Stan and Ollie’s ‘third man’ is a real Larbert hero

Alistair Young, pictured beside a portrait of his illustrious cousin.
Alistair Young, pictured beside a portrait of his illustrious cousin.

Actor James Finlayson has been honoured with a street name in Larbert and also a plaque ...but is that really enough for an immortal comedy superstar of the silver screen?

No, says Finlayson fanatic Alistair Young, who confesses to being obsessed with the man, his own family ties, and the slow-burning crusade to give him the recognition he is surely due.

James Finlayson, right, in classic form with Laurel and Hardy in Big Business (1929).

James Finlayson, right, in classic form with Laurel and Hardy in Big Business (1929).

A statue in Falkirk, or home town Larbert?

Finlayson is an actor modern audiences will have seen dozens of times in Laurel and Hardy films - in fact he starred in no less than 33 of them.

Born in Larbert, he emigrated to the States, where the big showbiz action was, and passed away in Los Angeles after a massively successful international career.

The recent launch of the movie Stan and Ollie has a brief cameo of Finlayson -complete with Scottish accent - but possibly only serious movie buffs would realise who he really was.

Now, says Alistair, it’s time to give this wideranging comic actor (whose repertoire extended far beyond Laurel and Hardy films) the credit he is due - especially in the area where he was born.

Alistair is a proud member of the Finlayson “tent” of the Sons of the Desert - the Laurel and Hardy tribute organisation which has branches all over the world - and hopes this may serve as a rallying point for local people who. like him, are related to the great man, or who simply want to honour his spectacular achievement.

He thinks it curious that while (for example) Stan Laurel’s British and Scottish roots have been fairly well publicised the actor many film buffs still think of as Laurel and Hardy’s ‘third man’ tends to be remembered vaguely, if at all.

Yet people still watch movies (like “Big Business”, a salutary tale of dispute escalating into all-out war) in which he’s very much more than just “a straight man”.

In “Bonnie Scotland” he’s the irascible Scottish sergeant major who tries and fails to make real soldiers out of Stan and Ollie, who happen to be serving in a Highland regiment in the wilds of the North West Frontier.

Besides his considerable theatre career (which included work in Edinburgh, long before he hit the big time) James also starred alongside close personal friend Ben Turpin - another famous comic actor of his day.

Alistair says: “He later sadly became a pall bearer at Turpin’s funeral - it’s just one detail of his career that illustrates how closely involved he was with the big names of the film industry in that golden age”.

He adds: “Finlayson isn’t perhaps as well known as he should be in his native land, but in America - where genealogy is such a big deal - there are plenty of people interested in tracing their genuine Scottish roots through this fascinating man”.

Alistair reckons that if the actor had in fact been American his birthplace would probably host a fully-fledged tourist attraction, or possibly a museum.

Meanwhile he reminds people who know little of Finlayson’s career that his famous catchword has since been immortalised in the character of Homer Simpson.

“It is absolutely true”, he says. “That ‘Doh!’ was Finlayson’s famous expression of exasperation - and it turned out to be an inspirational choice for Homer.”

James Henderson Finlayson was born on August 27, 1887, and died on October 9, 1953 in Los Angeles, California.

One of nine siblings, his parents were Alexander Finlayson and Isabella (née Henderson) Finlayson - who was one of Alistair’s great-grandmother Jane Calder ((née Henderson) Adam’s younger sisters ... which makes Alistair a first cousin twice removed from the great man himself.

He has been researching the family roots since February last year, and thanks to social media has uncovered a mass of detail from both sides of the Atlantic, but the hunt goes on - particularly for relatives in Falkirk Larbert-Stenhousemuir and Grangemouth.

Alistair hopes any Falkirk Herald readers linked to Finlayson will get in touch, and help bring the scattered clan together for a fresh bid to honour his memory in his own homeland. He can be contacted via the dedicated email address: our.relations.tent.of.jhf@btinternet.com