What Are the Sons of the Desert?
by Glenn Mitchell

At a glance, the name 'Sons of the Desert' might suggest a convention of Foreign legion veterans or else some nomadic band in search of an oasis. Those familiar with Laurel & Hardy however, will recognise it as the fictional lodge to which Stan and Ollie have pledged allegiance in their 1933 feature film of the same name (available from VVL in both restored monochrome and colourised versions).


It was the team's biographer, John McCabe who suggested forming the society as a focal point for afficionados. His first book, Mr Laurel & Mr Hardy, was published in 1961 and brought with it a massive increase in mail, both for himself and for the already besieged Stan Laurel, who made every effort to answer his correspondents personally. Oliver Hardy was by then deceased but Laurel gave the society his blessing once assured of it's non-adulatory tone. In choosing a name for what was intended as an essentially humorous lodge, 'Sons of the Desert' seemed inevitable; Laurel, however, favoured 'Boobs in the Woods' until alerted to the increasing use of 'boobs' as an anatomical term. McCabe drew up a mostly tongue-in-cheek constitution, for which Laurel supplied two comic emendations, among them the suggestion that, after seemingly endless rounds of cocktails, all delegates should park their camels, hire taxis then return for 'one for the desert'. Again, in keeping with the desert theme, the club's officers were given grandiose titles such as 'Grand Sheik' and 'Vice Sheik' (i.e. sheik in charge of vice), with the general implication that no such post should carry any real authority. One of the constitution's more serious points was that each individual branch was to be called a 'Tent', bearing the name of one of the Laurel & Hardy films.

Sadly, Laurel did not live to see the inaugural meeting, which took place in New York soon after the comedian's death in 1965. This original NY group is known today as 'Sons of the Desert' or, more commonly, the 'Founding Tent'; others have since spread throughout North America, Europe and even as far away as Australia. Some Tents assume a specialised brief, such as the 'Pardon Us' Tent - named for one of L&H's prison films - that once existed in a US jail. There are also occasional variants in terminology; one Tent, the 'Dancing Cuckoos', is named to honour the comedians theme tune (known formally as Dance of the Cuckoos). Otherwise the various Tents adhere to titles from the L&H films themselves, even the 'open' Tent (called Utopia) that is intended for those genuine nomads in regions where no formal branch exists. Many Tents produce newsletters or magazines, often to a high professional standard, frequently attracting subscribers far beyond their town - or even country - of origin. The official magazine for the society as a whole is known as 'The Intra-Tent Journal'. In addition to regular meetings of the individual Tents, there are conventions on both a national and, at two-yearly intervals, international level. Great Britain has so far hosted two such international gatherings, in 1984 and 1998.

One of the more frequently-posed questions is 'Are there any Daughters of the Desert?'. There are indeed many and the society is pleased to hear from all L&H enthusiasts, regardless of gender, bowler hat size or preference for Bactrian camel over Dromedary (or, in Stan's parlance, 'dormitory').

Visit the Sons of the Desert website.