FIFTY years ago last week Stan Laurel died.

Not the most significant anniversary of 2015 – it’s also half a century since the passing of Winston Churchill. But for me it has triggered a wave of nostalgia.

I first saw Laurel and Hardy on television when I was four – it must have been 1972 – and I immediately fell in love with their movies.

My tastes in comedy, films, art, music and literature may have broadened, deepened and matured, but I have always retained a special affection for those two funny men.

I’m thrilled both my children enjoy them too.

I grew up in the Lake District, just a bowler-hatted frisbee-throw from Stan Laurel’s birthplace, Ulverston. My dad used to take me to the Laurel and Hardy museum and afterwards he would park the car on the kerb outside the little terraced house where Stan was born.

Years later, working for the local paper, I interviewed the lady who lived there and felt a shiver of excitement sitting in the front room. She also showed me the wash house in the back yard where a young Stan read comics when he’d been banished there for being naughty.

Ten years ago, on the 40th anniversary of his death, I interviewed Stan’s cousin, by then a very old lady, but she recalled meeting him when he made music hall tours of Britain in the 1950s.

‘People always ask what he was like. He was just a relative to us. He didn’t talk much about his work. He talked about the family and his childhood,’ she told me.

It was during these tours that Laurel and Hardy appeared at Mr Smith’s (the Ritz Cinema then) in Warrington. Stan also appeared at the town’s Palace theatre on Friar’s Gate (now Showbar) understudying Charlie Chaplin as part of Fred Karno’s comedians in 1910.

So why have their films lasted almost 90 years when others’ have not got near that?

When I watch their films now on DVD I see how strongly the themes of loyalty, friendship, forgiveness and reconciliation run through them. I think it is this generosity of spirit that makes them universal and lifts them out of the time in which they were made.

Stan and Ollie frequently fell out with each other – usually prompting Ollie’s line ‘here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into’ – but they always made up and forgave each other. There was a genuine love between them.

I think our need for the balm of Stan and Ollie’s laughter is as great now as it ever was. Their tagline – ‘two minds without a single thought’ – could be applied to another comic coalition nearer to home, don’t you think?

Might explain this ‘fine mess’ our country finds itself in.