47 Years Without A Clue: FeaturingGraeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Barry Cryer Talk With Rob Brydon
During Slapstick 2020, the I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue team gathered in Bristol for an event celebrating the legacy of Britain’s best-loved radio panel game show.
At the time, we had no idea that the world was about to become engulfed in a global pandemic; or that we would soon lose one of our most popular festival attendees, the lovely Tim Brooke-Taylor, shortly after. This event was the very last time Tim performed with his old playmates, Graeme and Barry.
Hosted by Rob Brydon, the team gave us an unforgatable night, enjoy!
Step inside Bristol’s spectacular Cathedral for a very special triple-bill of silent comedy classics on the big screen, accompanied by live music.
Join us for an evening of live music and classic onscreen comedies in an event showcasing your all-time favourite comedy stars.
Your host for the evening will be the hugely gifted actor, comedian, presenter and writer, Steven Mangan, who achieved fame through TV roles in Green Wing, Episodes, Dirk Gently and The Split (among others) and has subsequently also written a best-selling children’s book, Escape The Rooms.
Stephen is a huge Buster Keaton and Laurel & Hardy fan, and he can’t wait to introduce Buster to new audiences at Slapstick Festival’s 17th annual Silent Comedy Gala.
The highlight of the evening is a complete screening of Buster Keaton’s last great film, the outstanding comedy masterpiece The Cameraman (1928). Accompanied by an improvised score from The European Silent Screen virtuosi featuring Günter A. Buchwald, Frank Bockius and Romano Todesco, the film famously features several of the most celebrated sequences in cinema history.
Other highlights include short comedies from the timeless Laurel & Hardy and thrill picture legend Harold Lloyd. This truly will be a thrill-packed evening – not to be missed!
Book early to avoid disappointment and get the best view in the house!
“A Bristol Institution” Bristol Post.
Date: Friday 28th January 2022 Time: 8pm Venue: Bristol Cathedral Price: £12.00 – £25.00, Plus booking fees.
Following a hugely successful pivot to online for the 2021 edition, Slapstick Festival is thrilled to announce that it will be returning to Bristol venues for its 18th edition in January 2022!
The five-day festival will run from Wednesday 26th to Sunday 30th January 2022.
Excitingly, around a third of the events will also be streamed online, making for our most accessible festival ever!
We can’t wait to share more information about Slapstick 2022 with you very soon!
Festival Director Chris Daniels says
“This is definitely shaping up to be our most exciting programme to date. Given that we’ve been away for almost two years and that so many people have been having such a terrible time living through this pandemic we really want to deliver something very special this year. Having Stephen (Mangan) onboard as the host of our flagship gala event too is wonderful, Steven is such a passionate admirer of Keaton and he absolutely loves silent comedy! What’s more is he’s a hugely talented comic actor and presenter, so he’s the perfect host for us..”
The first festival tickets, including the gala, will go on-sale in early October when the first events are announced.
With rare screenings of Czechoslovakian and Japanese silent comedies and the return of festival regulars Lucy Porter, Robin Ince and Bill Oddie this edition will delight and charm comedy fans of all ages.
Many of Chaplin’s admirers regard The Kid as his most beautiful and most personal film. In honour of this year’s screening over the coming weeks we’ll be looking at the heartache that inspired this beloved classic. As a special treat, we’ve got our hands on extracts from David Robinson’s biography of Chaplin. Patron and filmhistorian, David Robinson, is a renowned film critic and scholar, whose books Hollywood in the Twenties (1968), The History of World Cinema (1973) and official biographies of both Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin have been critically acclaimed. We’ll be serialising parts from David Robinson’s biography of Chaplin, which looks in greater depth than ever before at Chaplin’s humble beginnings and the events in his life that motivated his work.
For those who have never delved into the history of silent comedy, Chaplin’s life started with great upheaval. He was born in 1889 to Hannah Chaplin and Charles Chaplin, Senior. Both his parents were music hall entertainers, but sadly never achieved fame. The temptations of the music halls meant both Charlie’s parents were distracted and often unable to take care of him. His parents married, but separated when Charlie was small.
His mother Hannah, suffered with mental illness most likely brought on by syphilis. Accepting this was incredibly difficult for Charlie, who often tried to be by her side as much as he could until her death in 1928. Charlie and his stepbrothers George and Sydney had to fend for themselves from an early age, and all had to suffer the hardships of workhouses when Hannah could not take care of them. By the age of nine Charlie had been sent to a workhouse twice. The workhouses were harsh places, effectively a prison for the poor. Despite all this Charlie was a resilient and plucky child, who remained determined and lively even given all the hardships he faced. Coping in London as two young boys, with no parents and little guidance, must have been terrifying. Born from his turbulent childhood, , The Kid shows some of the loneliness and desperation Chaplin must have felt, at this difficult time in his life.
Extract one : A london Boyhood
The Early life of Charlie chaplin
The career of Charles Chaplin Senior [Charlie Chaplin’s father] had a slower start than Hannah’s [his mother] but a more promising progression. At first he worked as a mimic, but soon developed into what was called a ‘dramatic and descriptive singer’ exerting a strong attraction upon his audiences. Chaplin described him as a quiet, brooding man with dark eyes, and said that Hannah thought he looked like Napoleon. The portraits that appear on the sheet music of his song successes show him with dark eyes that seem somewhat melancholy despite the broad prop grin.
Drink was the endemic disease of the music halls. They had evolved from drinking establishments and the sale of liquor still made up an important part of the managers’ incomes. When they were not on stage the artists were expected to mingle with the audiences in the bars, to encourage conviviality and consumption – which inevitably was best achieved by example. Poor Chaplin was only one of many who succumbed to alcoholism as an occupational hazard.
In 1890, however, he was still leaping from success to success. In the summer he was invited to sign for an American tour, and in August and September was appearing in New York at the Union Square Theatre. The American trip, however, seems to have marked the final break-up of the Chaplins’ marriage. Hannah had given birth to Leo Dryden’s son, George Dryden Wheeler. Thus the young Charles Chaplin found himself fatherless, but with another half-brother. He was three and a half; Sydney was four years older. In his autobiography he recalls that at this time the children and their mother were still living in some affluence. However the comfort which sheltered Chaplin’s first three or four years was soon to end. Hannah’s liaison with Leo did not long survive the birth of their child. Hannah seems to have been a devoted, affectionate and protective mother, and to have loved the new baby as fiercely as she did her older sons. It is easy then to appreciate the shock that she must have suffered in the spring of 1893 when the appalling Dryden entered her lodgings and snatched away their six-month-old son. The baby was to vanish from the lives of the Chaplins for almost thirty years.
Soon after Charlie’s sixth birthday, the family’s situation reached a new crisis. Hannah became ill – it is not certain with what, but Chaplin recalls that she suffered from acute headaches. On 29 June she was admitted to the Lambeth Infirmary, where she .stayed until the end of July. On 1 July Sydney was taken into Lambeth Workhouse, and four days later placed in the West Norwood Schools, which accommodated the infant poor of Lambeth.
In September Hannah was again taken into the Infirmary, and Sydney and Charlie, now eleven and seven, were admitted to the workhouse, ‘owing to the absence of their father and the destitution and illness of their mother’’. Charles Chaplin Senior was traced and reluctantly appeared before the District Relief Committee. Somewhat heartlessly, he told them that while he was willing to take Charlie, he would not accept responsibility for Sydney, who was born illegitimate.
The Committee retorted that since Chaplin had married the boy’s mother, he was now legally liable for Sydney’s maintenance. At this stage, however, Hannah intervened to reject the idea of the boys living with their father as wholly repugnant, since he was living with another woman. Charles was not slow to point out her own adultery. No doubt somewhat bewildered by the family bickering, the Relief Committee decided that it was desirable to keep the boys together and that the best solution would be to place them in the Central London District Poor Law School at Hanwell.
From his incredible hardship in his earlier years to the famous persona we all know today as the iconic Chaplin; Chaplin’s dramatic ‘rags to riches’ story is an extraordinary tale of determination and ambition. In our next series of blogs, we’ll be exploring Chaplin’s later years looking at howhe attracted attention as a young performer, and track the route he took to stardom in America.
We’ll also be sharing Chaplin trivia acorss our social channels so don’t forget to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to find out more about Chaplin, and other famous silent stars.
 Glenn Mitchell, op.cit. cites an intriguing ‘personal ad’ in The Entr’acte of 29 January 1887: ‘To Charles Chaplin – send address to “L.H.”, 56 Darwin Street, Old Kent Road, Very ill’. If ‘L.H.’ was Hannah, it may be that the irregularities of the Chaplin marriage had begun before the birth of Charles Junior
Exclusive extract from David Robinson’s new Biography
Charlie Chaplin is still known as the world’s most famous film star. Despite his huge success in the movies, Chaplin came from difficult beginnings. In our first blog, we looked at his childhood in workhouses, where Charlie and his stepbrother Sydney had to fend for themselves during their early adolescent years. In this extract, we look at how Charlie and Sydney coped in this ever-changing environment, and how both boys went on to become entertainers. Unlike his earlier childhood days, luck began to shine on Chaplin. Read on to find out more.
[Hannah] had dermatitis and her body was covered in bruises. No one troubled or dared to inquire into the cause of her injuries; they were most likely explained by violent encounters with other patients as a result of her mental condition. The doctor has scribbled the abbreviation ‘Syp.’ in the corner of the form recording her physical condition on admission, suggesting that he may have supposed or suspected tertiary syphilis as the cause of her disorder. There is no other evidence to support this, though Chaplin to the end of his life appears to have been fascinated and frightened by this venereal disease. Hannah was committed to Cane Hill Asylum, the doctors reporting:
Has been very strange in manner – at one time abusive & noisy, at another using endearing terms. Has been confined in P[added] R[oom] repeatedly on a/c of sudden violence – threw a mug at another patient. Shouting, singing and talking incoherently. Complains of her head and depressed and crying this morning – dazed and unable to give any reliable information. Asks if she is dying. States she belongs to Christ Church (Congregation) which is Ch. of E. She was sent here on a mission here by the Lord. Says she wants to get out of the World.clothes.
On 12. November 1898 she was discharged from Cane Hill Asylum, and soon afterwards gathered up her sons from 289 Kennington Road. The three of them moved into a room at 39 Methley Street, behind Haywards’ pickle factory which exuded a pungent atmosphere throughout the neighbourhood. Their home was next to a slaughterhouse; and Chaplin remembered the horror with which he realised that a merry slapstick chase after a runaway sheep was destined to end in tragedy and the slaughter of the entertaining animal.
The beginning of his career: Background
Charlie first performed at the age of twelve, when he got a chance to act in a stage show. He left school permanently at thirteen and followed his ambition to become an actor. It’s extraordinary that Chaplin was so determined to do this, given the fates both his parents suffered in pursuit of the same. Chaplin worked hard from a young age, and his comic performances were quickly noticed by critics who saw him in his early shows, like Jim, A Romance of Cockayne.
By the age of sixteen Chaplin had toured the country twice with different theatre companies. His older brother Sydney had also had some success, and brought Charlie along with him. Charlie met Fred Karno (who ran a prestigious comedy company) but didn’t impress him at first. Karno said Charlie was ‘pale, puny and sullen-looking.’ But within a few months Charlie had become the star of the company, and went to America with Karno’s support.
Chaplin toured America twice with Karno’s comedy group, and on the second tour was invited to join the New York Motion Picture Company. By 1913 Chaplin was earning $150 a week, and had the promise of a new life. He went on to become an international superstar, America’s highest paid actor and still one of Hollywood’s most iconic faces. His childhood, though difficult, had given him the resilience and drive to conquer the American film industry.
On Friday 25 November 1898 Charlie Chaplin was now to become a professional entertainer. In early interviews he occasionally gave rather romantic accounts of his discovery by William Jackson, the founder of the Eight Lancashire Lads:
One day I was giving an exhibition of the ordinary street Arab’s contortions, the kind so common in the London streets, when I saw a man watching me intently. ‘That boy is a born actor!’ I heard him say, and then to me, ‘Would you like to be an actor?’ I scarcely knew what an actor was in those days, though my mother and father had both been connected with the music hall stage for years, but anything that promised work and the rewards of work as a means of getting out of the dull rut in which I found myself was welcome.
In his autobiography Charlie remembered that he had to rehearse his clog dancing for six weeks before he was allowed to appear – almost paralysed with stage fright. His debut may, then, have been at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, where the troupe appeared in the Christmas pantomime Babes in the Wood which opened on Christmas Eve. If so, Charles Chaplin Senior would have been on hand to watch his son’s first steps: he opened on Boxing Day at the Manchester Tivoli. Certainly Charlie was working with the troupe by 9 January 1899, when he was enrolled by Mrs Jackson at the Armitage Street School, Ardwick, Manchester.
Even to a ten-year-old in a troupe of clog dancers, the music halls of those times must have provided an incomparable schooling in method, technique and discipline. A music hall act had to seize and hold its audience and to make its mark within a very limited time – between six and sixteen minutes. The audience was not indulgent, and the competition was relentless. The performer in the music hall could not rely on a sympathetic context or build-up: Sarah Bernhardt might find herself following Lockhart’s Elephants on the bill. So every performer had to learn the secrets of attack and structure, the need to give the act a crescendo – a beginning, a middle and a smashing exit – to grab the applause. He had to learn to command every sort of audience, from a lethargic Monday first-house to the Saturday rowdies
Ill fortune had not done buffeting the Chaplins. Charles was aware that his mother was sick again. She had grown listless, seemed unconcerned when the sweat shop for whom she sewed stopped giving her work and took back the sewing machine, and neglected the little room. In May Charlie arrived home to be told by other children around the door that his mother had gone insane. He had the job of leading her to the Infirmary in Renfrew Road and then, as her nearest known relative, reporting the case to the authorities. He had just turned fourteen. The medical certificate records: ‘Charles Chaplin, son, 3 Pownall Terrace, Kennington Road, states she keeps on mentioning a lot of people who are dead and fancies she can see them looking out of the window and talking to imaginary people – going into strangers’ rooms etc.’ Hannah’s delightful window entertainments had passed into the region of madness.
While waiting for Sydney’s return, Charlie remembered making friends with some wood-choppers – also working in a mews behind Kennington Road – and that one of them treated him to a gallery seat at the South London Music Hall in London Road, Lambeth. The star act was Fred Karno’s Early Birds. This was his first encounter with the company in which he was first to achieve fame. Sydney finally arrived home, and Charlie at last could share his troubles. They went to Cane Hill to visit Hannah and were shocked at how ill she looked. Charlie was long and deeply troubled by her reproach, ‘If only you had given me a cup of tea that afternoon I would have been all right.’
Sydney announced that he had come home for good. He had saved enough to live on for the next few months, and had determined go on the stage. It was an ambition which his younger brother shared. Many years later he was to tell his son (a third Charles Chaplin), ‘Even when I was in the orphanage, when I was roaming the streets trying to find enough to eat to keep alive, even then I thought of myself as the greatest actor in the world. I had to feel that exuberance that comes from utter confidence in yourself. Without that you go down to defeat’.
Facts you might not have known about Chaplin
Chaplin could play piano, violin and cello, all of which he taught himself as a child
Charlie Chaplin never shot a film from a completed script once in his career. The scripts would simply say ‘Charlie enters a shop’ or something vague, and Chaplin would work out the gags once on set.
Chaplin was meticulous about his work, and took longer to complete his pictures than any other filmmaker at the time
In the Kid, it took 53 takes to achieve every finished take that appeared in the final cut.
Charlie married four times, and had 11 children
In the 1950s, he was accused of being a communist and was deported from the US. He lived in Switzerland with his fourth wife for the rest of his life.
We hope this has given you an insight into the background that gave Chaplin such depth, and pathos as a performer. His dramatic ‘rags to riches’ story inspired the Kid, and is an extraordinary tale of determination and ambition.
Next up we look at David Robison’s study of Chaplin’s early life. You can also follow us on Twitter or Facebook to find out more about Chaplin, and the equally wonderful stars of the silent era.
 Lambeth Board of Guardians, Lunacy Examinations Book, 12 September 1898, GLC Archives.
This event is now over, you can, however, download the event program below
Full details about the festival, which we’re proud to run out of Bristol, a UNESCO City of Film, can be found either on the Eventive website itself or via our programme which is available to download as a pdf.
The 16th edition of Bristol’s own Slapstick Festival celebrates comedy in all its aspects – the never-surpassed classic silent film comedy, the great era of classic comedy on television, and live visual performance.
Rediscovered silent comedy classics will be seen at Watershed and Bristol Cathedral on 23rd and 24th January, in part chosen by our guest curator: Serge Bromberg, founder-director of Lobster films, and one of the world’s great saviours and restorers of “lost” historic films.
Please support Slapstick’s Big Comedy Night In and help save Slapstick 2021!
We are delighted to announce that a stellar line-up of the UK’s best-known comedians and entertainers will take part in an online comedy show on Sunday 27 September (7.30 pm start) as part of efforts to stave off the financial crisis facing Slapstick Festival because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Frankie Boyle, Jo Brand, Rob Brydon, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, Lee Mack, Stephen Merchant, Lucy Porter, Richard Herring, Harry Hill and Michael Palin are just some of the stars lined up to appear in Slapstick’s one-off Big Comedy Night In, being hosted live by comedian, broadcaster and Slapstick supporter Robin Ince.
The online show is being put on to replace the live fundraisers which usually provide 80% of the festival’s finances throughout the year and are now impossible due to Covid19.
Laurel & Hardy: Bacon Grabbers (1929) Live At Slapstick Festival With Marcus Brigstocke
Laurel & Hardy: Bacon Grabbers (1929) Live At Slapstick Festival With Marcus Brigstocke
In January 2019 the Slapstick gala moved to The Hippodrome for the first year ever, where it was hosted by satirist and comedian Marcus Brigstocke.
Coming as the gala did hot on the heels of the release of Stan & Ollie (2018), the film starring Steve Coogan and John C Reilly, we knew when we were programming it that a classic Laurel & Hardy silent would have to feature. We chose their 1929 two-reeler Bacon Grabbers and commissioned a score from Martin Pring of Bristol Ensemble.
As part of our Laughter in Lockdown series from the Slapstick archive, we now present the archive recording of the world premiere of Martin’s score, along with some audience laughter to boot!
This release represents the first opportunity for people who were not in the audience on the night to hear it!