DETAILS of a fun family festival inspired by County Durham’s rich history have been revealed by organisers.

It is being staged in Bishop Auckland, once the childhood home of comedy great Stan Laurel, who was a pupil at King James School.

More than a century later, another former pupil is launching a new entertainment festival to bring smiles and laughter to local people.

Thomas Wales is founder of Baccanalia, a new two-day entertainment festival running at Bishop Auckland Town Hall from April 30 to May 1, with a line-up of high quality entertainers from TV, stage and the live comedy circuit.

Wales was inspired to create Baccanalia after coming home to Bishop Auckland during the Covid-19 pandemic, following more than a decade working on live festivals and events across the UK and Australia.

He said: “Growing up in Bishop Auckland, I always knew about the town’s links to Stan Laurel and the fact that we went to the same school.

“The town is transformed now and has carved out a place for itself on Britain’s cultural map.

“When I got home, I started to think about events that would make arts and culture accessible for all and engaging for the communities in the towns and villages around South Durham, which is how Baccanalia was born.”

The Northern Echo: Baccanalia Festival founder Thomas Wales. Picture: CURIOUS 12Baccanalia Festival founder Thomas Wales. Picture: CURIOUS 12

Audiences are invited to spend the early May Bank Holiday weekend watching comedy, cabaret, magical performance, storytelling, family-friendly workshops, burlesque, drag, silent disco and club nights.

A bronze statue of Stan Laurel, one half of Laurel and Hardy, stands in the town’s Theatre Square; where his father had once been manager of The Eden Theatre.

Mr Wales said: “I looked back in time for inspiration, past Stan Laurel in 1902-3, to ancient Rome and the Romans who were posted here at Binchester Fort and passed by on the old Dere Street supply route.

“The Romans loved a good party and threw lavish events to honour Bacchus, the God of wine and good times.

“So I thought, ‘why not do the same today’ for local people.

“Baccanalia is a different kind of entertainment experience. It’s a locally produced ‘multi-gen’ festival aimed at local people of any age and generation.”

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The Northern Echo: Baccanalia founder Thomas Wales in front of Bishop Auckland Town Hall. Picture: CURIOUS 12Baccanalia founder Thomas Wales in front of Bishop Auckland Town Hall. Picture: CURIOUS 12

The line-up includes Paul Sinha (The Chase ITV), magician Tom Brace, an improv musical, audience determined murder mystery and comedian Katie Pritchard performing her debut show for the Edinburgh Fringe festival Baccanalia Festival is supported by Bishop Auckland Town Hall and further funding has been received from Bishop Auckland Town Council to stage Bishop Auckland’s Christmas Town, as well as multi-day celebrations for the Queen’s Jubilee extended Bank Holiday weekend from June 2 to 5.

All Baccanalia events take place at Bishop Auckland Town Hall with the programme running from Saturday April 30 to Sunday May 1.

Performances are individually ticketed and are available online at or by calling the Box Office at Bishop Auckland Town Hall on 03000-266-600.


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