wonderful there. My wife walked on to Mother Shipton’s well, but it was a bit too far for me,’ he added, tapping his generous frontage.

“He told me he and Stan had been together more than 30 years during which time they had made more than 300 films. But they never met socially. Their interests outside work clashed. Explained Olly: ‘Stan likes to fish, while I prefer golf.’ They found their working life prospered because of this arrangement.”

Holdsworth continued: “I then watched their latest sketch, ‘Birds of a Feather’, written by Stan. In it they became whisky tasters. There was Olly lording it over Stan. There was Laurel, his face quivering on the brink of tears, unobtrusively getting his own back. This was the great slapstick comedy of two great comedians, who send our memories rocketing back happily through the years and who, although humour has changed radically since they first stepped onto a set, retain our affections through their unchallenged genius.”

The rooms Laurel and Hardy stayed in at Bradford’s Midland Hotel, with their wives, are now named after them. But it wasn’t until Bradford’s branch of Sons of the Desert, the Laurel and Hardy appreciation society, tracked down former head receptionist Bea Winterburn that the exact rooms were identified. In 2007 Mrs Winterburn told the T&A: “Stan and Ollie were real gentlemen and their wives were charming. They stayed for a week and were lovely, the whole staff loved them.”

Last year the Midland Hotel hosted the annual convention of Bradford’s Sons of the Desert 'tent'. More than 120 members attended, from across the UK and overseas. Bradford UNESCO City of Film helped secure permission to screen Way Out West and County Hospital during the weekend event.

City of Film director David Wilson says: “My early memory of cinema was Bradford’s ABC Club on Broadway on Saturday mornings; Laurel and Hardy films were regularly screened there. I’ve been a fan ever since.

“I think this new film could keep the legacy alive and bring the original works to a whole new audience. The fact that the duo performed in Bradford on two occasions adds another local heritage dimension.”