Laurel & Hardy try their best French in a unique recording


Digitisation lacquer and shellac discs uncovers audio recordings

On the 9th of December 1947, radio reporter Bert Leysen interviewed American actors Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, right before their show in Brussels’ Alhambra Theatre. The interview is the only radio interview preserved from Laurel & Hardy’s Belgian visit and one of the very few in which Stan Laurel has a modest try at some French. The discs, on which the voices of icons as Laurel and Hardy are saved, are not only valuable and fascinating heritage, but they are also quite fragile. Since they are likely to become unreadable, VIAA, together with VRT and Gecko, has started digitising 20.000 lacquer and shellac discs from 17 Flemish heritage organisations and the VRT.

With the digitisation of these discs, VIAA and its partners will save an important part of our collective memory from irreversible decay. The content of the records is particularly diverse and varies from Flemish and Dutch music over speeches, cabaret and language courses to radio shows from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Not only did we rediscover Laurel & Hardy, we also found a live reporting from 1936 in which black athlete Jesse Owens becomes Olympic champion on the 100 meters sprint, before the eyes of Adolf Hitler. Only a few live recordings of this historical contest have been preserved in the entire world. Even within the VRT collection this is a unique piece: only a few sports reports have been saved from the mid thirties. On top of that we can listen to the final meters of the world championship cycling on the road in Valkenburg 1938, though it is reported in a variant of Dutch that is no longer spoken on radio or television. As far as is known, this is the only radio reporting preserved from this race.

"The record players on which the lacquer and shellac discs can be played, are still easily available, but the discs themselves are very fragile and will not be playable for much longer. To secure the future of this audiovisual heritage, we are starting the digitisation of 20.000 discs, together with VRT and French digitisation company Gecko. This digitisation will take 30 months, until the end of 2019, and will be carried out at VRT. By not only digitising the records, but also preserving the contents in a sustainable, digital way, we want to make them accessible not only for education, research and the general public, but also for the listeners of the future."

Nico Verplancke
Director VIAA

Listen to the fragments

Background for the 3 fragments 

1.    Bert Leysen interviews Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in 1947:

On the 9th of December 1947 radio reporter Bert Leysen interviews American actors Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy right before their show at the Alhambra theatre in Brussels. Their visit is part of a European tour of the comic pair that will last  a whopping nine months. Six years later, reporter Bert Leysen would become a founding father of the national television in Flanders and would guide it until his sudden death in 1960. This interview is the only one saved from the visit of Laurel and Hardy to Belgium and one of the very few in which Stan Laurel speaks some modest French.

2.    100 meters sprint at the Olympics in Berlin 1936:

Berlin, 4th of August 1936. Before the eyes of Adolf Hitler, black American athlete Jesse Owens becomes an Olympic champion on the 100 meters sprint. Gust De Muynck, reporter of the NIR, does a live reporting of this historic and symbolical match. Notable are the first chipped words of the fragment. De Muynck describes how little holes are dug in the arena: precursors of the starting blocks of today. In the whole world, only a limited amount of live radio reportings of this match are preserved. Within the VRT collection, this is also quite a unique piece: not many sports reportings from the mid thirties were saved.

3.    The final meters of the world championship cycling on the road in Valkenburg 1938:

4th of September 1938, Valkenburg, The Netherlands. The Belgian Marcel Kint becomes world champion in cycling on the road. NIR reporter Frans Dirickx reports in a Dutch that is far removed from the standard Dutch that became the norm on the radio after World War II. As far as we know, this is the only radio reporting saved from this match.

Participating partners

ADVN, AMSAB, Cultureel Erfgoed Annuntiaten, Huis van Alijn, KADOC, KC Antwerpen, Letterenhuis, Liberaal archief, Musea Brugge, Museum Deinze, Provinciale Bibliotheek Limburg, Sportimonium, Stadsarchief Gent, Stadsarchief Halle/den Ast, Stadsarchief Mechelen, Stadsmuseum Lokeren, UGent, VRT

Contact VIAA

Nico Verplancke
0497 85 03 58

Contact VRT
Christine Fetweiss
0473 82 58 01