DIGNITARIES joined a lookalike of one of the nation's best-loved comedians as he switched on the Christmas lights in a town centre.

Peter Jones dressed up as Stan Laurel to switch on Bishop Auckland's festive illuminations yesterday.

Mr Jones is assistant Grand Vizier from the Hog Wild Tent of the Sons of the Desert, the Laurel and Hardy Appreciation Society, in the town.

He was joined by Bishop Auckland MP Derek Foster, Bishop of Durham Tom Wright, Wear Valley District Council leader Councillor Margaret Jones, Councillor Alex Clemments and Stan Patterson, Grand Sheikh of the Laurel and Hardy group.

The small ceremony in the market square marked the start of good times ahead for the town where traders have been working hard to put it back on the map.

Town centre manager Derek Toon told shoppers who gathered for the occasion that Bishop Auckland had never looked better.

He said: "We bought the Christmas lights last year.

"This year we decided to have a small ceremony to officially switch them on.

"Next year we want to have a one-day event to celebrate.

"People tell me that Bishop Auckland has never looked better and we are looking forward to building on this for the future.''