That's another fine mess the recession's gotten us into, say Laurel and Hardy fans

IT HAS brought some of the worlds largest financial institutions to its knees and now it appears that Scotland's Laurel and Hardy fan club is the latest victim of the credit crunch.

Organisers of the group, which calls itself "Sons of the Desert" after the 1933 film, claim the downturn has meant a sharp rise in membership fees.

The group, which was founded in 1965, meets in pubs and clubs around the country to watch films by the comedy duo.

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Members wear fezzes, don flowing robes and call their meeting venues "tents".

Now organisers are saying pubs and clubs where they meet have put up the rent for the rooms used and they have no choice but to charge members more. And they fear if fans are unable to find the extra cash, they will leave the club and use the internet to contact fellow members instead.

But Charlie Lewis, 47, "Grand Sheik" of one of the biggest tents in Scotland, says he will fight to prevent that. Mr Lewis, from the Block-Heads tent – named after the 1938 film – said he had been forced to raise annual membership fees by almost a 1 a month to 25.

He said: "We are determined to fight the credit crunch and would even meet in people's homes if it came to the push.

"Being a member of a virtual tent and watching films on the web doesn't appeal to me, to be honest. Part of the appeal of the tents is meeting people with the same interests and having a lot of fun.

"We meet up once a month to watch Laurel and Hardy films and there is a fantastic atmosphere. Our members come from all walks of life and people bring their children along."

Mr Lewis, a civil servant, told members in his "The Sheik Speaks" column in the Block-Heads' Bulletin that they would have three months to pay the increased fee of 90p a month, which he said was due to the "the current financial gloom".

Members of the 20-strong tent, one of the biggest in Scotland, were also told: "If we could have possibly avoided this scenario, we would have, but we no longer have the funds to maintain such low rates."

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Mr Lewis added that his tent, like many others, was also facing extra costs converting to digital technology.

The Sons of the Desert was founded in 1965 in New York by John McCabe, biographer of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

It has grown into a worldwide organisation, with 38 tents in the UK having approximately 5,000 members.

A police force in the US has formed its own tent, while fans in Stranraer started up the Their Purple Moment tent partly in honour of the 1928 film but also, bizarrely, in memory of Operation Purple, a Nato exercise in Galloway in 1985.

Willie McIntyre, a retired nuclear physicist from Largs, who is the Grand Sheik of Scotland, and runs the Call of the Cuckoos tent, said:

"There is an extra quality to be derived by watching the films in larger groups than those which can be fitted into your living room, so the Sons of the Desert love to congregate.

"The Sons of the Desert have been known to plead for meeting rooms without a fee and this will no doubt be necessary again."

Mark Cousins, a film critic, backed the Sons of the Desert campaign. He said:

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"It would be a real shame if something like the credit crunch threatened them."

Classic moments on the trail of the lonesome pine

SIX of the best Laurel and Hardy moments:

1. In The Music Box, the duo take on the characters of the most unsuccessful removal men since Sisyphus struggled uphill with his boulder.

In the short film, the pair attempt to deposit a piano at the top of an enormous flight of steps, but are instead condemned to watch it repeatedly roll down to the bottom and crash on the street below, often with Oliver Hardy in tow.

2. In Way Out West, the pair perform the most exquisite and comical dance to a saloon band's rendition of The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, then embark on their own (rather painful) attempt to sing the classic song.

3. In Busy Bodies, Oliver Hardy succeeds in attaching a paint brush to his face with glue. Luckily, Stan Laurel is on hand to shave it off – but the only implement to hand is a carpenter's plane. Painfully funny.

4. In Our Wifie, Stan Laurel provides the getaway vehicle for Oliver Hardy who is eloping with his fiance (a woman as sturdily built as her sweetheart). Unfortunately, the car is tiny and much mirth ensues as Laurel attempts to shoehorn them both into the vehicle.

5. Wearing each other's trousers in Liberty. Stan and Ollie are prison escapees and in their haste to change into street clothes, they end up wearing each other's trousers. Every attempt to switch trousers winds up with them getting caught.

6. Oliver Hardy carrying Stan Laurel to his car in Block-Heads, thinking he is a war amputee – he later discovers Stan has two functional legs and just had one tucked under him in his wheelchair.