Del Kempster is the Grand Sheik of The Live Ghost tent of London.
Here is his story:

"I have loved the Laurel and Hardy films ever since I can remember. The first time I saw the boys on screen was at the "Saturday Morning Pictures" which was a children's matinee where they would show short films, cartoons and serials. Stan and Ollie's films were easily the most popular shown at the local cinema every Saturday morning, in fact when they announced the programme before the show started, a great cheer would go up when the names Laurel and Hardy were mentioned. If they were not included, however, the kids would show their opinions in no uncertain manner by loud booing. I don't think it would have mattered if they'd shown the same film every week - the kids would have been happy as long as Laurel and Hardy were on the screen. All the kids would whistle along with the tune of the Ku-Ku song that heralded the film. My sister Ann took me to see my first ever Saturday Morning Picture show, so she effectively introduced me to something that would play a large part of my life. Both of my sisters loved to imitate the film stars of the day and together they did a very good Laurel and Hardy act, so I had been influenced already, but it was actually seeing the real thing that was the clincher.


Perhaps some of those kids grew out of their admiration for those films, but I never did. I always liked to have photos of the boys on my walls and always devoured any literature on the subject. When they started showing Laurel and Hardy films on BBC television I was so happy, but was even more ecstatic when I bought my first video recorder and was able to record and watch these films over and over. My favourite piece of literature on the subject was (and still is) a book called "Laurel & Hardy", text by John McCabe, compiled by Al Kilgore, filmography by Richard W. Bann. As well as learning so much about these great films, I first learned of the Sons of the Desert from this book. It told how this splendid organisation began in New York and how other tents in various parts of America sprang up. I just wished there was a tent in Britain.

In 1980 my sister Ann went to live in California and one day in 1983 her son Mathew noticed an advertisement in the local newspaper for a tour of the locations where many of the Laurel and Hardy films had been made. The tour was organised by the Way Out West tent. Ann and Mathew went on the tour and had a thoroughly enjoyable day out. They particularly liked visiting the Perfect Day house and being allowed to walk on the lawn and take photographs. Of course, when they were leaving they all called out "Goodbye, we're going now. Goodbye!" as per the film, but what they didn't expect was that the present owners of the house came out to cheerfully join in the goodbyes. That was the icing on the cake for Ann. I received a letter from her enthusiastically telling me all about their great day out and informing me that while there they had found out that there was a Sons of the Desert tent called Helpmates in Chatham, Kent which is not too far from to where I live. She gave me the address to write to and I wasted no time in getting in touch with the Grand Sheik, Rob Lewis.

So, I joined the Sons of the Desert which turned out to be the smartest move I have ever made. I have met so many wonderful friends from all over the world. In those days, the Helpmates held tent meetings in Chatham and London and soon they were to jointly host the 1984 International Convention in England (the first half took place in London and the second in Ulverston). That was a very exciting time and I certainly looked forward to meeting our founder and exhausted ruler, John McCabe and other celebrities including Rosina Lawrence who played Mary Roberts in "Way Out West", Henry Brandon who played Silas Barnaby in "Babes in Toyland", and Jimmy Murphy who was Stan Laurel's valet. In addition, there would be hundreds of American and European Sons. I was not disappointed - a wonderful time was had by all. The preparations for our half of the convention were elaborate and detailed and volunteers among the Helpmates were needed to help with the organising. Along with Steve Robinson and Jim Hutchinson, two pals of mine I had recruited to the Sons, I volunteered. One of the tasks we volunteered for was going to Heathrow Airport to meet the planes from America bringing the delegates and seeing them safely on to the buses for their trip to their London hotel. I met people that day that I am still friends with. The second part of the convention took place in Stan Laurel's home town of Ulverston in the Lake District and that was absolutely magic.

I had enjoyed that convention so much that I did not want to miss the next one two years later in Valley Forge, hosted by the Two Tars tent of Philadelphia. I found an unbelievable sense of camaraderie there and the convention itself was absolutely brilliant. Details of that convention are fully documented elsewhere; suffice it to say that I quickly decided that I never wanted to miss any Sons of the Desert Convention if I could help it. My best memory of that particular convention was meeting Lois, Stan Laurel's daughter and her husband Tony Hawes. At the first banquet of the convention, Lois was introduced to the delegates and naturally there was tremendous applause. That evening I met Tony in the hotel bar, like me he was a Londoner and we got on very well. I told him that after the convention I would be heading for California to stay with my sister and when he found out I would be staying near his home he gave me his phone number and said we should meet for a drink. The next day I walked into the convention memorabilia room and there was Lois sitting there at one of the dealers' tables. She was selling T-Shirts and other L&H memorabilia, so I purchased some goods. Lois said she could tell I was from England because of my accent (I didn't realise I had an accent) and this was easy for her to spot because she had lived in London for quite a while. Then she asked me if I was going straight back to London after the convention or whether I planned to visit any other part of the U.S.A. When I said that I would be going to California she asked "what part?" Well, I just couldn't resist it; I replied "all of me!" Well, she laughed and laughed so much. I knew she must have heard that joke so many times before, so it was really kind of her to laugh that much. When she laughs like that, she looks so much like her Dad when he is in hysterical laughter, like in the film "Blotto"! We seemed to get on very well and, just like Tony, she said we would have to get together in California and we gave each other our phone numbers. I felt that chatting to her like that was the best thing that had ever happened to me. When I did get to California I told my sister that I would like to meet up with some friends I had met at the convention and asked her if she would like to come along too. I deliberately did not mention that she would be meeting Stan Laurel's daughter - this was my surprise for her and I thought it would go some way to paying her back for introducing me to Laurel and Hardy all those years before. However, Ann answered the phone when Lois rang me and straight away she guessed she was talking to Stan's daughter. "I would have been furious with you had I not known who it was" Ann told me, "I would have just gone to meet them wearing T-shirt and jeans, but now I know who I will be meeting I really want to dress up!" So much for my surprise. Well, Ann got on so well with Tony and Lois that they became great friends and visited each other regularly. Sadly, Tony has passed on, but Lois and Ann are still great friends.

Somebody else that I introduced Ann to was Anita Garvin. After the 1988 convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, a group of us went on to Los Angeles for more fun and it was at a Way Out West tent meeting that I first met the lovely Anita. She was able to relate such fantastic stories about when she worked with Laurel and Hardy. I wanted to hear more so I invited her to lunch the next day and she said she would be delighted to come. She lived in the Samuel Goldwyn Motion Picture Home and although it is the very best of its kind, it's still "a retirement home" and the daily routine does get monotonous for the residents. I was travelling with my pal Steve Robinson so I invited him and Ann once again and we all had a wonderful time. At that time Ann was thinking of becoming a volunteer at the home and on hearing this, Anita encouraged her. So Ann became a volunteer and although she loved all the people that she helped to look after there, she always took a special interest in Anita. I was particularly pleased that Ann was going to look after Anita. Whenever I went over to California to visit Ann, of course I also had to go to see Anita, which was something I always looked forward to. She was so much fun and she never stopped trying to make people laugh - all she had to do was pull a funny face and I could not stop laughing. Anita passed on in the home just before the 1994 International Convention took place in New York. We still miss her delightful company.

In 1994 a few of us decided to start our own tent in London. The Helpmates had long since stopped having meetings there and we felt our Nation's capital deserved to be represented. Tony and Lois enthusiastically encouraged us to go ahead with this idea and I do not think the plan would ever have been fulfilled had it not been for their help and support. So at the 1994 International Convention we announced the formation of The Live Ghost tent of London. I was elected the Grand Sheik, but as per our constitution, I have an absolute lack of authority. Our policy is to make all decisions as democratic as possible; we have an organising committee without whose support the tent could not function. Our committee all feel that Laurel and Hardy have given us so much joy over the years that we want to help to keep their names in the public eye so that their memory will never die. But we do have another motive for doing what we do. Stan's declaration in the early days of the Sons of the Desert, that "In addition to having a half assed dignity about it, the only thing that I really insist on is that everybody have a hell of a lot of fun" is our tenet. These days it is important to be able to relax and forget the troubles of the world for a while. At our meetings, we can appreciate the boys' films, relax among friends and chat about Laurel and Hardy (or anything else) and let our hair down if we want to. We are confident that those two great stars would have approved of our actions."

Del Kempster
December 2001