Bring on those Wonderful Dames!
For a pantomime to be a true pantomime, there is one essential element you must have- the Pantomime Dame. She is somebody’s Mother, or a Nursemaid, she’s chief cook and bottlewasher, or runs the Peking laundrarama, constantly broke, often on the look-out for the next husband, or the rent man to come calling- the world of panto would be a much less comic place to live in.
Here we give our salute to just some of the Dames who have entertained us in the past, and in the present. To this collection we take the liberty of adding Cinderella’s step-sisters, “The Uglies”, and very occasionally we add the rare few female “Dames” who have donned the striped tights and the “carrot” wigs over the years.
Without further ado- “Bring on those WONDERFUL Dames!
Arthur Askey / Reg Dixon / Billy Wells / George Lacy / Nat Jackley / John Inman & Barry Howard / Norman Evans / Billy Dainty / Shaun Glenville / Cyril Fletcher / Burden and Moran / Clarkson Rose / Les Dawson / Bartlett and Ross / Ford and Sheen / Tommy Trafford / Ronné Coyles / Danny La Rue / Jack Tripp / Stanley Baxter to be continued!
Since 2008 we have been compiling, with your help, a list of actors who have played dames - this has recently moved to a new home, but the list continues to grow on a daily basis. Why not take a look and see if you can NAME THAT DAME!
“Big Hearted Arthur” became “Big Hearted Martha” in pantomimes at the London Palladium and across the country. In 1975 he recalled “Pantomime is a great family affair and it’s marvelous to hear the reaction from the kiddies….Of course, in those days the children were enchanted by the whole thing…when I did my undressing scene as Dame, I used to get yells of laughter from the kids: Now I remove my many petticoats to the accompaniment of wolf-whistles and cries of “Get ‘em off!”
Arthur was born in 1900 in Liverpool. In 1924 he joined a touring concert party , and in 1926 joined Fred Wilton’s Entertainers at the Oval, Cliftonville, remaining there for four years. In concert party with Powis Pinder’s “Sunshine” in 1930 he attracted the attention of London producers, and by 1937 he co-compered “The Coronation Revue” with (Sir) George Robey, which led to his being teamed with Richard “Stinker” Murdock in Radio’s “Bandwaggon”, which made him a household name. The radio catchphrases too became household phrases – “Before your very eyes”, “Have you read any good books lately?”, “Hello Playmates” were imitated throughout the land, along with Doesn’t it make you want to spit?” and, of course Arthur’s own “Ay-thang-yew!”
Famous for his silly songs- especially “The Bee Song”, Arthur topped the bills of the Holborn and Finsbury Park Empires, and appeared in the Royal Variety Shows of 1946, 1948 and 1978. His daughter, Anthea Askey became an actress who also specialised in pantomime. Although Arthur played other panto roles, including Buttons, his greatest triumphs were as “Big Hearted Martha”, with virtually no make-up, and the very basic of costumes as Dame. It was Arthur the public wanted to see, and to disguise himself would have been a great mistake. Les Dawson belonged to the same school of disguise- a touch of red on the end of the nose, and, in Arthur’s case, those trademark spectacles. Arthur remained one of the biggest box office draws of his time, even in his seventies. He died in 1982.
Reg “Confidentially” Dixon
Few stars in the 1940’s and 1950’s were bigger or more well loved by audiences than Reg Dixon. Next to Arthur Askey he received more fan mail at the BBC than any other artist. A Pantomime Dame for many years, often in his home town of Coventry. His specialities as Dame included singing his hit song “Confidentially”, and his songsheet often included his “Gypsy Violin” routine. He would borrow a prized stradivarius violin from the MD in the pit, and attempt to play “Gypsy Violin Waltz”. The vioin exploded, with strings and bits of broken instrument dangling, whereapon he would return it saying “Hey Mister.. you know that violin of yours? I’ve scratched it”. On Being told it was a hundred years old, he would reply “Good job it wasn’t a new one”.
I worked with Reg at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry with him as “Mother Goose” and myself as “Priscilla” the Goose. Reg had a habit of grabbing hold of the goose’s neck all the time to look deep into “it’s” eyes, oblivious to the fact that he was strangling me in the process! His make-up, costume and indeed his whole performance was so fresh- difficult to believe that at this point he was an elderly man. His radio catchphrase “I’m proper poooorly!” would elicit a round of applause all those years later, and his face,as Dame, was one of continuous surprise and delight at being there. “Helloooo” he would call out. “Hellooo!” the audience would reply. “You’re as daft as I am” he would reply.
Reg had been a huge radio and recording star, following this with appearances in variety throughout the country. When George Formby fell ill during the hit show "Zip Goes A Million”in 1952 at the Palace Theatre, Reg took over the role, and played to packed houses for eighteen months. After a career in radio, variety and pantomime he retired through ill health and died in 1984.
A Stalwart Pantomime Dame, he learnt his craft in Music Hall before taking on the role of Widow Twankey . His pantomime career spanned 60 years, beginning in Cardiff with “Babes In The Wood”, and ending at Crewe in the same show. Born in Eastbourne in 1909, he appeared in Concert Parties at the age of seven. His first job was in “Oh Joy!” Concert party tours as a light comedian whilst in his teens
He then toured in the Cardiff based concert party, “The Welsh Follies” in which he played his first Dame roles. During the Second World War he served with the RAF and toured in ENSA. He appeared at home and abroad in Ralph Reader’s “Gang Shows”, “Soldier’s in Skirts” and “Forces Showboat” revues. In 1964 he launched the Billy Wells Music Hall in Jersey, where he appeared for nine years. His impersonations of a haughty Queen Victoria and a full bosomed Principal Boy were a joy to behold As a pantomime dame he worked for Pete Davis, Don Ellis and other managements. He celebrated 70 years on the stage with his portrayal of the elderly Queen Victoria, in August 1989. He died the same year aged eighty.
Widely regarded as the finest dame of his generation, George Lacy played over 60 pantomimes as Dame. His speciality was “Mother Goose”, which he played 21 times, and made the role his own. He was born in London in 1904, and made his stage debut at the age of 14, as a boy comedian. His first Dame role was at the age of 19, in a touring pantomime in the West Country, and his first appearance as Mother Goose was for Francis Laidler at the Theatre Royal, Leeds in 1929. After this season he continued to play Mother Goose for a further eleven years in succession, including twice in the West End. As Dame he was always inventive, and frequently wrote his own scenes, sketches and songs. George also starred in Musical Comedies, in Summer Seasons and in Variety, where he would incorporate his Dame character into an act where he played the piano, and carried on a monologue. On one occasion I recall him playing piano, singing and continuing a comic routine whilst dressed as a billiard table!
His final pantomime was in 1984 at the King’s Theatre Southsea, where, at the age of Eighty he gave his last Mother Goose. George Lacy died on January 11th, 1989.
Nat “Rubber Neck” Jackley was born into a theatrical family. His Father George Jackley was a comedian who specialised in Dame. George (1885-1950) was the leading comedian at the Lyceum Theatre in between the wars for the Melville Brothers. He in turn was the son of Nathan Jackley, who appeared in American Circus with his own troupe, “The Jackley Wonders”.
Nat was born in Sunderland in 1909, Nathaniel Jackley-Hirsh, and began his career in a double act with his sister, Joy, in the 1920’s. He later joined the “Eight Lancashire Lads”. He teamed up with comedian Jack Clifford as the “straight Man” in the act, and they swapped roles. During his career he worked with several feeds, including his first wife, Marianne Lincoln, but forged his career as a headlining solo comedian. Nat Jackley appeared in three Royal Variety shows, topped the bill in Summer shows throughout the seaside resorts and topped the bill at the London Palladium.
His character wore a large coat, which kept slipping off his shoulders, and his routines included eccentric dancing (which he incorporated into his Dame parts, just as Billy Dainty was to do in his) and added a neck jerk and a funny walk. His Girl Guide and Military "Drill"” routines were amongst the funniest in panto, as he entered weighed down by rucksacks, frying pans and the clatter of tin plates and mugs strapped to his body. A tall thin angular Dame he was guaranteed a huge laugh whenever he entered in a “tube” dress, emphasising his skeletal frame.
Nat appeared in several films including “Demobbed” with Betty Jumel, the pantomime star who frequently appeared with Norman Evans. By 1980 he had appeared in fifty pantomimes. His last, in Newcastle in 1980 was on the same stage that his father George had appeared on. Nat died in September 1988.
John Inman & Barry Howard – As Ugly Sisters
Formed a partnership in the early sixties as Ugly Sisters. They were first put together by Arthur Lane in his tour of “Salad Days”, and worked together in plays such as “Job for the boy”, “Boeing Boeing”, “Doctor In The House” and “At Sea” as well as in Pantomime and Music Hall. They appeared on BBC’s “The Good Old Days” as two buxom Principal Boys from Panto, and delighted audiences around the country as the Ugly Sisters in “Cinderella”. They were an Ugly Sister partnership for over eight years before becoming solo Dames in pantomimes throughout the UK.
BARRY HOWARD was born in Nottingham and went into repertory, and appeared in the West End as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in “Twelfth Night” at the Comedy Theatre, and as Mr. Sowerbury in “Oliver”. Both he and John Inman appeared individually in many seasonal comedies and farces. After their partnership as “Sisters” finished, Barry, like John went on to appear as Dame in pantomime, and became a household name in “Hi Di Hi” as the lugubrious ballroom dancer, Barry Stuart-Hargreaves. Barry Toured in “Scrooge” the musical with Anthony Newley, and as Narrator in “The Rocky Horror Show”.
JOHN INMAN was born in Blackpool, and made his first professional stage appearance aged 13. On Television he worked with Hugh Lloyd, Roy Kinnear and appeared in televisions first colour musical “Titi-Pu” with Harry Worth, Hattie Jaques and Richard Wattis. His West End debut was in the musical “Ann Veronica”, and appearances at the “Windmill” Theatre, followed by playing Lord Fancourt- Babberley in “Charlie’s Aunt” at the Adelphi Theatre.
John went on to find fame as “Mr Humphreys” in BBC’s “Are you being Served”, adopting the show’s catchphrase “I’m Free!” as his own, as he created one of the most outrageous characters seen on the screen. He continued to tour in farces, notably “My Fat Friend”, and in Summer shows and seasons throughout the UK. The Success of “Are you being Served” made him an international star, with a big fan following in the States. John also appeared in the follow-up to “Are You Being Served” on television, “Grace and Favour”. He has appeared in six Royal Variety Performances.
John Inman has become one of the country’s top pantomime Dames, and he has appeared in over forty pantomimes. His inventive and pristine costumes, often designed and created by him, together with his mastery of the role have made him one of the finest Dames to tread the boards. He specialised for a while as “Mother Goose”, just as George Lacy had before him, and appeared in that role at the Victoria Palace, and as Nurse Wanda in the London Palladium’s panto, “Babes In The Wood”. He continues to delight audiences with his acclaimed panto performances. John has frequently appeared in “Aladdin” and most recently he was Widow Twankey at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle. He sadly died in 2007.
See John Inman’s website www.johninman.co.uk
NORMAN EVANS- “Over The Garden Wall”
Unquestionably one of the greatest pantomime dames of his time, and possibly of all time- Norman Evan’s dame was the inspiration for performers like Terry Scott, who decided to go into Theatre after seeing him in panto, and, of course, Les Dawson, who modelled his “Ada” character on Norman’s Fanny Fairbottom.
Born in Rochdale in 1901, Norman began his working career as a travelling salesman, discovering that a quick and witty line in chat would boost his sales, and began entertaining at masonics and “smokers”. He was discovered by Rochdale’s own Gracie Fields, who, after asking him to audition in her dressing room, and offered him a spot in her show at the Chiswick Empire. Oswald Stoll saw him on the Friday, and booked him for the London Alhambra on the spot.
Gracie Fields had toured the country in “Mr Tower of London”, and when it finished in 1935 it was recast with Norman and Betty Driver in the lead roles. (Betty Driver, of course now better known as “Betty” from Coronation Street, but at that time one of the top vocalists). The show was a huge success.
Norman’s best known sketch was “Over the Garden Wall”, in which he created Fanny Fairbottom, the nosy neighbour complete with ample bosom and deficient in teeth. Constantly in mid gossip she would slip off the wall, denting her bosom. “That’s twice on the same brick this week…” Fanny would gossip to an imaginary neighbour about everything that went on in her street. “That Coalman’s at it again.. don’t tell me it takes thirty-five minutes to deliver two bags of nuts!” this was the character that Norman perpetuated in pantomime throughout the country.
He made his panto debut in male attire, as Billy Crusoe at the Chiswick Empire, and played several seasons for Francis Laidler at the London Coliseum. In 1951 Tom Arnold brought “Humpty Dumpty” to the Palladium, with Norman as Dame, Terry Thomas as King, and Betty Jumel “The Bundle of Fun” as Humpty. In Variety Norman continued to work with Betty Jumel. He would often play a huge soprano to Betty’s diminutive tenor in an opera sketch. His other famous sketches included a Marcel Marceau style Dentist, and an act with a glove puppet panda- a sort of forerunner to “Sooty”.
In 1949 Norman made his first visit to New York, and was a success at the Palace Theatre. He returned to a 20 week Panto season at the Theatre Royal, Leeds, before returning to the States to play the El Capitan Theatre, Hollywood, then onto Toronto. A frequent traveller on the Queen Elizabeth, he enjoyed seasons in Washington and in California over the years. In Britain he appeared in three Royal Variety Performances in 1937, 1947 and in 1951. Evan’s 1937 Variety performance has to be the “Bill of Bills”- Norman Evans performing with Max Miller, Florence Desmond, George Formby, Cicely Courtneidge, Revnell & West, the Crazy Gang, Gracie Fields, and the Palladium orchestra conducted by Ivor Novello!
Despite failing health, and his injuries resulting from a car accident, Norman continued to play pantomime and variety across the country and in America. He died in 1962.
from l to r - Coventry Theatre, 1954. Nan Egington (the stage door keeper); Norman Evans; Dorothy Atkins (booking office); June Kimberley (telephonist) and Elizabeth Spriggs (booking Office)
Billy’s West End Debut in pantomime was not quite what he’d hoped for- in 1942 he was at the Coliseum, playing the back legs of the dancing donkey, “Asbestos”, in “Mother Goose”, starring Norman Evans and Patricia Burke.
Born in Dudley in 1927, Billy’s dancing prowess was featured as one of the “Betty Fox” babes in Birmingham. When his family moved to London he achieved a scholarship to RADA., at the same time he became a pupil of Buddy Bradley, choreographer to Fred and Adelle Astaire. Whilst there he auditioned for a chorus part in the George Black revue, “Strike A New Note”, and along with his sister Betty, and the young Ernie Wise and Eric Morecambe, opened at the Prince of Wales Theatre in 1943. In 1945 Billy was called up and toured the Far East in the “Stars In Battledress” revue, “Hello ALFSEA”. After the war his first engagement in Blighty was at the Cosy Nook Theatre, Newquay in “Gaytime”, and years later acquired a seaside home there that he named “Gaytime” after the show.
He toured in Music Hall and Variety during the 1950’s and by 1955 he achieved star billing in “Puss In Boots” at the Pavilion, Torquay. The following year Emile Littler booked him for “Mother Goose” at the Palace, Plymouth, sharing the top of the bill with Ethel Revnell . As variety began to decrease in popularity, Billy saw television as a worthwhile successor- and made appearances on “Sunday Night at the Palladium”. By 1974 he appeared in the Royal Variety performance, one of several to follow.
Billy began to play Pantomime Dame, and, like Nat Jackley had before him, brought to the part his “Eccentric Dancing” skills, and funny walks. One of the most energetic and mobile of Dames, he appeared in pantomimes all over the country. His “Cod” ballet routine was the finest of all, as he brought his great comic timing and dance skills to the fore. He was Widow Twankey in Nottingham in 1981, then appeared in panto in Birmingham, Bradford and Oxford.
Peter Robbins and I fondly remember attending a “Dames” press call in London during rehearsals. We were delighted to be lent a limousine for the occasion, and hoped that everyone would see us draped over it’s capacious back seats as we arrived. Billy arrived hot foot from his rehearsal hall in full Dame costume, wig and make-up..as soon as the shoot was over, Peter and I hovered outside in our flashy limo, only to be totally upstaged by Bill, still in his full Twankey costume, jumping onto a passing bus, and waving as he sped down Oxford Street! What a ‘Pro! Billy’s costumes were always immaculate and fresh, created usually by Paddy and Mary Dickie (as were Terry Scott’s and many of Stanley Baxters) and his performance a true joy to watch. He had more energy than anyone on the stage.
Sadly Bill was forced to leave “Aladdin” during January 1985/6 in Nottingham due to ill health. He died, aged 59 in his home “Cobblers” in Surrey on 19th November, 1986. The “Stage” wrote: “The backbone of the light entertainment profession, who never did a bad show….in years to come, he will be looked back on as an outstanding artist of his generation, with a unique style that owed nothing to anybody”.
One of the most popular pantomime Dames of the 1930’s and ‘40’s, Shaun Glenville was also married to the most popular Principal Boy of the age- Dorothy Ward. They generally worked together as “Mother and Son”, and were employed by Julian Wylie for over 19 consecutive years. Shaun also played pantomime frequently for Howard and Wyndham, Robert Arthur and John Hart.
Shaun was born in Dublin in 1884. His mother, Mary Glenville Brown ran the theatre now known as the Abbey Theatre, and he made his debut aged two months, carried onstage. He made his first variety appearances in 1906 in Irish sketches, and made his London debut in 1907. As Shaun Glenville Luck he toured America with “The Six Brothers Luck” and later worked with Fred Karno’s company. He was later to appear in “straight” theatre for the Shubert Organisation in New York, but continued to appear in variety, revues, pantomime and to have several “hit” songs in the United Kingdom. “Mickey Rooney’s Ragtime Band” and “Something in the Irish After All” were just a few of his successes.
In 1908 Shaun was in Pantomime at the Tyne, Newcastle, whilst Dorothy Ward was appearing in Belfast- they were to begin a stage partnership that would endure through to the 1950’s.
By 1910 he was starring with Dorothy Ward at the Royal, Newcastle in “Jack Horner” for F.W.Wyndham, and in the same pantomime in1911 at Glasgow, At Leeds Grand in 1915, Royal Birmingham the following year in “Boy Blue” and by the end of the first World War at Glasgow for Wylie-Tate in “Jack and the Beanstalk”. Liverpool and Manchester Palace followed in the 1920’s, through Sheffield Hippodrome 1927 , in “Robinson Crusoe” at Liverpool Empire in 1930 (The Role of Mrs Crusoe was one he enjoyed, and played many times) By the start of 1950 He and Dorothy were appearing at the Chiswick Empire in pantomime together after forty years. Shaun died in 1968 aged 84.
See also - Dorothy Ward article and Dorothy Ward and Shaun Glenville - A Pantomime Partnership
Pantomime Dame, and producer of Pantomimes in association with his wife, the Principal girl, Betty Astell. Cyril Fletcher was born Cyril Trevellian Fletcher in Watford 25th June, 1913. Made his first professional appearance in Concert Party at the White Rock Pavilion, Hastings in 1936. Rapidly made his name in the “Fol-de-Rols” and through the radio, where his “Odd Odes”, especially “Dreaming of Thee” became famous nationwide. He and Betty both broadcasted for the BBC, and appeared in Concert Parties and Pantomimes together. His Broadcasting career led him to play in revues and sketches throughout the country, and at the London Palladium.
Before the War he played the Holborn Empire, his London debut in 1939, and the Adelphi in “Let’s All Go Down The Strand”. He and Betty were married in 1942. Cyril toured No.1 variety theatres after the war, along with summer seasons where he produced shows entitled “Magpies”, “Magpie”, “Masquerade”, teaming up with Betty Astell and with his comedienne daughter, Jill. Their Summer seasons, presented under their own management ran for twenty-seven years. His radio series included “What’s my Line”, “Does The Team Think”.
In his element as Pantomime Dame, Cyril played the Ashcroft, Croydon, Arts Cambridge, The New, Northampton among others. He often appeared in his own productions of “Mother Goose” and “Sleeping Beauty”, in which he also played “Fairy Flatfoot” The Pantomimes he and Betty produced were always beautifully costumed- the costumes often made by Betty herself, as well as devising the shows, and playing Principal Girl. Their daughter, Jill Fletcher continues to tour as an actress, cabaret artiste and performs as “Bolly The Clown” in her own show.
Cyril’s television career, which began in the late 1930’s was once again revived in the ‘90’s by his appearances on Esther Rantzen’s show “That’s Life”, and whilst retired to Guernsey Cyril continued to present programmes on television that reflected his passion for gardening.
He died on the 2nd January 2005
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/tv_and_radio/4141367.stm - News Item
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/tv_and_radio/1916830.stm - Obituary
Picture taken from the front cover of 'I Scream for Ice Cream' by Gyles Brandreth
BURDEN AND MORAN
Burden & Moran became something of an institution in British Showbusiness for over 30 years.
As female impersonators they were in the same classic tradition as such ENSA favourites as Bartlett & Ross and Ford & Sheen. Their performances every year as the Ugly Sisters in “Cinderella” frequently brought them to the attention of even the more highbrow critics: Kenneth Tynan once said that “They’re over the top and epitomise true variety”.
They were often in demand at number one theatre dates and shared billing with, Morecambe & Wise, Arthur Askey, Tommy Trinder, Ted Rodgers, Jim Davidson and other variety luminaries. Burden & Moran shared the same sense of humour and love of revue and decided to team together for a series of short shows. Their most notable act was appearing as two sophisticated “Bunny Girls”. The act was fast and witty, and they soon attracted an enthusiastic following among blue rinsed matrons.
After a long Summer Season it was decided that something different was needed and the act was changed to include stage illusions, with the addition of dogs, new costumes and new billing, Burden & Moran became known as “Those Maids Of Mystery, Masters Of Illusion”. They starred in their own Summer Shows completing 5 Seasons on the Isle of Wight, 7 Seasons in Blackpool and 7 Seasons in Great Yarmouth. As Ugly Sisters they played some of Great Britain’s’ leading provincial Theatres. Also to their credit were many appearances at the Players Theatre in London and in circus with the legendary clown Charlie Caroli.
A Television documentary about the two of them made with Mavis Nicholson for ITV in the 70s brought them to the attention of a younger public, and once again they became the darlings of house wives who wanted to copy their outrageous dresses and mannerisms.
Maurice Moran died on the 29th October 1994. His partner Charles Burden is still keeping the tradition of Pantomime alive and can be seen playing Dame at Christmas, somewhere in the UK.
Burden and Moran’s appearances on stage were always over the top, epitomising the true spirit of Pantomime. They were a classic act, true variety and a pleasure to watch. They were showbiz itself.
Born in Dudley, Worcestershire in 1890 as Arthur C. Rose. He began his career as “A.C Rose- Comedian”, making his first appearance on stage in 1905 at the Mechanics Institute, Dudley. And later forming his own concert party. He was later to present his own Summer Show “Twinkle” at seaside resorts for over forty years.
He appeared in repertory in Liverpool. And appeared in the West End in “Trelawny Of The Wells” in 1915. In 1918 he met Olive Fox, and they married, forming a double act as “Fox and Rose”, a partnership that lasted 46 years. Clarkson Rose first presented “Twinkle” on Ryde Pier in 1921, and continued to appear in Variety tours. He was principal comedian in pantomimes from 1918.Whilst playing the “Alhambra” in 1927 he was engaged to play his first Pantomime Dame at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham. He appeared as Mrs Crusoe in “Robinson Crusoe” co-starring with Robb Wilton. The following year he appeared in the Royal Variety Performance at the London Coliseum, dressed in Victorian Dame attire, singing “The Girls Of The Old Brigade”.
Rose appeared as Dame for the Melville Brothers at the Lyceum Theatre London for three years consecutively between 1936 and 1938.He had the honour of making the final curtain speech at the Lyceum on the night it closed. He always claimed his favourite role was Widow Twankey, in “Aladdin”. Clarkson Rose’s last pantomime was at Leicester in 1967. He died on 23rd April, 1968.
Born in 1931 in Thornton Street,Collyhurst, Manchester. “Our terraced house was so narrow the mice walked on their back legs, and the kitchen ceiling was so low the oven had a foot-level grill”. After leaving school at fourteen he got his first job at the Co-op, and then as an apprentice electrician, followed by National Service at Catterick, Yorkshire, with the Queen’s Bay 2nd Dragoon Guards.
His first start in entertainment began as a pub pianist, and then, dressed as Quasimodo, he appeared in a talent competition at the Hulme Hippodrome. The act was greeting by stony silence, and Les quit the glittering world of showbiz to become a door to door hoover salesman. By the early 1950’s he had moved to Battersea, London, and befriended the comic Max Wall, but after failing to get a foothold in the profession, he returned to Manchester, and began to work the northern club circuit. He claimed to have “ died” so badly at a club in Hull that “I seriously thought about becoming a model for apprentice undertakers”.
The great influence on Les Dawson was Norman Evans, who had appeared some thirty years before, and who had created northern characters like Joe Ramsbottom (in his sketch “The Dentist”) and Fanny Fairbottom in “Over the garden Wall”. Dawson’s somewhat “off the wall” prose style of comedy was more often than not greeted by indifference on the club circuit- Roy Barraclough wrote “I think, looking back he was very much ahead of his time. I think, in terms of 25 years ago, this sort of surreal material was very new indeed”. However, radio appearances on the BBC suited his style, and his career began to prosper.
An appearance on TV’s “Opportunity Knocks” in 1965 “tonight I would like to play something by Chopin, but I won’t. He never plays anything of mine…”proved a hit with the studio audience, but he failed to win with the viewers. However- Dawson was now appearing on television variety shows as well as radio, and received offers for Summer Season, and his first Panto engagement in Doncaster, co-starring the “Rocking Berries””, followed by panto in Stoke and Gloucester, and summer season at Central Pier, Blackpool.
In the early ‘70’s he starred in “Sez Les”, a Yorkshire Television series that teamed him with Roy Barraclough- by 1974 they had created “Cissie and Ada” as a sketch, with Dawson’s Ada owing a great deal to Norman Evan’s Fanny! Cissie seemed to be loosely based on Coronation Street’s social climbing “Annie Walker” to some extent. The double act of chalk and cheese was a tremendous success. “Ohh, you’ve no idea what that food did to Bert and me…..” “Did you have the shish Kebabs?”…..”From the moment we arrived…” He was to star in “The Dawson Watch”, and“ The Les Dawson Show”.
Les Dawson’s Ada character was to be the basis of his career as pantomime Dame, and one of the great comic creations of his time. Les continued to appear in pantomime throughout the rest of his career that encompassed television series, summer seasons, seven Royal Command performances, and the meteoric rise of “Blankety Blank”. His great success as “Nurse Ada” in Babes in the Wood” continued, beating all box office records, culminating in a ten week run at the Manchester Palace Theatre. Frequently joined by the "Roly Polys' and John Nettles the pantomime became a huge draw, as was “Dick Whittington” at Wimbledon, joined by Rula Lenska, and the following year at Leeds Grand Theatre.
Although suffering illness, Les continued to appear on television, and starred in “Run For Your Wife”, the farce at Bournemouth in 1992. He had first played the role of Stanley Gardner in 1984, and again in 1986. He died during a routine visit to hospital for a check-up on June 10th, 1993, in Manchester.
BARTLETT AND ROSS
Terry Bartlett and Colin Ross appeared in over thirty pantomimes as Ugly Sisters, Terry the grotesque “sister”, and the witty comedian, and Colin the glamorous “sister”. One of their specialities, usually performed in the Ballroom was a cod ballet, where they both danced “en Pointe”. A popular opening to their act was Terry walking down the aisle of the theatre dressed as an ice-cream girl, shouting “chocolates! Ices!….Me!”
In Variety they toured a “Mother and Daughter” act, and a “Mermaids” sketch – well before Bette Midler created her Mermaid character! They worked together in the post war “Forces” shows that were popular, appearing in touring variety bills such as “Showboat Express” along with Ford and Sheen, billed as “ You cannot afford to miss- the show without a miss!” as well as “Forces Showboat”, “Get-in” and similar revues. After the death of Colin Ross, Terry Bartlett continued to play sister with other partners until his death in 1976.
FORD AND SHEEN
Vic Ford was born in London in 1907, and Chris Sheen in Derbyshire in 1908. Their partnership in variety was to last for nearly forty years. Vic (his real name was George Spinks) began his career as “Wee Georgie Spinks”, a tramp comedian. Chris was originally one of “Joe Boganny’s Boys”, a knockabout act. They formed a double act as female impersonators in 1936, and played in variety during the war, with lengthy visits to Malta, and in “Showboat Express”, Misleading Ladies” and “Forces Petticoats”.
It was during “Misleading Ladies” that the young Danny La Rue had his first speaking role! Ford and Sheen went on to appear in “Soldiers in Skirts” and toured the variety circuit. They toured South Africa with Tommy Trinder, and appeared in pantomime seasons around the country. They were credited with being the first female impersonators to appear in a full length film, “Skimpy In The Navy”, with Hal Monty and Max Bygraves – the exception being, of course, Arthur Lucan in his series of “Old Mother Riley” films. Since that time the big screen has seen Dick Emery in his female roles, as well as Danny La Rue in “Our Miss Fred”.
In variety through the 1970’s they appeared often as two “charming” charladies, and continued to appear as the Ugly Sisters. In variety they always took their final bow in Male attire, a tradition that Danny La Rue continues to this day in his variety and Music Hall shows.
TOMMY TRAFFORD - 'Laughs from Lancs'
One of The North’s top comedians for over thirty years. A Pantomime dame, his inspiration came from Norman Evans, who he resembled. In fact he appeared as Evans in the 1980’s T.V Series, “Super Troupers”. Along with his business partner, Ronnie Parnell he presented pantomimes and summer seasons at Blackpool (his home) Whitby, Bridlington and other towns.
Played 15 successive panto seasons at Southport, appearing as Dame in each of them- beginning with “Cinderella” in 1970 and finishing with “Aladdin” in 1885. Over the years Tommy built up an extensive “Dame” wardrobe, as he was appearing every year in the same venue.
Tommy began his career with Mildred Crossley’s “Happiness Ahead” at Cleveleys, where he first met Bobby Bennett, his friend and fellow pantomime Dame. He appeared on radio with Jimmy Clitheroe in “The Clitheroe Kid”, and toured with Jimmy in his show “Don’t some Mother’s have ‘em”, named after the Clitheroe catchphrase. and in both panto and variety presented a hilarious “Post Man” routine He presented his own seasons of pantomimes, revues, summer shows and especially “Old Time Music Hall” in venues all over the country, and appeared in four Summer Seasons at Blackpool.
Tommy died in 1993 aged 65, but not until he had been awarded an O.M.L.J (Officer of the Military and Hospitaler Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, for his many charity works.
Diminutive in statue, but towering in performance, Ronné Coyles has been a perennial Pantomime Dame since he first donned the skirts in the early 1970’s. A seasoned pantomime and cabaret performer, Ronné began his career at an early age in concert parties, as a boy soprano. He made three films with Bud Flanagan, and during his career has been a trapeze artist, acrobatic dancer, singer and tap dancer.
As Dame his dancing skills were often called upon- one of the fastest “tappers” in the “business”, he incorporated these skills into his unique “Strip” routine, when as Dame he would begin to remove his clothing, only to be interrupted- hide behind a small screen, and almost impossibly change into full 1920’s “flapper” gear, and dance a frenetic Charleston before collapsing into a laundry basket- it still remains one of the most creative “strip routines” I have seen on stage to date!
His unusual Christian name comes from his mother, who was a trapeze artist with a touring circus in America. “She was originally going to call me Ramon, after Ramon Navarro the film star” he said in an interview, mentioning he was one of seven children. As a young man he was on the bill with Bud Flanagan at the Bristol Hippodrome, singing one of the Flanagan and Allen songs in his act. This led to him appearing with “The Crazy Gang” at the Victoria Palace, and making several films including “Here comes the Sun” with them.
Ronné was featured in one of the first documentaries about Pantomime for BBC2’s “Man Alive”, which dealt with the life of a pantomime performer. A firm favourite in Summer seasons at Morecambe and around the country, he appeared as Dame in “Humpty Dumpty” at London’s Dominion Theatre, a lavish production that was presented in several other cities during the next few years. He continues to prove “small is best” as he appears each year as Dame, complete with his own lavish wardrobe and routines.
DANNY LA RUE
Danny La Rue has become a British institution, and has been playing the Dame role- albeit a very glamorous dame, since the 1960’s in pantomimes in the West End and throughout the UK.
Born Danny Caroll in Cork, 26th July 1927, he moved to London at the age of nine. It was a manager of his who suggested he change his name, and took inspiration from the French singer Danny Street to create Danny La Rue. After concert party and variety bills Danny opened at the tiny Irving Theatre near Leicester Square. He appeared at Churchill’s nightclub and at “Winston’s”, along with Barbara Windsor and Amanda Barrie, and opened his own nightclub in Hanover Square in 1964.
His pantomime appearances began as a double act with Alan Haynes, and during the 1960’s he worked in pantomime seasons each year for Tom Arnold. He created his long running Pantomime “Queen Passionella and The Sleeping Beauty” at the old Saville Theatre (one of the longest runs in that venue) and continued to appear in that role across the country. During his career Danny has played Queen Passionella, Queen Daniella, The Very “Merry” Widow Twankey,at the London Palladium and in the provinces, Mother Goose and Baroness Voluptua. In a new departure in 2003 Danny played Fairy Godmother in “Cinderella” at the Theatre Royal Nottingham.
In between pantomime appearances Danny has appeared in over 30 Royal performances, and three Royal Command Performances in 1969, 1972 and 1978. He starred in “Come Spy With Me” at the Whitehall Theatre, in “Danny At The Palace” for two years up to 1972 supported by Roy Hudd, and opened as Doly Levi in “Hello Dolly” in 1982 at the Prince Of Wales Theatre London. His feature film “Our Miss Fred” was the perfect setting for his many female disguises, and his television productions of “Charley’s Aunt” and “Queen Of Hearts”, a television Pantomime were among many, including a long standing love affair with “The Good Old Days” on BBC. Danny is embarking in 2004 in his “Dazzling Music Hall” tour of the UK.
A past King Rat of the Grand Order Of Ratlings, he was created “Show Business Personality Of The Year” in 1969, and “Entertainer of the Decade” in 1979.
Danny La Rue was created a member of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Jubilee honours list in 2002.
Danny sadly died in 2009. You can read our Spotlight Article which includes obituaries.
A Pantomime career of over 50 years , carried on the tradition of the "Realistic " Dame of Dan Leno "Giving the character a veneer of refinement yet creating an instant rapport with children in the audience"
(David Pickering Encyclopedia of Pantomime)
Jack was born in Plymouth in 1922, and spent many childhood hours at his local theatre, the Palace, Plymouth, where he and his parents made regular Monday night visits to see the weekly touring shows and pantomimes.
It was at this time that Jack took up tap dancing lessons, and after winning the Plymouth Dancing Festival took up dancing and singing as his career.
During the war he was drafted to the REME at Ashton-Under-Lyne, and was posted to the Entertainment Unit “Stars in Battledress”, working with performers like Charlie Chester and Terry Thomas.
On demobilisation he was signed up by theatrical agent Len Barry, and his first professional job was understudying Sid Field in “Piccadilly Hayride” at the Prince Of Wales Theatre in London.
One night Jack saw Sid Field waiting in the wings at the Prince of Wales Theatre. One of the beautiful seven-feet-high showgirls passed him wearing, as Jack says, “Just about one feather, two milk bottle tops and a five foot jewelled headdress”
“Good evening Mr. Field” she said
“Hello” said Sid. “Working?”
(The above story is taken from Roy Hudd’s book of Music Hall, Variety and Showbiz Anecdotes (1993))
A year later he joined the famous “Five Past Eight” shows in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and performed in pantomime in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Liverpool where he played comic son to Douglas Byng’s Dame in “Goody Two Shoes”. “I learnt from one of the greatest pantomime dames in the business”.
After many summer seasons and pantomimes in Scotland, Jack moved on to the Fol De Rols, playing fourteen consecutive seasons at Eastbourne, Hastings, Torquay, Bournemouth, Scarborough, and again in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. He also performed in 'Such is Life' with Al Read and Shirley Bassey.
His first “South of the Border” Dame came when he was signed by Derek Salberg, and for the next fifteen years he played dame at Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Bradford, followed by seasons for Duncan Weldon’s “Triumph Productions” and for Paul Elliott’s “E&B Productions”.
His long association with Roy Hudd and Geoffrey Hughes saw Jack as Dame in Dick Whittington, Aladdin and Babes in the Wood, which he played at Sadlers Wells in 1994.
Jack was featured in the Arts Council Film “Pantomime Dame” that was shown in cinemas around the country and on television, and appearances in both Royal Command and Royal Variety performances.
Nigel Ellacott and Jack Tripp
In 1997 he appeared alongside Joan Savage in Divorce Me Darling at the Chichester Festival.
Joan Savage and Jack Tripp in Divorce Me Darling
Jack retired to his home in Brighton, Sussex but continued, up to the very last to encourage and help up and coming pantomime dames with advice, material and suggestions for songs and “Business”. “What A Performer!” He will be very sadly missed by everyone in Pantoland.
The following stories are also from Roy Hudd’s book of Music Hall, Variety and Showbiz Anecdotes. (1993)
Jack Tripp the immaculate, ebullient, brilliant dancing and sketch comedian, for many years with the famous “Fol-de-rols” summer show. He is today’s top pantomime dame. Jack played panto one year with Basil Brush, whose “minder” is Ivan Owen. As usual, after a day off, the company met at the “half hour call” to discuss what they’d been up to. Poor Ivan said “Well, I had an awful week-end. I got home to discover we’d had burglars. They’d ransacked the entire house but do you know they didn’t take a thing? Commented Jack, “How humiliating”
Jack is the son of a Plymouth baker, and in the days B.T (before television), when radio was the only evening leisure activity, showbusiness was a mysterious world to his relations. He’d just done his first professional job and an Aunt asked him if he’d liked it.
“Oh yes”, said Jack. “it was wonderful”
“Well”, replied auntie in her lovely west country drawl, “You’ve always got somewhere to go at night”
Janet Brown was in a Derek Salberg pantomime with Jack at Wolverhampton. One morning Janet watched two women inspecting the front-of-house photographs.
“Oh look!” said one, “They’ve got Jack Tripp again”.
“Jack Tripp?” said the other. “Who’s that?”
“You know”, said her friend, “We’ve seen him before- she’s marvellous!”
Jack Tripp died on the 10th July 2005 aged 83.
Jack Tripp was remembered on Monday, July 18, when his funeral was held at the Downs Crematorium, Bear Road in Brighton. Among the many mourners were John Inman, Chris Haywood, Paul Holman, Anita Harris and husband Mike Margolis, Roger Redfarn, Joan Mann (Fol-de Rols), Chris Emmett, Janet Brown, Roy and Debbie Hudd, Tony Adams, Mimi Law and Ron Freeman. Both Tony Adams and Roy Hudd spoke of their memories of Jack, and 'There is Nothing Like a Dame' played at the end of the funeral.
Jennifer Haley remembers a great performer
On my sitting room wall I have a watercolour, taken from a production photograph. It is of the opening number of the Fol-de-Rols, circa 1960. Most of the people are unknown to me, but the central pair- the leading lady and man are quite recognisable. A tall dark haired woman and a short man- Kathleen West and Jack Tripp.
Jack did many seasons with the “Fols” in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s. They were a marriage made in heaven. The refined gentility and class of the “Fols” suited Jack to a Tee. It was a wonderful vehicle for all his dance items, and he was at his best in the sketches and musical numbers and witty pointe numbers.
His feed and life long partner on and off stage- Australian born Allen Christie also featured well in the “Fols” with his dancing skills and fine tenor voice, as well as the double act with Jack.
Jack’s more memorable items were “The cause of all the trouble” and “Holidays at home”- both musical items- dressed as rather posh tramps in broken down evening dress complete with spats, white gloves and top hats, with the company of the “Fols”- dancing a schotishe and singing with clipped refined tones about the income tax, and not going abroad any more.
He also excelled in domestic sketches with Joan Mann, with whom he worked with in the late ‘40’s and ‘50’s in Howard & Wyndham’s “Five Past Eight” shows. Sketches like “On his holidays” where he proceeded to arrange all their clothes and beach gear on the two rocks on stage (he was a window dresser!). His dancing items were just great. Partnered by Allen he would dance with three other couples in “Eightsome Reel”, “Come Dancing” and it wasn’t until halfway through that the audience realised the “girl” who kept going wrong was Jack. His best, to my mind, was the double with Allen where he was a rather refined and sex-starved pianist-“Rosy Bottom”, who became rather hot and bothered (Allen: “You may be hot, but you’ll NEVER be bothered!”) and had to blow down her blouse when Allen put his hand on her shoulder. At Allen’s request- “Shall I sing in a monastery garden?” Rosy’s reply was “Yes, if you can get the piano over the wall!” Great stuff!
Jack was born in Plymouth and came to the theatre as so many of his generation did via entertaining the troups in the Second World War. He understudied Sid Field in the West End and appeared in many reviews in Scotland and in the West End and all over the country.
He played comic in panto, but soon found his fate as Dame- and he was a wonderful dame-one of the greats in the true tradition of George Lacy, Terry Scott, Billy Dainty and Arthur Askey. He was never smutty and his costumes were superb. Always pristine- gingham dress with frills and snow-white pinny with frills, bloomers with anglais- he was an immaculate “Mum”, but he also had a wardrobe of “Funny” costumes, always keeping up with the current fashion- “This is my fun fur- yes, all the fun of the fur!”
I first saw Jack at the Congress Theatre Eastbourne in 1966 and I was enchanted. The next year I was in the company myself and loved dancing with him, especially in the “Tiller” kicking routine where I kicked- next to him. We used to try and see him every year in panto- Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Bournemouth as he worked in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s for Derek Salberg.
His last stage appearance was in Sandy Wilson’s “Divorce Me Darling” at Chichester, and he made a huge hit in a cameo role. He was very disenchanted by “Modern” panto, and glad to hang his “Boobs” up and retire.
About six months ago I found a lovely old copy of “In a monastery garden” and wrote on it “Did you ever get the piano over the wall?”. I sent it to Jack and he sent back a card that said “That was very funny- and yes I did!” I’m so glad he did.Jennifer Haley 13th July 2005
Jack Tripp - A Celebration
St Pauls Church, Covent Garden
Friday 28th October 2005
Jack would have loved to see a full house- and the service at St.Paul’s in Covent Garden was packed to the rafters with his family, friends, admirers and colleagues from the world of pantomime.
Those arriving were greeted by Roy Hudd and his wife Debbie, and the ushers were prestigious pantomime dames Wyn Calvin and Chris Emmett, along with panto producer Paul Holman.
Among the hundreds of theatre folk attending this celebration of Jack’s life were Tony Adams, Janet Brown, June Whitfield, Keith Baron, Jonathan Cecil, Bobbie Cook, Pamela Cunliffe, Joan Savage, Anita Harris and Mike Margolis. Bill Pertwee, Judy Spiers, and Paul Elliott - who produced many of the pantomimes that Jack and Roy appeared in, along with Duncan C.Weldon, Johhny Dennis, Val Fontayne (Queen Ratling), along with pantomime Dames Jeffrey Holland, Stevie Marc, Ian Adams and Chris Hayward and Bunny Jay.
Anne Sydney was there along with Anna Karen, Sheridan Morley, Taryn Kaye, Audrey and Len Howe and Keith Salberg, and it was lovely to see that Sylvia and Tony Blackler had travelled up from Jack’s home town-Plymouth. Both Sylvia and Tony work at the Theatre Royal, and Sylvia had often been Jack’s dresser in pantomime there over the years.
It would be impossible to list all the people in attendance at St Paul’s today- From Jack’s family to the many hundreds of friends – many apologies to those I have missed out from this list- it is really just a very small selection from a very packed house!
Before the start of the service the organist, Simon Gutteridge played selections from the “Fol de Rols”, including the sygnets dance from “Swan Lake”, (one of Jack’s best remembered routines) and the choir from St John’s Wood church, conducted by Michael Mizgailo-Cayton sang “Nymphs and Shepherds”.
The service began with a welcome from the Revd Katherine Rumens, chaplain to the Barbican Arts Centre, while a large photograph of Jack smiled at the congregation. It was Roy who pointed out that that youthful picture of Jack was in fact taken when he was Eighty years old!
Roy Hudd began the celebration by recalling his years of working with Jack in pantomime. Roy, along with June Whitfield, Geoffrey Hughes and Keith Baron were the mainstays of many a “Babes In The Wood” each year, produced by Paul Elliott.. Roy talked about the decade they spent together- of his wit, his humour and his warmth. Referring to the photograph he recalled the line in the panto when Jack as Dame Durden was asked his age. “Why..I’m approaching thirty-eight!” he replied, only to be greeted with “But from which direction?” Roy told us that Jack thought like a young man, and that his sense of fun- his “Twinkle” was his trademark both on and off-stage.
Roy also told the story of how, one pantomime, after a break Ivan Owen (the man “behind” Basil Brush) returned to the panto with bad news. He told Jack that while he was out his house was robbed. “And do you know Jack- they took nothing” There was a pause..”How Humiliating!” replied Jack..
Roy went on to describe Jack’s early years in pantomime with his idols Dave Willis and Douglas Byng, and that rehearsing with Jack was an education-the skills he possessed as a dancer (honed to perfection during his many seasons in the “Fols”) and his “flirty” dame with a step ball change and a look over his shoulder.
Roy was followed by Jack’s co-star in the Chichester production of “Divorce Me Darling”- Joan Savage. Joan related how she had first worked with Jack when she was twelve years old, and then had to wait for several years before appearing with him again in his own show at Hastings and at Eastbourne in Take A Tripp. Joan described how when Jack smiled “It was like Bonfire Night” and sang “The Sunshine of Your Smile” as her personal tribute.
Keith Baron had the congregation laughing with his memories of working with Jack. He told how he had been a great fan of his panto dame for many years before he played the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham with Jack and Roy. His particular memories included seeing Jack in “Robinson Crusoe” with Anita Harris some fourteen times, and of his memories of the Theatre Royal Plymouth and Sadler’s Wells – his summing up of Jack was simple- “STYLE” .
Janet Brown related stories of her holidays spent abroad with Jack and his partner Allan Christie. She recalled going on to her balcony in Majorca- it was next to Jack’s balcony and seeing him standing there in a smoking jacket, his hair parted in the centre with a cigarette holder- he waited for her to come onto her balcony before launching into “Private Lives”!- She revealed that Jack gave her more laughs than anyone she knew, with the exception of her late husband, Peter Butterworth- and how when Jack and Peter got together they would both launch into Dame routine as “two old ladies with bad feet!”
Bill Pertwee reminded everyone of Jack’s days as the principal comedian in the “Fols”, and recalled an incident in the 1950’s. The tabs had caught fire, and Bill was thrown onto the stage, totally unprepared to “cover” until the problem was sorted out. Stumbling through his ad libbed routine he finished and discovered Jack was in the wings. Jack, not wishing to be the one forced to “ad-Lib” had fled to the foyer. “Where were you?” asked Bill. “I hid in the foyer- in the toilets. I knew it would be quiet there”. It was the fact that, at this point Jack was dressed as a prima Ballerina for his Swan Lake sketch- “I didn’t know whether to go in the Gents or the Ladies!”
Judy Spiers followed Bill, and recalled her pantomime with Jack She opened her “spot” by announcing “This is my first booking this season. Thank you Jack!”
Both she and Jack were natives of Plymouth, and between entrances he would tell Judy of his early life, growing up above the bakers shop his father owned in the Barbican Plymouth.
As a young man his dancing skills were to the fore, and he became praised in the local paper as “Plymouth’s Fred Astaire!” However, each morning before school Jack had to deliver the bread from his father’s shop. He was outraged. “Fred Astaire would NEVER do that!”
Anita Harris recalled “Two Crusoes, Two Whittingtons, Two Aladdins” and several “Jacks” all spent in the company of Jack Tripp. She called him “A Master Craftesman, a wit, and the embodiment of theatre”. Her tribute to Jack was a song from her musical “Bertie” about life behind the footlights.
Finally Jonathan Cecil took to the platform. Jonathan and his wife Anna Sharkey were close friends of Jack, and were constant visitors to his flat, and in communication with him to the very last. He related how, aged fifteen he went to see “Mother Goose” at Oxford Playhouse. The star was the Comedienne Ethel Revnell (Of Revnell & West) but to him the undoubted star was the young Jack Tripp as “Jonny”, Mother Goose’s son- in dungarees with “nimble footwork and a mobile face”.
Several decades later he saw Jack now “Elevated to dame- the best I ever saw”, he praised his attack, his vitality and his dame as “A truly believable and loveable creation”. In Jonathan’s words, Jack’s dame was “Everyone’s favourite Auntie”, a man who was truly in love with his craft. To conclude, Jonathan read the words he had written in a newspaper article about Jack Tripp-
“Eternally young, his sense of magic untarnished, the irrepressibly droll Jack Tripp embodies the true comic spirit of Christmas past, present and future!
28th October 2005
Link to Jemima Laing's article on Jack Tripp from the BBC Website January 2009
Born in Glasgow in 1926, in Wilton Street, Maryhill Glasgow, the son of an insurance manager, Stanley Baxter’s career has encompassed theatre, television, radio and films, and excelled as one of the finest pantomime dames in the country.
Known to television audiences for his spectacular comedy specials that were on air from the 1960’s through to the 1980’s, these superb programmes were the jewel in the crown for both the BBC and London Weekend Television. They were lavish, spectacular in terms of sets, effects and extras, and allowed him to give full rein to his impersonations of characters as diverse as George Formby, Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Durante and even the Queen and the Pope! “The Stanley Baxter Picture Show” took months to write, and lengthy periods spent rehearsing and shooting. There were “send ups” of Hollywood musicals and Ziegfield style shows as well as simpler vignettes such as his impersonation of Arthur Neagus from the antiques Road show inspecting the Village Postmistress – “A fine pair of cabriole legs… and look at that face. It has “Position closed” written all over it!” Stanley virtually invented the “split-screen” technique of filming up to four different characters that would appear “side by side”. Baxter often played 40 different characters in one “special”.
Baxter was schooled for the stage by his mother, and began his career in “Scottish Children’s Hour” with Auntie Kathleen. He began entertaining the troops while undertaking his National Service- it was at this time he first worked with Kenneth Williams, Peter Nicholls and John Schlesinger, later to become a film director. As a supply clerk in Burma he was soon to join C.S.E (the follow up to ENSA). He worked at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, and became a household name in Scotland with the BBC Radio Show “It’s All Yours” teaming up with Jimmy Logan. Their catch-phrases- “Sausages is the boys” and “If you want my thingummy, ring me” were heard in conversations from Jedburgh to Thurso.
He signed with Howard & Wyndham in 1952 to appear in their “Half Past Eight” summer shows, and appeared on the opening night of Scotland’s first commercial television channel, STV, along with a founder member, Jimmy Logan.
Stanley moved to London in the late 1950’s to work in television, and in film His London debut was in “The Amorous Prawn” 1n 1959.. His film credits include “Geordie” (1955) VIP (1961) “The Fast Lady” (1962) and “Father came too!” (1963), and on television as “Mr.Majeika” for ITV. His voice has been heard in countless voice-overs for commercials and in animated features.
In Pantomime north of the border, Stanley Baxter starred in Glasgow pantomimes, and pantomimes at the King’s Edinburgh often teamed up as Ugly Sister with Jimmy Logan, and later with Ronnie Corbett and with Angus Lennie at Edinburgh Kings. Specialities included slosh scenes, a splendid cod ballet- performed with Ronnie Corbett, and a “Musical Sisters” routine.
For many years he alternated his panto appearances between the two cities, rarely playing pantomime further south than Manchester... His “Mother Goose” was a lavish and spectacular show, designed by Terry Parsons that emulated the detail and expense of his television series. Played very traditionally at the onset, the audience were in thrall waiting for the transformation scene when Mother Goose (Baxter) would appear in a variety of amazing outfits, and then top them all with his finale “walk-down” costume. Stanley as “Sister” would not simply walk down the ballroom steps in “Cinderella”; he would be flown in as a fully lit chandelier, with a smile beaming brighter than any of his light bulbs! Baxter’s “Parliamo Glasgow” routines in pantomime were hugely popular, as he demonstrated the art of speaking Glasweigian as a foreign language. Often his song sheet would be in this style.
Stanley retired in 1990 and has made the occasional foray into radio since then,
In 1997 Stanley Baxter was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Comedy Awards.
The following stories have been copied from our Message Board:-
....it was a fantastic show which also starred Angus Lennie as Gussie. Angus was a big star at the time due to his being in Crossroads, as I'm sure you recall, though since we didn't watch that we were more excited to see someone who had been in The Great Escape. He was great, was Angus and the whole show was a real treat. The costumes at the King's are always impressive but the frocks Stanley had for the sequences where Mother Goose goes 'bad' were incredible. One was a champagne glass overflowing with bubbles which was extraordinary.
As an added bonus to the show itself Stanley also gave us the very real treat of a whole section of Parliamo Glasgow prior to the final walk-down at the end. If you are unfamiliar with Parliamo Glasgow (and if you are apologies for the protracted explanation) it was a comic device used by Stanley on stage at the Citizen's Theatre years before and successfully translated into print and on television. It took the shape of imagined words in phonetic form being strung together in combinations to create Glaswegian phrases and colloquialisms which Stanley would explain in clipped RP then lapse into broad Glaswegian to demonstrate.
For example, 'ZARRA' would be put together with 'FACMAC' and 'BURDORAHAIRYWULLIE' to make: ZARRAFACMAC ("Is that a fact, Mac?") and ZARRABURDORAHAIRYWULLIE ("Is that a young lady, or a young man?")
At the panto, Stanley put on his most conservative suit and stood stage left while four girls from the chorus stood across the stage holding large square sort-of-rolling-pin things which displayed a suffix and could be turned to show another few and provide the tag. The first girl held the prefix (the 'ZARRA' bit) and the girls would turn the words at Stanley's prompt.
I'm not sure how much more stilted an explanation I could have dreamt up there but don't be put off, it was hilarious and a fantastic treat to see it done live. It was really very, very clever.
Testament to the impact the show had on me is the fact that I can recall celarly the song for singing along to at the end. I only saw the show once but it has stuck with me for the last 20-odd years.
It was also done in the Parliamo Glasgow schtick and went thus:
Geeza purra burra furrra murra
Geeza barra choaclate furra wean
Geeza ton o' fags
Has yez oany tottie bags?
Tae pit ma totties in tae ah get hame
Plrrt on ra slate I'll pay yez efter
I'm off tae see ra pantymine
And if yez can say
"nae borra, a' the best"
Yez needna borra,
Yez can Parliamo Glasgow orra time!"
Give me a pound of butter for my mother,
Give me a bar of chocolate for my child
Give me a tin of cigarettes
Have you any potato bags,
To put my potatoes in until I get home.
Put it on the slate I'll pay you later
I'm off to see the pantomime.
And of you can say,
"No bother, all the best"
You needn't bother,
You can Parliamo Glasgow anytime!"
TO BE CONTINUED
This page was last updated 17th June 2010