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26th January 2014

PANTOMIME BLOG & AWARDS 2013-14

By Daniel Dawson

@nbcdreamer

So, another panto season ends. This year, I have driven over 3,500 miles, spent over £2,000 (on tickets, hotels and transport) and visited 26 pantomimes, in my quest to find the best shows of the season.

As always, my ventures are completely self-funded, and this allows me to ensure all views are my own, are not influenced by anyone, and do not reflect the views of its-behind-you.com or anyone else for that matter! The next 11,000 odd words, (I wrote less for my dissertation) are all my own rants and reviews, on what in my opinion has been one of the best overall Pantomime Seasons in recent years. (With one or two exceptions of course).

Having moved jobs since the last panto season, my primary concern was how I was going to ensure I would make it to Newcastle for the opening week of the season. After all, having started my tour there for the past two years, I was keen to continue in similar vein this year.

I also had high expectations of this year’s offering “Jack and the Beanstalk”. The Village Idiot, had assured me via twitter, that it was a cracker this year!! NO I am not being rude, Michael Potts plays the Village idiot in the panto, and he gave me the heads up!!

Therefore, with a few tweaks here and there, I was able to ensure I was in Newcastle for the first Friday of the run.  There is something magical about arriving at the Theatre, having negated the Christmas Market, with the warm cup of Mulled wine still in hand. The giant posters of Clive, Danny and Chris hanging down from the impressive pillars at the front of the theatre only managed to heighten my expectation and excitement.

Because it had been such a last minute booking, I first needed to sweet talk the box office into swopping my seat at the back of the stalls, for something slightly better, but ideally not in the firing line of the gunge, water and whatever else was going to get thrown over the audience during the show.

Last year, my Premium Seats in the 5th row, had also provided me with a “Free Shower” in the story telling scene!! Why oh why did it have to rain!!

So with my upgraded Grand Circle seat, I settled down to enjoy my first pantomime of the season.

Previous readers of my Annual Blog, will recall that I put Newcastle’s 2011-12 Sleeping Beauty as my favourite Pantomime EVER!! Therefore I always have very high expectations of Clive, Danny, Chris and the team … and boy did they deliver this year and some!!

What an absolutely fantastic show, non-stop action from start to finish, with some absolutely sensational scenes included.

No one was safe in the audience this year, thanks to a video camera and the giant screen!! Although to be fair, some were safer than others …. I mean, anyone who had been to the panto before should know there is no such thing as “free popcorn” when Danny Adams is involved!!  Certainly the lady on the second row who had a whole bucket thrown all over her, just so he could get one piece in her mouth will know for next time.

The show started off at a blistering pace, with not one but four scary giants, and Steve Arnott looking even more terrifying than normal, as Fleshcreep.  He immediately ensured the crowd were against him, when he asked what you called a group of donkey’s, and then remembered it was “Newcastle United”!

We didn’t have to wait long for our hero to arrive on top of a milk cart, which was still spluttering, having broken down at the earlier performance, requiring intervention from the AA. (This was for real and not a pantomime gag!)

It was at this point, our hero Jack disappeared off stage and came back out with a video camera, as the Giant Screen descended into the centre of the stage.  All of a sudden, all the smug people sat at the back who thought they were out of the firing line, replaced their smug looks, for ones of pure fear. Hoping that the camera wouldn’t pick them out.

After we had been introduced to various members of the audience, the camera suddenly turned to find the Village Idiot sat in his seat eating popcorn. Poor Michael Potts does tend to get picked on by his dad and brother.  Before he could finish his treat, he’d been dragged up on stage, ready to star in more scenes of madcap madness later on in the evening.

We were then introduced to Dame Trott, portrayed by the North East’s favourite dame, Chris Hayward, who as in previous years, had obviously spent a lot of time and money developing his/her wonderful costumes.

As in previous years, whilst the “stars” of the show lead the way, Newcastle is always backed up with a very strong cast, which ensures every moment of the show is enjoyable.

We were treated to Jack Trott, his dad and the Village idiot baking a cake for Princess Apricots Birthday. Yes, it was time for the front few rows to don their waterproofs, and prepare for Foam Madness!! It’s always a worrying sign when Clive and Danny remove their mike packs!!

The comedy was coming thick and fast, and next up we were treated to “Jack” joining the local Morris Dancing Troupe, and again more madness and mayhem followed.

Once this comedy routine was finished we didn’t have to wait long until we were treated to a very funny “bed scene” with the family Trott! Clive, Danny and Chris yet again proving how great they are together.

The twins had been hard at work again with their special effects. Why bother climbing up the beanstalk when you can go by helicopter?

After the interval, we were treated to The Trott’s expertise in the “horns” including a very funny scene with an audience plant! The young girl giving as good as she got!

Chris Hayward’s fantastic costumes continued to come thick and fast, including an elaborate “Afternoon Tea” dress and Heinz Baked Beans outfit!

As the evening came to a close, there was still time for the best scene of all. The sold out crowd were on the edge of their seats, and Clive Webb referred to the “most requested routine” in their now nine years of doing pantomime in Newcastle. The entire crowd sat on the edge of their seats, desperate to hear that they were about to revisit the now “legendary” Twelve Days of Christmas routine. The anticipation turned to disappointment, as Clive announced “but we’re not going to do that this year”! Before turning to cheers of delight as he pronounced it was time for the “Twelve Geordie Days of Christmas”.

For the next ten minutes, tears of joy rolled down my face, as I struggled to breathe as I laughed so hard it hurt!!

Whilst the Three Greggs pasties that went missing, and resulted in one of the stage lights being destroyed by Danny Adams, the “Four Cheryl Cole’s” (four blow up dolls with Cheryl Coles face stuck on), created the biggest laughs of all! Especially when Danny managed to pull down the scene cloth to try and find them! Cue Four Burley scene hands, sat on the set, scowling!  Yes, of course it was planned, but that didn’t stop it from being absolutely hysterical. So funny was this scene, the audience were sat in pools of laughter tears. Even those family members who had been dragged along to the show, couldn’t help but laugh at the antics of the Trott family, complete with the Village Idiot! (Who has an excellent voice it should be noted).

Newcastle Pantomimes sell out every year, and trying to get last minute tickets is nay on impossible, unless you want restricted views or to be sat suspended from the ceiling. The reason, is year after year, this talented cast deliver. Next year will mark the 10th Season for Clive and Danny at this beautiful theatre! I for one can’t wait to see how they adapt Snow White to deliver another seasonal spectacular.

But before that, I get to see it all again on their final performance on the 18th January. I just wish I worked / lived nearer so I could see this spectacular show again and again!!

The gauntlet has been put down for my pantomime of the year 2013-14, and I have only just started on my tour!!

The next night, it was down to Mansfield to see only the second preview performance of Cinderella, starring Ruth Madoc and Dave Benson Phillips.

For £10 a ticket, it represented great value, but in all honesty, you could tell it was only their second performance. I am positive that this show will improve significantly during its run, as it has a great script, some funny gags, and really good direction. What it needed was a bit more time for the cast to gel.

It certainly wasn’t helped by one of the Ugly Sisters having to withdraw late in the day due to illness.

The highlight of the show, had to be at the start of the second half, when our Fairy Godmother, rolled back the years, put her Yellow Coat on, and revisited her much loved role as Gladys Pugh. The lady in front of me, turned to her husband and said “that’s made my night that has” and looking around, that seemed to be the case for everyone.

It’s a shame I won’t get to go back and see this show again before the end of the run, as I am sure with time, it will get much tighter, but for £10, there can be no complaints.

From Mansfield, it was time for the first visit of the year to my “home” panto, and Sheffield. I could look forward to taking my niece and nephew here again later in the month.

Since Evolution and Damian Williams arrived in Sheffield some six years ago, the audiences have been treated to a big dose of festive fun! Damian has been taken in by the people of Sheffield as one of their own, and now it’s just not Christmas without seeing him treading the boards on the Lyceum stage. That said, after one of his jokes didn’t go down too well, he noted “I wasn’t born in Sheffield, but I think I am going to die here!”

The question at the start of the night, was could Damian possibly top his appearance as Jessica Ennis in last years “legendary” ghost scene. The answer to that turned into a resounding YES… but more about that later.

Whilst Sheffield may not have the budgets of other shows on the tour, it always delivers. There were excellent sets, on the rather small Lyceum stage, wonderful costumes, but most importantly, laughs by the bucket load, and unlike many other shows, as in previous years, the jokes we’re all new and updated.

In Andrew Fettes, Sheffield had an excellent baddy. Having recently seen Andrew in the wonderful Ha Ha Holmes, I had high expectations, and I wasn’t let down! Ian “H” Watkins from Steps took the lead role as Jack, although Dame Trott was convinced he was really “Jon from S Club 7”.

As the show moved along at an electric pace, we were treated to a very funny “vinyl record scene” with Dame and Jack Trott, using records to tell a story. Just as in previous years, where chocolate bars, board games and perfume had been used, this had the audience in fits of hysterics.

The audience were then “treated” and I use that word very loosely, to what had to be the funniest part of the show.

Now I am hardly thin, but then, I wouldn’t have the “balls” to appear on stage in a bikini as Miley Cyrus in her “Wrecking Ball” video …. But Dame Trott Did!!! Yes the audience were “privileged” to see “Smiley Virus” in concert. This scene brought tears of laughter to the eyes of even the grumpiest of granddad forced to take his grandkids to see the panto. I just felt sorry for the rest of the cast, who had to see that sight “twice a day, and three times on a Saturday”.

It was the one part of the show, everyone was talking about at the interval.

We were also treated to the cleverly named dancing “Our Cow Molly”, who happen to be the brand of ice cream on sale in the theatre!! Dame Trott remarked he hadn’t seen “an old cow dance like that, since Vanessa Feltz has been on Strictly Come Dancing”.

There was plenty more action and laughs to come in the second half, including our hero Jack valiantly taking on the nasty Giant, and the legendary Lyceum Theatre Ghost scene.

For those of you wondering how Dame Trott made it up to Cloud Land to help her son Jack, she got there with “her” homemade Jet Pack, made from a vacuum cleaner, hence the reason she was “Dyson with Death”.

Of course these homemade contraptions are not always reliable, so when Dame Trott was stuck hanging from the middle of the stage, she asked her son and the King (played by the excellent Pete Dunwell) for some help. Of course, they had no intention of helping “mum” out, and prompted to swing her from side to side, leading to poor old Trotty exclaiming “she thought the Chuckle Brothers were in Darlington this year”.

Before this fabulous show came to an end, there was still time for Sheffield Theatres to give their other Christmas show a quick plug, when Dame Trott appeared as Oliver! Based on this performance of “Where is Love”, something tells me, Dame Trott won’t be getting the call if an understudy was needed across the square!

All in all, this was an excellent show, with a strong cast, and I am already looking forward to paying a return visit later in the month, when I will be joined by my 6 and 4 year old niece and nephew.

From Sheffield, it was time to head down to Milton Keynes to see Snow White, with Warwick Davis, Jennifer Ellison and the returning Kev Orkian.

Kevin, playing the “sort of evil Herbert the Henchman” remarked how “Brilliant it was to be back in Milton Keynes… in a roundabout way!”

I have to say that this FFE Snow White set is, in my opinion one of the most elaborate sets of all. The Dwarfs Diamond Mine is simply spectacular.

This show was excellent from start to finish, and featured an extremely talented cast. Jennifer Ellison made for a superb Wicked Queen Morgiana, and was much better than Priscilla Presley who had taken on the same role in Wimbledon the previous year.

I may be an old softie at heart, but like the majority of the audience, the dwarves are always the highlight of the show. Led by the fabulous Warwick Davis. It was also good to catch Grumbly – Peter Burrows and his daughter Hayley as Blusher. I think I have seen them for the last 6 years running, and it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t hear Grumbly reminding us all that “cleaning was Women’s Work”! (His opinion may I point out!).

Kev Orkian has so much energy it’s unbelievable, how he keeps that going twice a day for 6 weeks is beyond me. He had the entire audience eating out of the palm of his hands, even when he was trying to kill the beautiful Snow White played by the excellent Kate Stewart, on the orders of the Wicked Queen.

The audience were also treated to the sub plot of Moravia’s Got Talent. We saw the Dwarf’s practising their acts. Whilst Blusher and Pudsey, and Loo(py) Bo were fantastic, the star performance of the night for me had to be a send up of the 2013 winners Attraction. The “Distraction” shadow performance was the funniest part of the evening for me.

Although the winner was Warwick Davis as Elvis.  Whilst this was thoroughly enjoyable, I do have to admit, I had preferred his Gangnam Style performance more in Wimbledon the previous year.

I felt this was a wonderful show, and advised my brother to head up from London with his eldest in order to get to see it before the run ends, and I just know she will absolutely love it.

From Milton Keyes, it was a short stop (albeit 3 days later) to Northampton, and husband and wife partnership Linda Lusardi and Sam Kane in Sleeping Beauty. The show that had transferred from Darlington last year.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable show, and was much better than it had been, when I saw it in Darlington last season. I wonder how much of that was due to seeing the show at the end of its long run last year, and near the start of the run this time out.

Linda Lusardi made a very glamorous Wicked Queen, ably supported by her long suffering Henchman, Oddjob, her real life husband, Sam Kane. Andy Jones provided the laughs as Muddles with Shinead Byrne as the Princess Beauty. Phil Hitchcock brought his comedy magic to the party as the King.

The poor Dame remarked that men called her “Junction 15” as she was the Northampton Turn Off!!

The pantomime was moving along swimmingly, and I was having a very enjoyable time, until Oddjob and Muddles decided to cook everyone breakfast.

Earlier on in my review, you will have recalled my laughing at the poor lady in Newcastle who had received a face full of popcorn!! Well it is time for her to laugh now.

I knew it wasn’t a good thing when Odd job came into the audience with a bowl full of sugar puffs to “feed” to audience members.

Of course being on the Aisle on the fourth row isn’t the best place to be situated either when this happens, as I was to find out.

“Would you like some breakfast”, I am not sure “no, I’m good thanks” would have been the answer he was looking for, so in the interest of taking one for the team, I replied “oh yes” and opened wide.

I still had sugar puffs coming out of my jumper when I was changing for bed later that evening. I did however feel even sorrier for the poor cleaners who were going to have to clear up the mess made by my feet. I felt I could have thrown my sweet wrappers on the floor after all.

How I wished Muddles had killed Odd job off earlier in the very funny pistol dual scene.

Before the end, there was still time for a “visit” from the infamous Northampton Clown!!

From Northampton, it was off to the Playhouse in Nottingham for Kenneth Alan Taylor’s 30th Year as a pantomime dame, and sadly his last.

Ken was joined by returning cast members Rebecca Little, Tim Frater and two of my favourites from last year, John Elkington and Anthony Hoggard.

Well if Kenneth can’t be persuaded to postpone his retirement, he certainly ended on a high. Although when the fairy fluffed her words, he did remark that “He should have got Su Pollard” (appearing in Peter Pan at the Theatre Royal!)

With “mistakes” coming thick and fast, it was up to Dame Trott to reassure the audience, that if we were to come back next year “and it’s doubtful” I’ll try to get some good actors!”

Though we were advised “If you want your money back … Bad Luck”.

Although in jest, I seriously doubt anyone would have even considered asking for a refund, as this was an excellent show. Very colourful sets, beautiful costumes, and an excellent script well-acted.

When the excellent Anthony Hoggard finally made it on to the stage in the second half, as the Giant’s wife, he decided he was going to ensure the entire audience knew he was there!!

Dame Trott didn’t seem impressed and asked “him” what he was up to?  “Making the most of a very small part” was the reply, to fits of hysterics from the sold out audience. That was fighting talk to Dame Trott …”Where will you be working next year” snarled Dame Trott.

“Not Here … The Theatre Royal”

“I doubt it, they are professional there!”

“And that’s why you’ve been working here 30 years”

The audience were loving this. Even though Kenneth advised us we were all watching the “First Green Pantomime” it was full of “recycled rubbish”!

Before this wonderful show ended, there was still time for the baddy, played as ever by the wonderful John Elkington to get some cream cakes and tea in the very funny afternoon tea scene.

This was a great show, and a fitting end to a pantomime legend in these parts.

From Nottingham Playhouse, it was the short hop down Brian Clough Way to Derby, and the return of funny man Mike McClean who was Simon Trott this year! He was joined by Cheryl Fergison, Marcus Collins and Don Maclean.

In truth, this wasn’t as good as it had been in previous years. Certainly last year’s Peter Pan had been much better. We were treated to a very funny wallpaper scene, but in reality, there wasn’t a lot to report on this show, and I don’t think it will be troubling the leader board in this year’s Panto Awards.

From Derby, it was off to last year’s Panto of the Year Winning Team, Stoke on Trent with Jonny Wilkes and Christian Patterson.

Would this talented team be able to reach the heights of the previous year, and retain their title? Well, with plenty more shows to see, it’s probably too early to tell as I write this portion of my blog, but having sat there laughing my head off for just over two hours, I am pretty sure it will be up there at the end of the season!

Under the directorship of Jonny and Christian, you are guaranteed non-stop comedy from start to finish and we weren’t let down.

Our hero arrived in his Rocky Dressing Gown, boxing his way through the sold out audience to huge cheers.

It was clear to see from the first minute that this was going to be a humdinger of a show!

What shocked me, was finding out afterwards that this talented cast and crew had only had 5 days to rehearse the entire show! I have no idea how they did it, but it looked as though they’d had 5 months to rehearse!

The show was tight, fast paced and full of laughs, although having spent 5 minutes ensuring Muddles could hear us when anyone approached the present he has purchased for Snow White, the present promptly disappeared and she never got it!!

As well as the excellent Jonny Wilkes and Christian Patterson, last year’s Dandini, played by Jamie Tyler also returned as the Prince. Not that he had the look of a Prince about him. Indeed Muddles and Herman teased him that he was “So Ugly, if this had been called Snow White and the Eight Dwarfs, and one of them had been called Ugly, he wouldn’t have been playing the Prince”!

To be fair, the onstage insults were coming thick and fast! Muddles constantly got on the back of poor Herman, about his weight. “Your Fattist” complained Herman, to which Muddles responded with “I think you’ll find, you’re fattest!” At this point, I think it is only fair to point out that Christian Patterson who was playing the brilliant Herman, has actually lost over 7 stone since his appearance last year, and at this rate, they won’t be able to do any “fat” jokes next year!!

For the first time in an FFE pantomime, we were treated to the very funny wall scene, where Herman, upset that Muddles and Snow White wanted to sing a duet, made sure he kept his presence on stage.

It soon came time, for Herman to take poor Snow White out into the forest and kill her!

As Herman approached with his knife out, ready to do the dirty deed, Snow White Proclaimed “I didn’t hear what the boys and girls were saying”.

“I’m not surprised” came the response (the audience had been very quiet). “If someone sneaks up on me with a knife, you’re just the 1500 people I want to warn me” “It’s called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, if I kill her, there won’t be a second half!”

We were then introduced to the Seven Dwarfs, led by Prof, played by Phil Holden, although it was his son, Paddy, playing Loopy who stole the show!!

To kick things off in the Second Half, we were entertained by “If I was not upon the Stage” cue 10 minutes of mayhem and mischief on stage. I am not sure however that Herman’s Ballerina will be gracing the Opera House in Covent Garden anytime soon.

Next up, came Take That as you have never seen them before! As Jonny Wilkes was joined in his excellent rendition of Back for Good by 4 of the dwarfs, wearing, Gary, Jason, Howard and Mark T-Shirts. I will leave you to work out who wore the Robbie one!!

The highlight of the night however came as the winner of Moravia’s Got Talent was announced. In what I imagine was a close run contest between Blusher & Pudsey, and Loobo, it was Muddles and Herman as PJ & Duncan who won! Again the audience wiped tears of laughter away as they joined in “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble”.

This was a top class show from start to finish. It’s not hard to see why Jonny Wilkes is the King of Panto in this region. He knows exactly what the audience are coming for, and delivers it time and time again. Christian Patterson was simply superb as the hapless Herman the Henchman.

Christian has the audience eating out of the palm of his hands, he is the new adopted son of Stoke. He and Jonny just work together so well. That had been apparent last year, when they teamed up with their other friend Kai Owen in Cinderella, and was apparent again this year.

The fact they look like they are having so much fun out there, translates to the audience, and ensures they also have a great time! Let’s hope all three of them can be reunited next year!!

The show was so good, the first thing I did at the end, was book to go back again before the end of the run!!

From Stoke, it was off to the East Coast to see Christopher Biggins and Bob Carolges in Jack and the Beanstalk.

It was a chance to relive the original Surprise Surprise with Bob and Biggins, but sadly without Cilla!

There was nothing particularly new or exciting in this show to be honest, the highlight for me, was Spit the Dog doing his impression of an Irish Sheep Dog … “Moo”, yes in truth that was about as good as it got! So from there, it was off to the Christmas Eve Matinee of Dick Whittington at the Manchester Opera House.

Having seen a number of FFE shows, it was finally time to see the genius who writes all the scripts in action himself. Yes Dame Extraordinaire Eric Potts, who was joined by a very talented cast.

As in previous years the leading comedy role was portrayed by Tam Ryan. He explained that he was lucky to be working for the Alderman, having recently been sacked from his job at the M&M factory, for throwing all the W’s away!

Eric and Tam were joined by the world’s most famous dog “Pudsey” who wowed the audience with his obedience and tricks. His owner, wasn’t perhaps as comfortable taking the role of Alice as Pudsey was in playing to the sold out crowd.

The fairy was played by the excellent Jodie Prenger, who has an absolutely stunning voice. It’s not hard to see why she has been in demand ever since winning the BBC show “I’d Do Anything”. It was a privilege at times to hear her sing!!

These days it can’t be Christmas without seeing the excellent Eric Potts don his wig, makeup and dress and entertain us all as Sarah the Cook, although if I ever got invited round for dinner, and he was cooking, I may have to find an excuse! I don’t think Sarah the Cook will be winning Come Dine with Me anytime soon!!

Not only does Eric write and produce some of the best shows around, he makes a wonderful dame. Although I did feel Tam got off lightly this year without the need to eat copious amounts of marshmallows!! Those who have seen this show before will know exactly what I mean.

Again, as in previous years, the ship was captained by Captain Tichworth, played by the brilliant Ben Goffe.

The one liners as usual came thick and fast, with a personal favourite being the reference to the new book Idle Jack had purchased about the weather in Manchester... 50 Shades of Grey!

As with a few of the other FFE shows this year, we were treated to a simply brilliant “Something Else I’d Rather Be” rendition, with just the right amount of chaos on stage. That and the 12 days of Christmas are two of my favourite Pantomime scenes when done properly, so I am enjoying its renaissance this year!

As this excellent show reached the end, there was just time for Tam to give me a shout out! Thanks for that, makes sure you won’t be winning anything in the awards this year ;-)!

And of course the song sheet, which this year was the kid’s friendly chart hit “What Does the Fox Say”? (Barnsley are going down maybe – revenge Tam!!!)

Here we saw Idle Jack giving it his all, and showing off his dance moves. I’ll put a word in to Craig Revel Horwood when I see him on the 27th.

After treating the audience to a rather energetic performance, Tam remarked that “This is what I do for money” “work hard at school kids”.

This ensured everyone left the theatre, exactly as they had arrived, with a huge smile on their faces.

A truly wonderful pantomime, and the perfect way to kick Christmas festivities off!

After the show there was time for a quick catch up with Eric, and a chance to finally meet Tam and Ben.

For those of you reading this who haven’t met them, let me just tell you, that as with Jonny Wilkes, Christian Patterson and Damian Williams, they are some of the nicest, most genuine people you will ever meet!

So from there, it was time to enjoy a day off on my pantomime travels, if only because for some reason, actors like to actually have Christmas Day off, I mean really!!!!!

Then on Boxing Day, it was time to head over to a VERY VERY VERY windy Llandudno.  I don’t mind telling you the trip home was rather scary, the coast road with 60 mph + gusts of wind is not much fun. Thankfully we got back safely, and it had definitely been a worthwhile trip.

I always enjoy seeing my good friend “The Poor Man’s Lilly Savage” (The script, not my view), the ever wonderful Nigel Ellacott. Joined this year by Brendan Sheerin from Coach Trip and Corrie’s Janice Battersby, the absolutely amazing Vicky Entwistle.

Yes Nigel was fabulous, Brendan very funny, John Evans extremely funny, but there was only one star of this show, the wonderful Vicky. Now I am not sure what accent she was playing the nasty evil Carabosse with, and having spoken to her afterwards, I am not convinced she did either, but whatever it was, it brought tears of laughter to mine and the entire audience’s eyes.

The big problem was you’re supposed to hate the evil Carabosse, but the crowd couldn’t get enough of her!!! She was simply sensational!!I could listen to her dulcet tones all night. I understand the accent was based on a Maltese accent, but by the end, I had it down to an Eastern European Welsh Indian from Malta!

This show was non-stop laughter from start to finish, and the eager crowd in Llandudno seemed to love it. John Evans, who was returning for the 7th year had the audience eating out of the palms of his hands with wisecracks and gag after gag.

We were treated to another favourite scene of mine, the mirror scene with Nigel and John on top form.

If that wasn’t enough, we were also treated to the very funny wall scene, where the Prince and Beauty try to sing a duet, and are interrupted by Muddles.

We also had another favourite, with the chocolate barrow, where the story is told using chocolates. They do tend to “Wispa” these, and usually it comes on “After Eight”, to give you some idea!

Carabosse was continuing to get the laughs, she remarked that she was “hissed in the morning, hissed in the afternoon and very hissed at night!”

As the first half came to a close, thanks to the trickery of the wonderful TwinsFX we were treated to a flying Brendan!! He did look as though he would have rather caught the coach!

The laughs and the action didn’t stop in the second half either. Although I don’t think John Evans was laughing, when in performing Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball” he wacked himself on Carabosse Thrown.

As a seasoned pantomime veteran, you can usually tell when they mean to do something, and trust me, I don’t think that was meant to happen!!

In this jam packed to the rafter’s comedy extravaganza there was still time for a wonderful Ballerina Scene with the Queen, the King and poor old Muddles, before the 5 minutes of madness and mayhem that is “The 12 Days of Christmas”.

This had been a truly sensational show, jam packed with laughs from start to finish, and played out with a wonderful cast. My long lasting memory is still THAT ACCENT!!!

As has now become tradition, after the show, there was time to pop backstage, meet up with Nigel before heading out to a lovely pub in town to have dinner with Nigel, Vicky and some of the other very talented cast and crew.

It had been a wonderful evening, only dampened by the 130 mile drive home in appalling weather, and the knowledge that despite getting home at 00.30 I was up at 7.45am to drive down to Dartford for the matinee performance of Cinderella, starring Bradley Walsh.

It was however, well worth the long trip, although I needn’t have rushed as for some reason the show started 20 minutes late!

Bradley Walsh began by picking on the poor unfortunate lady on the front row! “It’s lovely seeing you, but liven up!”

This show had a very strong cast. Ben Stock and Nathan Kiley make wonderful Ugly Sisters, and having seen them for the last 3 years, I have to say they seem to get stronger each year. They put in a truly fantastic performance.

Louise English was an excellent Fairy Godmother, and performed the song “It’s Me” perfectly. She would have given the excellent Lesley Joseph a run for her money, who also sings that lovely song in Robinson Crusoe.

It was also good to see the funny Barry Hester as Dandini, having been used to seeing him in a frock alongside Shane Richie.

As with all Qdos Cinderella’s the soundtrack was simply wonderful, and as I write each year, I still hope one day copyrighting can be resolved, and these songs can be made available for download.

“Talk about Wrecking the Ball” as we saw the Ugly Sisters Twerking Miley Cyrus style.

We then got to enjoy the Ghost Scene, well I enjoyed it, as I was sat in the Circle. I doubt those a little closer enjoyed it, once Buttons had brought out his de goolifying equipment, which looked very similar to a Garden Water Sprayer!

There was still time to see how far the script could go before the audience would revolt! There were only a few moans when one of the Uglies having been found out for trying to wear the glass slipper on a fake shoe proclaimed “I can explain, my real name is Heather McCartney”.

A really fun show with an excellent cast!

So having seen Bradley in Dartford, “The Chase” was on to get to Southend in time for the evening performance of Snow White! (Sorry I couldn’t resist).

As with this afternoons show, tonight’s was also a real treat. Craig Revel Horwood was a wonderfully Wicked Queen, Paul (the man with many voices) Burling, a very funny Muddles, Cordelia Farnworth a beautiful Snow White, but for me, the real star of the show, was the brilliant Lisa Riley as the Evil Queens sidekick.

Lisa was simply sensational, and had everyone in tears of laughter. Paul also provided plenty of entertainment with his witty and entertaining impressions. We were also treated to Dawson Chance’s latest creation... “Piddling Pete” a dog, with a bladder problem!

A Great show, but without labouring the point, I do feel that Qdos miss some of the magic of Snow White by using Children to play the Dwarfs. The audience reaction isn’t the same, as it is in the FFE shows when the Seven Dwarfs take to the stage.

The music however was great, the costumes superb and a very talented cast certainly delivered.

From Southend, it was a short trip into South London to see Richmond, and the legend that is Henry Winkler as the evil Captain Hook in Peter Pan.

Eric had updated this show, and there had been a few twists added. Whoever came up with casting the wonderful Kiruna Stamell as Tinker Bell is a genius, as it just worked superbly!

Obviously as you would expect, Henry Winkler was sensational, but the rest of this talented cast were also superb. Jeremy Legat made an excellent Peter Pan, but it was the talented Philip Scutt as the rather camp Roger the Cabin Boy who had the theatre in stiches.

This was a wonderful show, and an absolute privilege to see Henry Winkler, who it has to be said, makes a much better Hook than his fellow countryman “The Hoff”.

So from one FFE masterpiece it was the short journey into Wimbledon to see another.

This year we could look forward to a number of Pantomime debuts, none bigger than Jo Brand!

Wimbledon is renowned for its big entrances, and they didn’t let us down here. A silhouette of a supermodel, suddenly replaced by Jo Brand to fits of hysterics from the sold out crowd.

Brand remarking she was more the “ancient lump of the orient”.

In truth this was probably the strongest cast of all the shows I had seen already this year.

Supporting Jo Brand were, the wonderful Matthew Kelly as Widow Twankey, and his son Matthew Rixon as PC Pong. There was no need for a DNA test there, with Matthew Rixon the spitting image of his dad! He led the ultra-talented Peking Police Force, better known as Dance Troupe Flawless. Still the stars came, There was West End Superstar Oliver Thornton as the delightful Aladdin, David Bedella as the wickedly evil Abanazar, and just for good measure, former BGT star Shaheen Jafargholi as the all singing Genie of the Lamp.

There was even room to introduce the very funny Alan Committie as Wishee Washee.

As you would expect from a show with so many big names, it was sensational from start to finish. One liners coming faster than at a Tim Vine Gig, spectacular costumes, and plenty of well-choreographed singing and dancing, although nothing would top the amazing performance from Flawless when the theatre was plunged into darkness, but for their coloured lights on their suits. Simply breath-taking!

We were told that Wishee was so poor he had “opened a Gmail account so he could eat the SPAM”.

Wishee was no idiot, he knew he couldn’t trust Abanazar... “I don’t trust him mum, and to be honest, the music is a dead giveaway!”

There was a very funny “Mr Who, What, I don’t know scene” as well as another wonderful “If I was not upon the stage” which featured Jo Brand as a Cheerleader who wanted a G&T!

Matthew Kelly made a wonderful dame, with some beautiful costumes, including his Biblical Dress… “Low and behold”.

The Genie of the Ring, wasn’t always in a rush to get on stage. At one point, she explained the delay had been due “to a threesome with Mr Kipling and Colonel Sanders”.

The jokes were funny and topical, with Wishee even taking the mickey out of the Mandela Remembrance Service issue with the sign reader.  “I don’t sign, but apparently, it’s not a requirement anymore!”

This was a fabulous show, with a wonderful cast. Oliver Thornton was simply superb as Aladdin, and I could happily listen to him sing all day long. Although I kept wishing he would burst into a chorus of Colour My World having been lucky enough to have seen him in his Priscilla days.

This is what a pantomime should be! If only Wimbledon was nearer, I would happily have paid to see it again, although I wouldn’t have gone for the ATG Blue Package as a small packet of Cadbury’s Buttons and a pack of mini cheddars is not what I would class as a snack box worthy of a £15 surcharge!! Even if they did throw a bottle of water and a programme in!

From Wimbledon, it was an early start next day back home to Sheffield, so I could take my 4 year old nephew and 6 year old niece to see Damian Williams again in Jack & the Beanstalk at the Lyceum in Sheffield.

The show was just as good as the first time, but with the added advantage of watching the look of amazement and joy on my niece and nephews face throughout.

Having got to know Damian via Twitter, I managed to arrange a shout out for the pair, and the opportunity to meet the Dame after. Whilst at the time, they both came over all shy, having spoken to my brother after, it was an experience they would NEVER forget. They couldn’t get over how Dame Trott had said Hello to them, and how exciting it was to meet Dame Trott, Jack Trott and Heffaflumpenstein after!

These are memories they will take with them for the rest of their lives, it’s something they will talk about at school to all their friends, and to all their other relatives, and that, is the real magic of pantomime. For that, I must pass on a HUGE THANKS to the wonderful Dame Damian Williams. Who looks far better in his onesie than he does as Miley Cyrus it has to be said.

For those of you yet to catch Damian in a dress, then I recommend a visit to see him as Sarah the Cook next year in Sheffield’s Dick Whittington!

So having driven up from Heathrow just to see Jack and the Beanstalk, It’s a 200 mile journey back to practically next door to where I had been 24 hours earlier, and a first ever visits to Windsor and later High Wycombe.

Windsor was a very enjoyable pantomime, albeit on a fraction of the budget of many of the other shows I have and would indeed see. The show was fast paced, and had plenty of laughs. Kevin Cruise playing Wishee Washee kept the audience amused.  However, Rosemary Shrager as the Empress did very little to add value to this show, constantly stumbling over her words, and forgetting her lines!

Twist & Pulse, runners up a few years ago in Britain’s Got Talent, were the energetic Policemen, and treated us to a number of high energy routines, as well as helping Cruise and the Dame with the 12 Days of Christmas.

Basil Brush also made an appearance as the Genie, and didn’t miss the opportunity to ask “What Does the Fox Say?”

You could tell that this show didn’t have the budget of some of the others with the magic carpet scene, which saw Aladdin perched rather precariously on what looked like and adapted Fork Lift Truck.

That said, this was a fun show, and an enjoyable afternoon. I was also impressed with the Dame’s finale dress, which looked as though the Dame had been shrunk and sat on top of a Christmas tree, as a fairy.  Very inventive.

From Windsor, it was a short drive up the road to High Wycombe, and Shane Richie in Cinderella.

I was really looking forward to this show, as not only did it feature the excellent Shane Richie as Buttons, but Carly Day as Cinderella, and the wonderful David Robbins and Martin Ramsdin as the Ugly Sisters.

This show was non-stop laughs from start to finish. The very funny scene with Shane Richie and the apple, which ends up with poor Cinders and half the front row getting covered in Apple, returned, which gave the audience a great laugh, although I felt sorry for Carly Day getting a face full of half eaten apple, twice a day!

Whilst the show was already extremely funny, they hit gold on the night I was there, with the young man “Hugo” who was picked to help make the magic spell to get Cinderella to the ball. When asked by Buttons if he had a “Yummy Mummy” his response was to say “Well I’m not going to eat her!”

As always, Martin and David were wonderful as the Ugly Sisters, getting just the right amount of boos, cheers and laughs.

Previous readers of my Reviews will know that Carly Day has been best Princess / Cinderella for the past couple of years, and again tonight showed just why she had enjoyed this accolade previously, with another pitch perfect performance.

Shane Richie as Buttons knows how to work the audience, his one liners came thick and fast and kept the audience mesmerised. I also have to admit to enjoying his “Buttons & Archie” routine, far more than the “real” Ashleigh & Pudsey!

A truly wonderful show, and well worth the debut trip to The Swan, High Wycombe.

With New Year’s Eve fast approaching, it was time to make the annual pilgrimage to the Birmingham Hippodrome for this year’s Big Budget “Snow White”.

This was a pantomime jam packed full of star names.

Gok Wan making his pantomime debut, was the Man in the Mirror, and arrived on a huge silver mirror, flying in on stage. Whilst at times his singing may not have been the best, he gave a fabulous performance as the Man in the Mirror, and I am sure that whilst this may have been his first pantomime, it won’t be his last!

Stephanie Beecham was a wonderfully Wicked Queen, and Over the Rainbow Winner Danielle Hope a fabulous Snow White.

Gary Wilmot as the Dame demonstrated why he has had such a long and successful career in theatre. As well as sounding great, his costumes were also beautiful.

Laughs came thick and fast, which is hardly surprising when you have both Paul Zerdin and Matt Slack delivering them!

The set from this show was simply spectacular. We were also treated to a visit from the Twins Impressive Dragon, which had previously defended Carabosse’s Hideout in Newcastle in 2012.

This elaborate show, featured the best “if I was Not Upon the Stage (working for the Queen)” I had ever seen. This scene alone was worth the ticket money. Gary Wilmot, Matt Slack, Paul Zerdin and Gok Wan all doubling up on their roles. They must need a few cans of Red Bull to manage to go through that twice a day for 6 weeks. The entire audience were in stitches. It was excellently choreographed and performed. I would have liked to have watched it over and over again!

If a flying dragon hadn’t been spectacular enough for the sold out audience, we were then treated to more magic from the Twins, when the Wicked Queen was seen flying across the stage with no sign of wires.

This show had it all, a great strong cast, fabulous sets and costumes, and a wonderful script. My only complaint was the way they portrayed the Dwarfs. It just didn’t work for me, and took away some of the magic of the show.  Perhaps if you had seen Warwick Davis, or Phil Holden and their respective teams this season, you would know what I meant!

Talking of Phil Holden and his team, the next stop was Stoke again, to see the Marvellous Jonny Wilkes and Christian Patterson’s Snow White!

This show was even better second time round. For those of you reading my blog who haven’t ventured to Stoke before, then I recommend you add this panto team to your list of visits for next season. This talented team never fail to deliver. The show is one of the fasted paced pantomimes out there, and there is always something original on show. Although, on being spotted in the second row (not that it was hard) Mr Wilkes (a PORT VALE fan) managed to work in a micky take of my football team (Sheffield Wednesday). To be fair, I found it very amusing, if not a bit cheeky!

With what the team have planned for next year, I am already excited for the end of November 2014, and a chance to see Dick Whittington! Jonny Wilkes was simply sensational as Muddles. His energy is unbelievable. I imagine he will sleep for weeks after the show finishes! Christian Patterson is so funny he should carry a health warning! Seriously, send the grumpiest, anti panto fan into the auditorium, and Christian would have them laughing within seconds!

Debbie Chapman was a wonderfully Wicked Queen, with Kate Elin-Salt a very believable Snow White.

I left the theatre disappointed that this was going to be the last time I would ever see this wonderful production. Oh well, only 10 months to go, until they reunite for Dick!

From Stoke, it was the long drive down the M6/M5 to Bristol, to see my only FFE Cinderella of the Season.

Directed by the talented Chris Nelson, who in previous years had provided the laughs himself on stage, this was another thoroughly enjoyable show!

Andy Ford always gives you good value, and plenty of laughs. His entrance was also highly original. Dressed as a Fox, coming on to the now infamous in pantoland “what does the fox say”?

Paul Burnham and Graham Hoadley were the nasty evil Ugly Sisters. They were both superb. Having seen the talented Hoadley a number of times, whilst he always makes an excellent Dame, his portrayal of an Ugly Sister is always sensational.

Whilst not my cup of tea, Louise Spence put in a tireless performance, and the audience seemed to love him.

Due to Dancing on Ice commitments Suzanne Shaw was unable to appear and so the role of Cinderella was played by Hayley Ainsley, you would never have known she was the understudy, as she gave a wonderful performance.

This show also featured a 3D Ghost scene which seemed to go down really well.

Another fun filled pantomime, delivered by an energetic and talented cast.

From Bristol, it was off to Nottingham, to see David Hasselhoff, Sue Pollard, Barney Harwood and Ben Nickless in Peter Pan.

After a slow start to the show, it really took off once Su Pollard arrived on stage as Mimi the Mermaid, in the Silver Disco Ball that had previously delivered Joan Collins on stage in Birmingham’s Dick Whittington.

I would be interested to know how John and Michael got to Neverland, as they didn’t fly!! Perhaps they went EasyJet from East Midlands Airport!

The Hoff, then made his big entrance, on his Baywatch Style Lifeguard Chair.

There was music and jokes a plenty. Barney Harwood managed to play Peter Pan exceptionally well. Sometimes Pan can be portrayed over the top and become annoying, but not by Barney, who played him to perfection.

My biggest complaint about Ben Nickless who played Smee, was that he wasn’t given more stage time. When he was allowed to shine, predominantly in the Second Half, he was excellent. He treated us to a very amusing story about his life, told in chocolate bars! Although I do prefer it when props are used to exaggerate the names, as opposed to just speaking them. That said it still made for a very funny scene.

However, his funniest moment had to be, when he helped Hoff the Hook reminisce of his time on Baywatch, by dressing up as Pamela Anderson, complete with “talking” boobs!! An extremely funny scene, well executed.

Su Pollard was really fun as the Magical Mermaid Mimi, and got the loudest shout of the night, when she yelled out “Hi-De-Hi”.

This was a really fun and enjoyable show.

With the first week of January coming to an end, a number of pantomimes were now starting to close. Indeed, my visit to Aylesbury to see Anita Dobson, Andy Collins and Holly Brewer in Sleeping Beauty, was their final performance of the run.

This was the first time I had seen the FFE version of Sleeping Beauty, and whilst the show was excellent, as was the script, the set was rather disappointing. It lacked the usual sparkle of an FFE set.

Anita Dobson made a “mad” but fun Carabosse. Andy Collins kept everyone entertained as Chester the Jester, and Holly Brewer made an excellent “Beauty”. It was just a shame she was “asleep” for such a large part of the show!!

I enjoyed the way ALL the cast members were given their time in the spotlight in this show, using the female dancers to play the various Good Fairies, and the Male Dancers to help Andy Collins perform the 12 Days of Christmas, during which, I got completely soaked, having chosen to sit on the 3rd row!!

There was another heart-warming aspect to this show, with Andy Collins being joined in the cast by his daughter, and having his son join him at the end for the song sheet. After all, they could be playing Chester, or Beauty in years to come!

You could tell by the emotions at the end of this lovely show that the cast and crew had really enjoyed working together on the show.

Leaving the theatre, it was disappointing to think that this and the majority of other pantomimes had now closed throughout the country.

That said, there were still some poor souls running around twice a day, being covered in water and sludge for another few weeks, and as a consequence, it was time to pay a visit to a favourite pantomime haunt of mine, and Bradford.

After all, it’s just not Christmas without a trip to see the King of Panto – Billy Pearce. This year in Aladdin, with the set that had flown down (via Magic Carpet) from the Theatre Royal in Newcastle from last year.

This was another big budget, elaborate show, although it did pay more than a passing resemblance to the Newcastle show from last year.

Billy Pearce was his usual energetic self, even poking fun at his advancing years!!

The show was complete with some of the TwinsFX best work, including the evil Cobra advising Abanazar where to find the chosen one, and King Kong who defended his lair, but by far the most impressive of the effects, was the flying carpet.

Here, not only did our hero fly out across the audience, but was also spun upside down a number of times to the audience’s amazement. I have to admit, it took me a couple of views last year in Newcastle to work out how they did it!! Even so, it was incredibly impressive.

The packed out crowd also enjoyed throwing copious amounts of foam bananas at the giant Kong to defeat him, although there were plenty in the theatre who kept on to their weapons to throw at opportune moments later in the show!

For me, the highlight was the magnificent “If I Was Not” scene at the end. This is always a fun scene, but when the cast “double” up their roles, it makes for twice as much fun, and twice as much mayhem.

As always, Bradford delivered a fun, and enjoyable show, and in Billy, they have a real crowd pleaser.

From Bradford it was off to Wolverhampton, to catch Joe Pasquale, Ceri Dupree and Lucy Evans in Sleeping Beauty.

This show has been around for a few years, and with Joe down to play Smee next year in Northampton, it could well be the last time it gets an airing.

That would be a shame, as this is another wonderful show. I was also pleased to see the fantastic Wendy Somerville reprising her role as the evil Carabosse. I have been fortunate enough to see Wendy play this role for the past couple of years, in both Darlington and Newcastle, and as always she delivered.

Of course there is only one way to describe the performance of Ceri Dupree … Fabbbbuuuullloooooouuusss.  Ceri puts on a wonderful show, both in pantomime and for those lucky enough to catch his one man, many women shows!! How he manages to walk in the high heels and with the huge, elaborate wigs and hats is a skill in itself.

Joe Pasquale, is another entertainer who always delivers. It’s a real shame he, Bradley Walsh, Brian Conley, Andy Ford, Jonny Wilkes, Billy Pearce etc… don’t get more air time on television. These are the people that epitomise ENTERTAINMENT.

Entertainment is not about watching some nobody sit in a house all day bitching about everyone they’ve ever known, or talking about things they know nothing about. Entertainment is watching these guys perform. Why we don’t seem more of Paul Zerdin, Matt Slack, Tam Ryan, Christian Patterson, Danny Adams on TV and less reality TV is in my opinion a total disgrace.

But rant over, and back to Wolverhampton. This was another fun pantomime, and with Joe slightly tweaking the script every night, not only the audience, but the actors as well, didn’t know quite what to expect. This made for a far more entertaining show.

And so as the curtain came down on this fun evening, there was just one pantomime left to see this season, and that was a trip back to where it all started back in November, and the Theatre Royal in Newcastle.

Time for another viewing of the wonderful Jack and the Beanstalk, which was even better second time around!

And with that, it brought to an end another wonderful pantomime season, and a much better season in general than last year.

The only thing left to do, was to decide the winners for my Pantomime Awards 2014.

I have been asked how I chose the winners, and how is it fair when I don’t visit EVERY pantomime in the land.

Well, firstly, I doubt every judge on the panel for the Oscars views EVERY film that is produced in that year. They choose the ones that interest them the most!! There is a screening process.

I am the same, I spend weeks and months looking at the Its-Behind-You.com Diary page, and meticulously choose the shows I want to see. This could be because I want to see specific stars I have either seen before, or enjoyed, or have never seen and want to see. It could be because I want to see a certain companies take on a pantomime, or visit a specific theatre.

I always try to get back to see the previous year’s winners, so that they have the right to defend their title.

I will always try to see my good friend and owner of this site (Nigel Ellacott’s) show, although I always exclude him from the awards themselves!

I always try to visit new theatres, and new companies, so this year, I made my debut visit to Windsor and High Wycombe.

If a show has been particularly bad previously, I reserve the right to relegate it from my tour, unless it has a cast that really excites me, so Bromley was kicked off this year!

Where possible, when I am travelling, to try to get the maximum benefit, I will attempt to see a matinee and evening performance. So Windsor benefitted from my desire to see High Wycombe this year. To be fair, it was unlikely that I would have travelled all that way to see it in its own right.

If I have seen the show the previous year, and it’s over 100 miles away, it’s unlikely that I will go to see it again the next year, for obvious reasons. Hence not seeing the wonderful Robison Crusoe in Southampton and Jack & The Beanstalk in Cardiff this season. Had those shows been nearer, then I would certainly have gone again. Such as I did with Sleeping Beauty in Northampton, which I had seen previously in Darlington, as it was nearby to where I work.

I also go on my twitter followers recommendations where possible, so if someone suggests a great pantomime company to see, then I will go and see it.

So there you have it, there are criteria, and if you are really offended I haven’t been to see your show, feel free to send me the tickets, and petrol and hotel money!!

When you fund this yourself, as I do, the challenge is to excite me to the extent that I feel I can’t miss the show!! I think that is fair enough!

So will all that put down, on to the awards themselves!

First off the award for Panto of the Year.

The Nominations – Stoke on Trent – Snow White, Newcastle - Jack & The Beanstalk and Aladdin Wimbledon.

The Winner is – Newcastle. A spectacular show that had everything, new original comedy, fantastic special effects and a wonderfully strong cast led by the very talented Clive Webb and Danny Adams.

Best Set

Nominations – Snow White - Birmingham, Aladdin - Bradford and Jack & the Beanstalk - Nottingham Playhouse.

The Winner is – Snow White, Birmingham – a spectacular set, making its debut this year.

Best Costumes

Cinderella - High Wycombe, Snow White - Birmingham and Jack & The Beanstalk - Nottingham Playhouse

The Winner is - Snow White, Birmingham some spectacular costumes and extremely colourful. Although my favourite outfit of all was the Finale Dress worn by the Dame in Windsor, which looked like he was a fairy on top of a tree. Very clever!

Best Lead Comedian

Nominations – Jonny Wilkes – Stoke on Trent, Danny Adams – Newcastle and Ben Nickless – Nottingham

This was an almost impossible award to give out, as there were so many people who deserved a nomination. In the end, I have had the share the award between Jonny Wilkes and Danny Adams. These guys don’t stop. Their energy levels have to be seen to be believed. They are real entertainers. If you haven’t seen these guys in panto before, then you must get to see them next season, you won’t be disappointed.

Best Fairy / Guardian

Nominations – Jodie Prenger – Manchester, Su Pollard – Nottingham and Lisa Riley – Southend

The winner is Lisa Riley, who stole every scene she was in. A fabulous performance.

Best Prince / Aladdin

Nominations – Jamie Tyler – Stoke, Oliver Thornton – Wimbledon and Andrew Derbyshire – Bristol

The Winner, the fantastic Oliver Thornton who was simply sensational. Wonderful voice and showed why he is such a West End Star!

Best Barron / King

Nominations are – Brendan Sheerin – Llandudno, Clive Webb – Newcastle and Pete Dunwell – Sheffield

The winner is Brendan Sheerin for his superb performance of the King in Llandudno’s Sleeping Beauty. I wonder if he has found his fairy yet!

Best Princess / Cinderella

The Nominations are – Holly Brewer – Aylesbury, Carly Day – High Wycombe and Hayley Ainsley – Bristol.

The winner, for the 3rd year running is the every excellent Carly Day, with her amazing voice and stage presence, although you could also argue she deserves the award for getting a face full of apple from Shane Richie twice a day for a month!

Best Script

The nominations are – Snow White – Birmingham, Jack & the Beanstalk – Newcastle and Snow White – Stoke

The Winner, Snow White, Stoke, a brilliantly scripted show with some fantastic one liners, including my Best One Liner Award – Herman to Prince “You’re so ugly, if this was called Snow White and the Eight Dwarfs, and one of the Dwarfs was Ugly, you wouldn’t be playing this part!”.

Best Male Baddie

Nominations are – Christian Patterson – Stoke, David Bedella – Wimbledon and Andrew Fettes – Sheffield

The winner, and to be fair by a country mile is the sensational Christian Patterson. He has the audience in stiches every time he arrives on stage, and has some of the best one liners in the show!

Best Female Baddie

Nominations are - Wendy Sommerville – Wolverhampton, Jennifer Ellison – Milton Keynes and Vicky Entwistle – Llandudno.

The Winner is Vicky Entwistle for her brilliantly funny portrayal as Carabosse. Anyone who heard her accent would know why she was the winner!!!

Best Scene

In 3rd place, the very funny arrival of the Prince in Stoke on Trent. 2nd Place was the brilliantly performed “If I was not working for the Queen” in Birmingham but there can only be one winner this year, and probably the funniest scene I have ever seen. The Twelve Geordie Days of Christmas including broken lights, fire extinguishers going off, scenery back drops falling and four blow up Cheryl Coles! If you were lucky enough to see this scene, you will know why it has to be the funniest pantomime scene EVER!

Best Musical Score

The nominations are – Cinderella – High Wycombe, Sleeping Beauty – Llandudno and Snow White – Southend.

The winner the wonderful Sleeping Beauty Llandudno. I wish Qdos would release the above shows with soundtracks!! The music is all wonderful!!

Best Dame

The nominations are – Gary Wilmot – Birmingham, Damian Williams – Sheffield and Eric Potts – Manchester.

The Winner is Damian Williams, he really is the star of the show, and if it wasn’t for him the show just wouldn’t be anywhere near as great! His Smiley Virus was simply “breath-taking”!

Remember – to be fair, I don’t include Nigel in this category as don’t want to be accused of bias, although, as ever he was amazing!

Best Special Effect

A clean sweep for the Twins FX.

3rd – The flying witch in Birmingham

2nd - The Giant in Newcastle, although we loved the helicopter too!

1st – The Magic Carpet – Bradford, truly spectacular effect watching Aladdin spinning upside down over the audience is simply sensational!

Best Entrance

3rd – Gok Wan and his flying mirror in Birmingham

2nd – Jo Brand and the Super Model shadow in Wimbledon

But the winner, because it was so funny, and original is…

Andy Ford – Bristol Dressed as a Fox for “What does the Fox Say?”

So finally it’s time for some Special Awards.

Firstly, this year’s Fish out of Water Award goes to Rosemary Shrager in Windsor who really was poor as the Empress.

Star of the Future

Paddy Holden who stole the show as Loopy in Snow White Stoke

A couple of other special mentions, firstly Distraction in Milton Keyes, a fabulous send up of BGT winners Attraction, and finally, the best Miley Cyrus of the season has to go to the half-naked Damian Williams in Sheffield.

And that as they say is that!! A wonderful year, let’s do it all again next year?  See you in Newcastle in November!!

Hope you enjoyed the blog. Always looking for new followers on twitter, so please do add me, I am @nbcdreamer.

See you all same time same place next year!!   Oh Yes I Will!!!


9th January 2014 

Nigel's News!!

Panto Running into March? Oh Yes There Is!

Having finished his season as Queen Blodwyn in “Sleeping Beauty” at Venue Cymru in Llandudno, he has now headed South to take up the pinny of Sarah The Cook in The Brick Lane Music Hall’s Panto For Adults- Big Dick Whittington –Which runs from 18th January until the 8th March 2014!

Take a look on www.bricklanemusichall.co.uk - Brick Lane Music Hall can be found on 443 North Woolwich Road, London E16 2DA - Nearest DLR - Pontoon Dock

Nigel starts rehearsals on Monday and hopes to do his second blog of the season about his time in the East End!

Nigel's blog from Llandudno can be found here and a wonderful site of photos PANTOLAND put together by Paul Sampson can be found here - both are well worth a visit.


9th January 2014

Studio Theatre Awards 2013

The Studio Theatre Awards are the UK's Independent Annual Professional Theatre Awards and we are delighted to announce that Nigel and Simon have been recognised for their Services to Independent Theatre through this website. More details about the awards can be found here - http://studiotheatreawards.wordpress.com

 


9th January 2014

Barry Hopkins

We were extremely sad to hear that Barry Hopkins has died, shortly before what would have been his 64th birthday.  Barry’s early shows were as an amateur with the Lyric Players in Wimbledon, where he was spotted playing Kipps in “Half a Sixpence”,  and was  signed up for a professional career. In May 1969, at the age of 19, he appeared on Thames TV’s “Opportunity Knocks” and was offered a recording contract with Southern Music.

His first professional pantomime was at Leatherhead in 1969, and the following year he played seasons at the Players Theatre in Charing Cross and a summer season at Rhyl with Charles Hawtrey and Billy Wells.

His next two pantomimes (in 1970 and 1971) were both as Principal Boy at Swansea Grand,  firstly in “Puss in Boots” with Derek Roy and Danny O’Dea, and then as “Aladdin” with Reg Dixon and Noel Talbot.  In these pantos he struck up life-long friendships with Keith and Alan (The Simmons Brothers) and with Brenda and Alan Stockwell (Pavlov’s Puppets) and established himself as a great favourite in South Wales. 

He played a long cabaret season in South Africa , and then it was back to Wales – again for two successive pantomimes (1972 and 1973), this time at Cardiff, firstly in “Goldilocks” with Harry Worth, Peter Butterworth, Lauri Lupino Lane and Ronné Coyles, and then in “Robinson Crusoe” with Brian Rix, Leo Franklyn and Keith Harris.

In the winter of 1974 he was at the London Palladium as understudy to Tommy Steele in “Hans Christian Andersen”, and hit the headlines in March 1975 when Tommy Steele collapsed during the interval and Barry took over the rest of the show.

For almost two decades Barry was regularly engaged for UK summer seasons in such towns as Scarborough, Weston-Super-Mare, Margate and Clacton, as well as cabaret dates all over the UK, supporting top-name performers like Frankie Laine, Frankie Howerd, Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, and Peters & Lee

His later pantomime dates included  “Dick Whittington” at Windsor (1975) with Trevor Bannister and Bryan Burdon; “Babes in the Wood” at Swansea (1976) with Ryan Davies and Glyn Houston;  “Cinderella” in Stockport (1979) with Charlie Drake, Anne Aston, Billy Whittaker and Mimi Law;  “Cinderella” in Plymouth (1982) with Suzanne Dando, Lewis Collins, Tom O’Connor, Avril Angers;  and “Cinderella” in Stockport (1986) with Lewis Collins, Ken Platt, Lynda Baron and  Simon Barry & Alan Vickers.

At the end of the 80s Barry made a career move. He had frequently performed as a guest artist on various cruise ships, and now decided to move into directing and staging these productions. As Cruise Director he sailed all over the world, and claimed to have visited 188 different countries, working with Carlson and Regent Seven Seas Cruise Companies amongst others.  His success in this field brought him the award of “Best Cruise Director” in 2003.

More recently Barry decided to ease back on the travelling and spend more time at home and working on his major hobby, photography.  Like everything Barry worked at, he turned out to be extremely gifted and painstaking, and it seemed as if he had started yet another new career as a professional photographer, such was the demand from fellow performers for high-quality and  artistic head-shots and promotion material.

His early death was the result of an especially aggressive cancer, which has robbed show business of one of its truly professional and much loved members, remembered as a bubbly, fun-loving, generous, warm-hearted performer, with a very wide circle of life-long friends.  Our deepest sympathy to his long-time partner, Dave.

Vivyan Ellacott

FUNERAL DETAILS

Monday 13th January, 12.15pm South London Crematorium, Rowan Road, Streatham


16th October 2013

The Real Deal

What do you do on a day off from the Pantomime Roadshow? Film with David Dickinson of course! Read all about Nigel and Andrew's adventures with the real deal here.

 


23rd June 2013

Pantomime Roadshow Announcement - 2013 Tour

Andrew Ryan, Nigel Ellacott & Nathan Daniel will be taking the 2013 Pantomime Roadshow to school children around the UK once again. The tour starts with Two Weeks for The London Borough of Redbridge- The Kenneth More Theatre, followed by a week in Southampton on behalf of the Mayflower Theatre, a week in Bradford for the Alhambra Theatre followed by a visit to Scotland for a week of Panto Roadshow in Glasgow for the SECC. The tour concludes in Wolverhampton with a week on behalf of the Grand Theatre.

Dates:

Week Comm: 23rd September: Redbridge.       Kenneth More Theatre

Week Comm  30th September: Redbridge        Kenneth More Theatre

Week Comm   7th  October :     Southampton   Mayflower Theatre

Week Comm   14th October:     Bradford           Alhambra Theatre

Week Comm    21st October:     Glasgow          SECC

Week Comm    4th November:   Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

See our Roadshow Pages for more information

 


19th June 2013 updated 4th July 2013

Peter Thorne

Peter studied music and drama in his home town, Cardiff, before completing his National Service with the RAF in Aden.

On his return to the UK,  he joined John Chilvers’ rep company at  the Swansea Grand, and appeared in many plays there during the 1965 and 1966 Rep Seasons.

Swansea Rep 1966

Afterwards he played rep in Eastbourne and Bexhill, as a member of the Penguin Players,  and began a series of National tours, playing Mole in “Wind in the Willows” Gepetto in “Pinocchio”, and “Alice in Wonderland”, as well as touring productions such as “Ivor The Engine” and pantomimes for Charles Haley Productions.

Peter as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland

I first met Peter during the rehearsals for Wind In The Willows. It was 1983. Peter Robbins and I had joined Charles Haley Productions, having teamed up to be The Ugly Sisters a few years earlier.

Jennifer Haley’s company had a dearth of “Peters”. Peter Robbins, Peter Wiggins and Peter Thorne. Very quickly the character names stuck for identification- Peter Robbins answered to “Badge”, and Peter Thorne became simply “Moley”. Even a few years on when Peter Thorne would be playing Gepetto, he was still Moley. That was until the debut of Peter Thorne- Pantomime Dame!

Peter had appeared in his first Pantomime back in 1965, appearing with Jess Conrad as Colin, with Bryan Burden as Simple Simon. A young Keith Harris appeared as “Puss” in his first professional job. The following year Peter appeared in Swansea with Marty Wilde in “Robin Hood”. The Fairy in this panto was Jennifer Haley.

I have a photograph in my scrapbook. It shows the Two Peters- Robbins and Thorne. Just visible is Simon Barry, now panto producer. I took the photo- we are all dressed as Max Miller in a bus in a park in Aberdeen about to do a show called “There’ll always be an England!” Peter Thorne dressed as a sailor in the finale and sang “Lili Marlene” very seriously. The Danish ambassador and his wife in the front row thought it was the funniest thing they had ever seen. Peter was most affronted! We had so many funny and memorable times on those tours. Sadly both Peter Robbins and Thorne have left a large gap in all our hearts.

In 1984 Peter played his first Dame – Mother Goose at the Kenneth More Theatre, Ilford. I costumed the show, and Peter and I put together the costumes for his first Dame- Mother Goose. From then on Peter was invariably known as “Mother Thorne”. He played Dame across the UK  and returned to the Kenneth More as Dame  in 1987, appearing with David Ian in Puss in Boots.

The rest of the 1980s saw Peter regularly fitting in pantomimes around his three year involvement as Narrator in the now legendary KMT/Hanley tour of “Rocky Horror Show”, touring almost every major theatre in the UK, and even playing a six month season in Europe, in Israel, performing in Germany, Belgium, France and Holland.

Standing L to R:  David Ian, Jonathan Kiley, Peter Thorne, Christopher Marlowe, Julia Howson, Andrew Ryan

Sitting:  Julie Faye, Mark Turnbull, Paul Critchlow, Daliah Wood 

Peter appeared as Narrator in this Sell Out tour in 1986 and 1987, and again in the 1989 European Tour,in which Jonathan Kiley played Frank N Furter. Peter was working with a group of actors he remained in contact with over the years- these included Christopher Marlowe, Marc Seymour, Andrew Ryan, Julie Fox, Julie Fay, Paul Critchlow, Mark Turbull, Bobby Crush and many many others.

Through the 1990s he regularly appeared as  Dame with  appearances at Hanley, Blackpool, Swansea, Leicester,  Barnstaple,  and a memorable pantomime where he was Mother to Ant and Dec! 

In Pantoland Peter frequently worked with David Lee and “Pantoni”. His appearances for Pantoni were

2002 Babes In The Wood - New Theatre - Hull with Little & Large,

2004 Aladdin - Octagon Theatre - Yeovil with Ben Langley and Jodie Prenger making her pantomime debut - known then as Jodie Moore.

In 2005 Peter played Dame in  Sleeping Beauty  at the Grand Theatre Swansea  in a Half Term ~Panto with Maureen Nolan and Mike Holloway, then in 2005 Jack & The Beanstalk  at The Gala Theatre - Durham - With Geoffrey Hayes

2006 Sleeping Beauty – at the Civic Theatre - Doncaster - With Bobby Knutt.

Peter made “Sleeping Beauty” his speciality pantomime for David. It was the last show he appeared in, when he played his last Dame at the Echo Arena this Christmas before returning to his home in Sitges, Spain.

David Lee said this today:

Following are my words of appreciation expressed to Derek, Peter’s lifelong partner- of this lovely man:-

For me Peter represented all that was definitive in a truly 'Traditional Pantomime Dame'. A master of his craft and a delight to work with. He was also inspirational and so helpful to other performers in the company, most especially though he was:-

"A TRUE GENTLEMAN OF THE THEATRE, A TRULY PREMIERE DAME WHO IN MY VIEW RANKED AMONGST THE GREATS OF PANTOMIME'S GLORY DAYS"

Peter Wiggins sent the following message:

Peter will forever be 'Moley'. I have such fond memories of the numerous tours and the panto season we did together for Charles Haley Prods. We were part of the 'family' over a period of several years. We shared dressing rooms, cars and trains when travelling, cooking together in digs and even bedrooms on quite a few occasions! Peter made me laugh... he made everyone laugh. He had an infectious wit and a wicked sense of mimicry. "Up we go. Up we go. Pop!"

I would like... if i may........ (one narrator to another)

In the arc of my life i have so many people to thank for the help, love and encouragement they gave to me ....and Peter Thorne is certainly one of them.

I met Peter in 1983 on the tour of 'Snow white' for Jenny and Phils  'Charles Haley Production'.... he was the funniest man i had ever met .

Wind in the willows, Ivor the engine, Pantomime and of course The Rocky Horror Show were to follow .... 

We shared digs.... we shared rooms..... and he and the lovely Derrick would always let me stay in their fantastic home in Sutton.

So many funny memories of Peter you could write a book .... but i will always remember traveling on a coach from west Germany to east Germany crying with laughter brought on by Peters Passport photo .......  i still smile to this day. (he sent me a photo copy)

Mother Thorne as he became known loved a glass of wine, a cigarette and a bit of Bassey ......

I was lucky to have met up with both the boys in their new home in 'Sitges" a couple of times, and i will always picture them on their lovely balcony with a glass of red. 

I would not be the person i am ,doing the job i do now, had i not met the likes of Peter Thorne ...... 

His favourite saying to me was "Marc Seymour .... you follow me everywhere" 

I do hope so Peter ..... x

I look forward to doing the "Time Warp' again with you........... xxxxx

 Marc Seymour

Thank you for the lovely tribute to my dear old friend Peter Thorne.  
Pete and I were in rep together and shared a flat together for a short
time.  We remained lifelong friends and shared many of each other's
joys and sorrows. Peter was brave, outrageous, funny and a true
professional. Nothing ever got Pete down.  My last memory of him was
htree years ago when we shared a lovely lunch with Pete and Derrick in
Barcelona. God Bless you kid!

Jeff Maynard

Peter had been ill for the past few months and fought a brave battle which he sadly lost on Tuesday. We will all miss our dear friend and fellow Pantomime Dame so very much. God Bless Mother Thorne.  Deepest sympathy and love to Derek, to Peter’s Brother , to Nephew Rob Thorne and to Peter’s friends and relatives.

Peter’s funeral will be in Sitges tomorrow- Thursday 20th June at 5pm.


June 2013

Live From Llandudno 2!

We are delighted to announce that Nigel will be in Llandudno with Sleeping Beauty this coming season from the 7th - 29th December. Nigel will be re-united with John Evans who he appeared with in Aladdin in the 2011/12 Season and will be joining Vicki Entwistle and Brendan Sheerin. More details can be found on the Venue Cymru website.

 


22nd April 2013

Douglas Mounce

6th November 1947 - 21st April 2013

Obituary and Pictures by Janet Kipling

– former accountant who became one of the country’s leading pantomime dames

One of the UK’s leading pantomime dames has passed away at the age of 65.

Douglas Mounce played 27 pantomime seasons throughout his career, which also spanned a quarter century in BBC local radio along with theatre and TV work.

Douglas was born in Redruth in Cornwall in 1947.

His first role – as Dopey in a Sunday School performance of Snow White – gave rise to a life-long love of theatre. He joined the Launceston Amateur Dramatic Society and became a regular choice for young male leading roles. 

After leaving school Douglas took a secretarial course in typing and shorthand before securing a job in 1963 in the accountancy department of a local estate agent where he stayed for 20 years.

Out of work hours, Douglas continued to pursue his acting ambitions. With a natural quick way with words, he decided that he wanted to be a comedian. He took part in countless talent competitions, remembering one in particular where he came in second place to a German Shepherd dog that jumped through a ring of fire.

Douglas made his professional debut in 1971, as a comedian and impressionist at The Hoe Theatre, Plymouth with Cardew Robinson. He was signed by an agent who found him a summer season in 1972 at the Continental Hotel in Plymouth in a production of Tavern in the Town. Thirteen weeks of driving up from Cornwall every night after his estate agency work to perform in the show finally secured Douglas his equity card.

Self-admittedly star struck from an early age, Douglas also started to record interviews for a blind magazine service to enable him to talk to show business celebrities. He interviewed the poet Charles Causley who suggested that he send the piece to the BBC. Much to his surprise, Douglas received a letter offering him two guineas a time to record interviews for Midday Parade and Morning Sou’West, the regional opt-outs of BBC Radio 4.

When BBC Radio Devon went on air in 1983, Douglas was soon offered the much-loved Treasure Hunt programme on Sundays. The BBC then gave him a contract for a regular weekday programme so left the estate agents and joined BBC Radio Devon, where he worked for 26 years.

Having a high profile in local radio gave Douglas the platform he needed to take on his first pantomime role – the Chinese Policeman in Aladdin at the Queen’s Hall in Barnstaple.

Douglas’ hero from an early age had been the comedian Roy Hudd. Soon he found himself appearing in Mother Goose. In Plymouth alongside his idol, a moment that he described as ‘incredible’. It was Hudd who encouraged him to carry on developing his skills in comedy and the dame role in particular.

Douglas went on to appear as dame in all the major pantomime productions including Cinderella, Mother Goose, Sleeping Beauty and Dick Whittington alongside stars such as Rolf Harris, John Nettles, Bonnie Langford, Bernie Clifton, Colin Baker, Denise Welch and Ruth Madoc.

During 2011, Douglas won critical acclaim touring as the disillusioned pantomime dame Harold Tropp in the one-man play Twinkle little star. His other theatre appearances have ranged from Araminta Dench in The Farmer’s wife to a series of Agatha Christie thrillers and a summer season co-starring Vicki Michelle in the musical Beauty and the Beast.

Appearing on the stage in the West End to compere Sunday Night Live at Her Majesty’s Theatre was another ambition achieved.

Having started off doing extra work in TV, Douglas also developed a portfolio of minor roles in shows including Jam and Jerusalem, Lark Rise to Candleford and seven Rosamund Pilcher dramas for German television.

Parallel to this ran his radio career, which branched out from BBC local radio into appearances on Woman’s Hour (Radio 4) and Friday Night is Music Night (Radio 2). In 2006 he produced the Radio 4 documentary Under the skin about performers who appear as animals in pantomimes.

Douglas’ was also in demand as a presenter and compere, working on cruise liners, as a warm up for studio audiences and as the front man on the spectacular Music of the Night at the Royal Citadel in Plymouth. He also appeared in a number of corporate videos and television commercials.

But theatre remained his abiding love. “I’ve always loved the stage, always,” said Douglas in a recent interview. “I would still collect autographs now if I wasn’t too embarrassed to walk up to people. It was strange when people started asking me for mine.”

Douglas Mounce - born 6 November 1947 died 21 April 2013.

 


2nd April 2013

Sunday Night at the Birmingham Hippodrome - Dedicated to Ian Sandy

Sunday 12th May 2013

A host of showbiz names come together for a unique evening of entertainment to celebrate the life of the late Ian Sandy. The bill for this unmissable event includes panto stars that have appeared at the Hippodrome and elsewhere; Brian Conley, Joe Pasquale, Lesley Joseph, Lynda Bellingham, Paul Zerdin, Basil Brush, Don Maclean, Ceri Dupree, Kathryn Rooney, Malcolm Stent, Jeffrey Holland, Andrew Ryan, Martin Ramsdin and IBY's Nigel Ellacott. Ian Sandy's theatre school, BSS Showbiz, the Birmingham Stage School and the Hippodrome Dancers and Orchestra add a touch of glamour to the evening.

This special tribute to Ian Sandy will benefit his favorite charities; Cancer Research UK, Help Harry Help Others, Macmillan Cancer Support, Midlands Air Ambulance and RSPCA.

 For more information and to book your tickets click on the following LINK!


5th March 2013

Panto Blog and Awards 2012-13

By Daniel Dawson

Daniel Dawson, a regular contributor to IBY makes extensive travels around the UK each pantomime season to see as many Pantos as possible. Here is this year’s blog from Daniel- with his personal Pantomime Awards to follow.

We here at IBY must point out that this blog represents Daniel’s personal views on the shows he has seen, and does not necessarily reflect the views of www.its-behind-you.com.

That said - Over to Daniel Dawson!

 

As I stand outside the Theatre Royal in Newcastle, supping on my first mulled wine of the year, I can’t believe that Panto Season has come around so quickly.

 

It doesn’t seem like ten and a half months since I was shouting “It’s behind you” at Clive and Danny in last years “Award Winning Sleeping Beauty”.

 

This year I will travel from Newcastle in the North, to Southampton in the South, Manchester in the West to Hull and Southend in the East, in search of my favorite Pantomimes of the Year.

 

Unfortunately due to time and money, I will miss seeing previous year favorites. Bristol and Andy Ford and Chris Nelson and Joe Pasquale and Ceri Dupree in Cardiff. I will also miss seeing the excellent Craig Revell Horwood in Snow White in High Wycombe.

 

That said, I will get to visit a few new venues, Sunderland for Peter Pan, Camberley also for Peter Pan and Mansfield for Snow White, whilst making a welcome return to Richmond and Woking.

 

A number of people have asked me if I get the tickets for free or if I am paid for doing this. Let me assure you I am not! I fund it completely myself, and therefore all my opinions are my own and are in no way a reflection of IBY.com, or any of the Pantomime Companies.

 

Thanks to the joys of twitter (I am @nbcdreamer) this year I am able to interact with some of the stars of the Pantomimes, which means I can look forward to meeting FFE writer extraordinaire Eric Potts who also stars as Sarah the Cook in Woking, and chat via cyberspace with some of the other big stars of the shows.

 

So on to Panto number one, and Danny Addams, Clive Webb, Chris Hayward and Steve Arnott in Aladdin. There are great expectations from the come to be expected capacity audience. Last year’s Sleeping Beauty had been exceptional, so what would Aladdin have to offer the good people of Newcastle. It was an excellent fun pantomime, with elaborate sets, and spectacular costumes, especially from Dame Chris Hayward. In some ways I felt it didn’t quite have the magic of last year’s extravaganza. Having said that, I did visit this spectacular show twice!

 

In the first half there were moments of Classic Danny and Clive. Highlights in the first half included Danny asking the audience if “Fog got lost do you think it would be mist?” and on getting ready to enter the cave, informed Abanzar that he didn’t want to go in, as “He had seen something scary in the cave ... a stage hand with a smoke machine. The show didn’t really get going until after the interval.

 

It was after the opening number of the second half that the pantomime really started to take off! Firstly we had the excellent Chinese Takeaway Song, quickly followed by the very funny plate smashing scene. Then we had the sensational Twins Illusionists revealing a rather impressive magic carpet. All seemed nothing out of the ordinary,  when Danny Addams suddenly appeared on the magic carpet. But as Danny flew over the audience, it soon became apparent that all was not as it seemed, as all of a sudden our hero Aladdin was hanging upside down over the audience, threatening to throw up all over them!!

 

The Twins had also been hard at work creating a very impressive King Kong, which took up the entire stage, and was a sensational piece of engineering and wizardry. As always the Twins came up top.

 

The best however was saved until last, with without doubt the funniest “If I was not upon the stage something else I’d rather be” performance. It was tremendously funny, original and has to be a front runner for scene of the year.

 

I saw my first reference to Gangnam style tonight and something tells me it won’t be the last one!!

 

Next up it was my home Panto of Sheffield, and my first of many Cinderella’s this season. The big question on everyone’s lips entering the Lyceum was what Damian Williams would be like as Buttons, as the past 4 years he had been the Dame. The answer was brilliant. Damian is a big favorite of the Sheffield public, and after this performance it is easy to see why.

 

The entire production was excellent from start to finish. Special Mention has to go out to Sue Devaney who was simply sensational as the fairy and an excellent Prince played by Jonathan Ansell.

 

Damian’s quips came thick and fast! When Cinderella told Buttons that she loved him as a brother, he suggested they moved to Norfolk as it was acceptable there! Given Damian’s four previous appearances as the Dame, the Lyceum fell about laughing when Buttons advised us that he thought there were some men on stage dressed as women, and he really didn’t like that sort of thing!

 

But the highlight of the entire pantomime came in the now famous Ghost Scene. The guesswork before the show always centre’s around which famous Sheffield icon Damian will be appearing as this year. He has been Q Park Car Park, Premier Inn, City Taxi’s and Supertram but nothing could have prepared for the audience for this seasons icon!

 

In Olympic Year, Damian Williams appeared as Sheffield’s now most famous Icon  ... Jessica Ennis. Perhaps the MP that remarked Ennis has put weight on prior to the Olympics had infact seen Damian Ennis!! The theatre fell about laughing, an absolute master stroke by Sheffield’s new adopted son Williams!

 

I have to admit to having worried who would want to be Ugly Sisters alongside Damian Williams, knowing the excellent reputation he has a Dame in Sheffield. With Ian Smith and Michael A Batchelar, Paul Hendy found probably the only two people who could take this role on. Their performance was excellent, and their quick changes were something to be seen. Not only were the costumes exquisite, but at one point they do a complete costume change in 10 seconds. Absolutely superb.

 

All in all, this was a well written, well performed and extremely entertaining show, and I will be doing my upmost best to get back to see this show before the end of its run.

 

The following week it was a short trip down to Derby, ahead of 4 pantomimes over the weekend. Derby’s offering this year was Peter Pan, starring Larry Lamb as Hook, Britain’s Got Talent Winner George Sampson and comic Mike McClean.

 

 Another great show, although I do wish that writers would resist the temptation to shoe horn Dame’s into Peter Pan. It just doesn’t work, and although there were a few funny quips from the Dame, they did little to justify their existence. Highlight included Mabel bemoaning that she had accidentally washed her cat, and now had a “shrunken pussy” We were also treated to details of her shopping trip, where she went to Top Shop for a top shop, New Look for a new look and Peacocks for a ....

 

The two real stars of the show however were George Sampson as the excellent Peter Pan. Proving that not only can he dance, but he is also an excellent actor and singer.

The other being the always excellent Mike McClean, who was returning to Derby after his excellent performance last year. With Mike the quips come thick and fast and have the audience in stiches. When Smee was taking Tiger Lilly to Marooners Rock to leave her to die, he advised his crew “They (the audience) can tell it’s not a real boat, so get out and push it.” Then when Tiger Lilly started to push, he quipped “not you, you spanner, you’re supposed to be kidnapped.”

 

During the Ghost scene, have told the audience he had “nearly said Goolies” and “If you see anything, and trust me you will, its panto” make sure you tell us! There were plenty of laughs to be had in this show, and with the reasonable ticket prices it really did make excellent value for money.

 

This is the 3rd time I had seen Mike McClean in panto and he always delivers. It’s a shame we don’t see a lot more of him on TV.

 

Larry Lamb was steady as Hook, but it was Sampson and McClean who stole the show.

 

From Derby it was off to Northampton, to see a very poorly Bobby Davro, who looked and sounded as if he would have been better off in bed with a great big bottle of cough linctus and some honey and lemon.

 

I sat there feeling sorry for him as he was battling really hard to put on a show for the audience but you could tell he was full of cold and felt dreadful. There is something magical about Qdos Cinderella’s and this was no different. I love the music, and just wish that Qdos would make an album of their original pantomime songs. I for one would definitely be downloading it.

 

There was a great entrance from the Ugly Sisters, who introduced themselves in the style of Take Me Out. My favorite had to be “Let the monkey see the nuts!” Whilst Bobby Davro struggled with flu, Denise Welch shone. She was a wonderful Fairy Godmother, who was joined on stage by her son, desperate to steal her limelight. “this is his first panto” she told us, “and if today is anything to go by, it will also be his last!” Denise reminisced about her wedding. “I remember it like it was yesterday, and we all know how awful it was yesterday”, “It was a fairytale wedding ... Grim”.

 

A fun family panto, which was thoroughly enjoyable, and a bit disappointing we had to watch Buttons struggle with flu so much.

 

From Qdos Cinderella in Northampton, it was a short hop to Milton Keynes for FFE’s Ci nderella, and the first of many Eric Potts scripts I would see this year. Milton Keynes starred the very funny Kev Orkian and Louis Spence.

 

Readers of my previous blogs will know I am not a big fan of Louis Spence. As someone who will remain nameless once said, he is like Marmite. Well I don’t like Marmite. The one thing I will say in his favor is that at least he has no problem taking the mick out of himself, and that is a good thing, if not something easy to do!

 

The star of this show was without doubt Kev Orkian who had the audience eating out of the palm of his hands. He was simply superb! Although I doubt the lady on the front row would agree with me, after he referred to her as UGLY and asked why she would sit on the front row, whilst trying not to throw up! Kev continued to provide the one liners, and put up with the over acting of a certain Dandini! As with all the Cinderella’s I had seen so far, the Ugly Sisters were excellent, in fact we were yet to see a bad pair of the gruesome twosome.

 

From Milton Keyes, I completed my Cinderella weekend with a visit to Stoke, and a return for Jonathan Wilkes. Readers of my previous blogs can be forgiven for thinking this was my first visit to Stoke, as the previous two years the pantomimes had been pretty awful and my comments had been severely edited (and probably just as well).

 

Well there should be no problem this year about editing the review for Stoke because the only negative I can give, is that the show had to end. It was absolutely sensational. One massive laugh from the first minute to the last. I put the success down to the amazing chemistry between Jonathan Wilkes and the Ugly Sisters, Christian Patterson and Kai Owen. This show was so good, the first thing I did at the end, was book to come back again with my other half before the end of the run. The theatre was already buzzing at the return of hometown boy Jonathan Wilkes. Last year he had been replaced by Joe Swash, who, to use a jungle analogy was as good at panto, as Helen Flanagan was at Bush Tucker trials.

 

Wilkes knowing this, immediately got the crowd onside by arriving on stage holding up a Joe Swash mask! The one liners started pretty much straight away. We w ere told to steer clear of trying Tesco online dating, as he’d got himself a bag for life! Whilst Wilkes was superb, for me this pantomime reached the heights no other so far had done thanks to the two Ugly Sisters. It said in the programme that Kai Owen and Christian Patterson were good friends, and this clearly showed with the chemistry the two had with each other on stage.

 

It was hard for the sold out audience to boo them, as they were just so good.

 

First there was the Olympic synchronized swimming scene, then the excellent busy bee scene with Wilkes, but the highlight of this show, had to be the fantastic 12 Days of Christmas. There was also a very funny Miss Who, What and I Don’t Know scene.

 

I thought Mr. Patterson had soaked me from his vantage point on stage, but I doubt Dandini’s girlfriend will ever want to sit on the front row again, after the sisters pretty much emptied their water pistols all over her.

 

There was also a fantastic take on the “trying on the slipper scene”. Firstly the slipper didn’t fit on the “fake leg” and then when one of the sister tripped up Dandini forcing the slipper to smash into little pieces, Dandini’s claims of it not being his fault were soon dispelled by Buttons reminding him that “you knew that was going to happen, we did it in rehearsals”.

 

For me, Stoke was everything you could want in a Panto. Great Music, Fabulous Costumes and Jokes by the bucket full. Wilkes, Patterson and Owen were joined by an excellent supporting cast.

As the full house left the theatre, all the talk was about how good this show had been. There was also a tremendous pace about the show. It was no stop jokes and laughter as soon as the curtain went up. You never had time to pause. I don’t think any member of the audience looked at their watch once! This is certainly a front runner for my Panto of the Year award.

 

From Stoke, I had a few days off from my Panto tour as I actually had to do some work.

 

Next up was Sunderland and Peter Pan. Within a few minutes of the show starting, Smee announced “Where would we be without a laugh  ... The Theatre Royal Newcastle” I thought at the time that was a poor attempt at  a cheap laugh, and by the end, I was left thinking that you should have been grateful had your panto been half as good as Newcastle’s. I always thought that the role of Smee was to be funny, but not here. In truth with one exception this was a rather poor pantomime. In the flying scene poor Michael and John looked like they had been lifted up by fish hooks and dangled over the stage!

 

I did say there was one exception, and that was the excellent Tom Lister playing Hook. He was the shining light in this show. He played Hook superbly, with plenty of humor but with enough of a mean streak to ensure he got the boo’s.

Hook arrived on the back of an excellent X Factor Style introduction, and really was this shows saving grace. Some of his one liners to raise laughs were “Mother, someone who at night tells you to go to bed when you’re tired, and in the morning, tells you to wake up when you want to sleep” and whilst the crowd were booing as he attempted to poison Peter Pan, “ I shall place the poison in this conveniently placed medicine bottle. I know he doesn’t wake up yet, as I have read the script”. I felt he deserved a lot better than the supporting cast he got. Not the best show.

 

 We will quickly move along, to Mansfield, and Snow White which Andrew Ryan wrote.

 

At just £12.50 per ticket, this was the cheapest show I would attend, and as it turned out, was most definitely the best value for money show. It was an excellent show, well written, and with superb performance from Tupele Dorgu as the Wicked Queen and Mark James as the Court Jester. James entertained the audience with his string on one liner’s and mad cap inventions. Firstly he poked fun at those in the balcony suggesting “you should have brought your tickets earlier!”, and confirming that “it doesn’t get any better than this, we’ve got your money now!”

 

My favorite invention had to be the automatic toilet roll holder, which promptly dispatched loo roll all over some poor sole in the front row!

Tupele made an excellent queen, and this really was a great show and excellent value.

 

From Mansfield it was off to Hull, to see the Chuckle Brothers in Sleeping Beauty. Alas this show was rather disappointing. Although the set and Carabose had travelled down from last year’s hit in Newcastle, neither were able to rescue this lack lustre show.

As with last year we were subjected to a half-naked Barry Chuckle. There were a couple of funny scenes, such as the Gymnastics scene and the Kitchen scene, but these highlights were few and far between, and their 12 days of Christmas, hardly raised a smile, let alone a laugh! From Hull it was off to Manchester for the Christmas Eve performance of Peter Pan.

Pan starred American Superstar David Hasselhoff and returning favorite Tam Ryan as Smee.

 

This was an excellent panto, and as you would expect, Hasselhoff was excellent but it was Tam Ryan who was the real star of the show. Returning to the Opera House for the 3rd successive year and on this performance it is easy to see why he is so popular. On arrival, he asked if the audience wanted to know “Who I am this year”... “I’m Smee, I have range!”

 

 Tam knew what the audience wanted and he delivered every time, joke after joke, laugh after laugh.

 

When Smee asked Hook for a Pay rise, he was reminded that he wasn’t here for the money! “That’s what my agent keeps telling me” was the response. When the pirate was rowing the boat to Marooners Rock, he asked Smee why it was him doing all the rowing, “because your photo isn’t on the poster” came the response! Smee concerned about all the washing he had suggested he would “throw it overboard, and it would get washed up ashore!”

 

Next there followed an excellent 12 days of Christmas, where Smee got so worn out chasing his Five Toilet Rolls, that he required an inhaler! Cue laughs from the audience. But Smee was soon to get his revenge, with the 12 gallons of water on day 12! “It’s what I call asthma fights back” smiled Tam Ryan shortly before drenching the audience. As Hook was defeated, Smee tried to protest his innocence.” I didn’t want to capture Wendy and the Lost Boys, but it’s in the script and I need the money... It hasn’t been a good year”.

 

After this year’s performance, I predict 2013 will be an excellent year for the talented Tam Ryan! So with Hook defeated, Smee was asked if he was ready for a life on Dry Land. “What in Manchester, you must be joking”!

 

And so to the finale and “things you never thought you’d do in your career”... It was sing-along time, and as with all the pantomimes so far, it was time for Gangnam style. Don’t worry if you don’t know the words, bring down the song sheet. Cue a huge song sheet dropping down on the stage, with Korean writing which no one could read but got a huge laugh.

 

So far every pantomime has had some reference to Gangnam style, and I will be adding a new category in this year’s awards for Best Gangnan Style. Well I am sure this fantastic song sheet will be featuring somewhere in the top 3.

 

Hoff was great but Tam Ryan was sensational, something backed up by my mother, who had come along with me, and had really enjoyed the show and his performance. I have seen this Eric Potts script performed a few times, buy some fantastic comedy actors, but have to say this was the best performance of them all. A brilliant show and a very talented cast! It might have been one of the most expensive shows out there at £89.00 for two tickets but I have to say it was worth the money.

 

Well with the stars of Pantoland taking the day off, for Christmas Day, I too took time to spend a lovely day in Manchester with family and friends, and bracing myself to set off down south on Boxing Day for the start of my 6 day, 8 show panto tour!

 

First up was Southend on Sea, with a Qdos Cinderella starring Shane Richie, Peter Piper and Carly Day, who had worked together the previous year in Aladdin.

 

Again, this was an enchanting pantomime, with the right mix of Qdos magic and Shane Richie one liners, supported by the very funny Peter Piper and the excellent Carly Day.

 

Peter Piper playing Baron Hardup tried to get sympathy from the full hall, by telling us how poor he was. “We are so poor we can’t afford bread to give to the ducks, we have to throw them IOU’s” “We used to live in riches, then the Bank of England lost it all, the blooming son of bitches”

 

There were plenty of East Enders references including when Buttons told the Baron he wanted to marry Cinderella.” You can’t even manage a pub, no wonder Kat kicked you out” was the response. The Baron suggests Buttons found out if Cinderella loved him as he loved her. “Ask her”, “I can’t” came the reply, “after the problem I had with Princess Jasmine last year” (same team)

 

Those who read my blog last year will know how impressed I had been with the Ugly Sisters in Hull, so I was delighted to see them again this year in Southend. As with last year they were both excellent. They felt they were like the Kardashians ... More like the Car Crashians came the response. There was time for Buttons and Archie dog act, aimed at rivaling Ashleigh and Pudsey!

 

Shane Richie was then surprised that the Ugly Sisters had made Cinderella tear up her ticket! “That’s the second time today  ... that’s awful.”

 

When Shane looked at the table, he referred to the table cloth as “Gingham Style”. As everyone groaned, Shane Richie remarked “You won’t do this to Craig Revel Horwood next year!” (Who will be bringing his Snow White to the Cliffs in 2013-14). Next up it was time for the impressive 3D coach scene. Shane introduced this as “This is why you pay those prices for your tickets, and the flashing toys that won’t be working in two hours’ time, not my wages but for the 3D” Everyone loved that, me included, very funny and a great introduction to the impressive 3D sequence.

 

This was a fabulous show, Shane Richie, Peter Piper, Carly Day and the Ugly Sisters were just superb. If the show had been closer to home and with a longer run, I would have definitely have gone again. The quips kept coming, when Buttons asked the Uglies who he was, someone in the audience shouted out “Shane Richie” to which the response came, “It makes it so much easier when the audience brings their own scripts” which got huge applause and laughs. As Cinderella sang, Buttons then provided us with his take on Contemporary Dance. Based on this comical performance, I don’t see Shane performing on Strictly Come Dancing anytime soon. When Cinderella told the heartbroken Buttons that she loved him like a brother, he was quick to retort with “This isn’t the Jeremy Kyle Show”. At the end, the Baron questioned Buttons happiness that Cinderella was to marry the prince. “I thought you were upset with Cinderella?’ to which Buttons responded with “I was, but according to the script, I’ve got to put her happiness first”, again cue great roars of laughter from the audience.

 

It was time for Shane Richie to entertain the audience whilst behind him the stage was being prepared for the finale. “I’ve some people I want to say hello to tonight, but not as many as I thought so can you hurry up back there?”

 

This was an excellent show, with so many one liners it was impossible to keep note. My only disappointment is in the theatre itself, where even when you are fairly close, you still feel miles away from the stage.

 

It was a last minute change of plan to head south early, and to fit this show in, I am so glad I did, well worth the long trip down from Sheffield. Having travelled down early, it also allowed me to fit another show in, and this was Camberley and Peter Pan starring Disney Channels Jassa Ahluwalia, who had last year won my best Prince title having shone in the otherwise dull Aladdin in Whitley Bay. Jassa was not to let me down again, and just like the previous year, his excellent performance made me delighted to have travelled down early, so that I was able to see this show. I predict great things for this Actor. I hope that he will be picked up by one of the bigger Panto companies (Qdos or FFE) as he certainly deserves a bigger stage.

 

This was a very traditional performance of Peter Pan, and was supported well by the excellent work of the illusionists The Twins with their Tinker bell. As with Sunderland, the Smee really wasn’t funny, and the twelve days of Christmas routine was more weird than funny. That said, it was an enjoyable show, and that was in main thanks to the excellent performance of Jassa. I did find it quite amusing that Michael was taller than Wendy, so this did look a bit odd.

 

Taking songs from his debut album “All Your Letters” the soundtrack to the show was excellent, and brilliantly performed.

 

There were some good one liners in the show. Mr. Darling showing his frustration with Nana asked if it was too late to get Pudsey. As Mr. Darling became Captain Hook, he remarked that he got “Better Boo’s at Tesco!” There was something unique about this pantomime, in that it was the first one who hadn’t referenced Gangnam Style!

 

Thanks to the joys of twitter, I was able to converse with Peter Pan himself at the interval, and was delighted to get the opportunity to catch up with him after this performance.

 

From Camberley, it was off to Woking to meet the Panto Guru that is FFE’s Script Writer and Dame extraordinaire Eric Potts, performing alongside Stephen Mulhurn and BGT Winners Ashleigh and Pudsey.

This was in essence last year’s Wimbledon Pantomime but without Dame Edna.  As always, Eric’s Dick Whittington delivered. Stephen Mulhurn was excellent as Idle Jack “helping” his mum Sarah the Cook. Eric Potts as always makes an excellent Dame, and had great comedy chemistry with Stephen, ensuring mayhem every time the two were together on stage.

 

Ben Goffe reprised his role as Captain Titchmarch and ensured barrels of laughs, especially as he tried to drill some discipline into his sea crew! It was no wonder they sank!

 

The magic marshmallow scene was as funny as ever! “I don’t think we will ever run out!” Then later when they were about to set sail, referring to Pudsey stowing onboard, the Captain confirmed they needed a Ship’s Dog! “But mum’s coming” piped up Jack. To which Sarah the Cook remarked “Charming  ... double the marshmallows tomorrow” cue more laughter from the sold out audience.

Whilst Pudsey was his excellent performing self, I did find his owners performance rather wooden. She looked as though she had just been stuck in the show to ensure there was a place for the dog!

 

Whilst the show didn’t hit the dizzy heights it had done in Wimbledon, due to the missing Dame Edna, it was still an excellent, fun and enjoyable evening, and also unlike Wimbledon, a dry evening, as thankfully Mr. Goffe hadn’t been armed with a water pistol this time round!

 

At the end of the show, I had the fortune of catching up with the brains behind most of FFE’s Pantomime Scripts, as well as starring as the Dame, the very talented Eric Potts.

 

We were able to swop notes, talk about the best and worst of what I had seen already in Panto this season, as well as my trying to get a sneak preview ahead of time as to where he may end up treading the boards next season. Eric is responsible for some fantastic shows this year, including writing Stoke on Trent Cinderella, Manchester’s Peter Pan, and Wimbledon’s Snow White. How he manages to write so many fantastic scripts and star as the Dame is beyond me. I can only assume he spends February enjoying a much needed rest!

 

Eric informs me he is off to see a number of the Big Hitters before the end of the season, including his self-penned Snow White in Wimbledon as well as a trip up to see Danny & Clive in Newcastle. I head back to the hotel, having really enjoyed my chat with a bit of a panto legend and altogether lovely guy! Thanks for your time Eric, and hope to see you again next year!

 

The next morning I have the short trip to Richmond, and the chance to see Tim Vine in panto for the first time, in another Eric Potts script. Vine stars alongside Suzanne Shaw, former member of Hearsay. Suzanne played both the Genie of the Lamp and her twin sister, The Genie of the Ring, cue nonstop gags from the rest of the cast.

Abanazer began the ribbing of Suzanne, remarking that he had “heard you were beautiful”, “who told you that” replied the Genie, “I don’t know I don’t listen to Hear say” came the response. As Suzanne advised the audience that whilst she was the Genie of the Ring, her twin Sister was the Genie of the Lamp. “That’s convenient and cheap” she remarked.

 

Tim Vine asked the audience “it’s not just me is it? They’ve saved a wage here!”  And “But only one of you came to rehearsals!”

 

This show featured a great Mr. Who, What and I don’t know scene as well as an enjoyable rendition of “If I was not upon the stage” which even featured a Team GB Games Maker!

 

As the show came to an end, and Aladdin went off and married the Princess, Wishee Washee asked his mum if he could have Aladdin’s bedroom, “I need the extra room for all the Tim Vine DVD’s that didn’t sell this Christmas”. Grahame Hoadly was excellent as ever as Widow Twankey, ensuring plenty of laughs and terrorizing the men in the audience!

 

This was a great fun show, with great acting, great vocals and more one liners than you could keep up with by the non-stop Tim Vine. A really good start to the day.

 

From here it was off to Wimbledon to FFE’s mega buck pantomime Snow White, starring Priscilla Presley, Warwick Davis and Jarred Christmas, making his pantomime debut.

 This was an excellent show, although I do wonder if Pricilla Presley fully understood what she had let herself in for!

She certainly made an impressive entrance, following an appearance in the magic mirror; she appeared suspended in the middle of the stage.

 

The laughter started once Jarred Christmas came on stage in his role as Herman the Henchman. With his sideburns, it was soon remarked that “Bradley Wiggins has let himself go”.

 

Jarred was the real star of the show, and when he was on stage, a laugh wasn’t far away. There was an excellent scene where he attempted a number of accents, with such a struggle, his next job could well be as a policeman in Allo Allo! When the Queen left the stage, he announced that “Queen Morgiana has left the building”.

 

We then had the arrival of the Seven Dwarfs led by Warwick Davis who was simply superb. The Dwarfs were rehearsing for Moravia’s Got Talent. We saw a Subo tribute and their very own Ashleigh and Pudsey. The winner and undoubtedly funniest moment of the entire show was the Winning act ... Warwick Davis doing Gangnan Style. It was the funniest thing you have ever seen, and having talked to fellow pantomime viewers, something that everyone who has seen the show is talking about.

 

The entire audiences were in tears of laughter. It was the highlight of a really enjoyable show, and although I wasn’t unimpressed with Muddles or Priscilla, Jarred and Warwick ensured this was a fantastically enjoyable show!

 

From Wimbledon, it was a trip down to Southampton to see Qdos Pantomime’s Jack and the Beanstalk. Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed this show, there was a passing resemblance to Birmingham’s 2010 Dick Whittington.

 

Even to the extent that Julian Clary used the same basis for a joke with Nigel Havers as he had two years earlier.  In Birmingham he had told the audience “Don’t worry, if his performance in the Jungle was anything to go by, he will be gone by the interval”, which made perfect sense. This time however, it was “if his performance in Coronation Street was anything to go by”, which didn’t have the same effect. That said, Julian Clary was his usual excellent self! He advised us “My big thing is magic! So I’ve been told!” On getting ready to leave the stage, Julian advised us that “he was going to step into something more comfortable, like a taxi”

 

Paul Zerdin as ever was excellent, even though Clary referred to Sam as a “Novelty Scatter Cushion”!

 

Lee Mead was a superb Jack, in his first pantomime. There was a wonderful scene where as he performed Any Dream Will Do, Julian Clary did his best to put him off!

 

The set was excellent, probably the best I had seen to date. Some of my favorite scenes from Birmingham from 2010 appeared in this show. Julian Clary telling us how he was “Born under a Wondering Star” and a wonderful reprise of his Titanic Scene.

 

Whilst this was very similar to Dick Whittington, it was still a wonderful pantomime, with great sets, wonderful dance routines, fabulous costumes (Dame excepted) and top quality laughs from Paul Zerdin and Julian Clary. Again, if this was closer to home, I would have definitely have gone to see this again.

 

Next day it was a 200 mile journey up to the Midlands to see yet another Qdos Jack & The Beanstalk. I was really looking forward to seeing this show, not just because it had a great cast, but because it meant I got to catch up with the man behind itsbehindyou.com and my friend Nigel Ellacott, who was playing Dame Trott. I only got to see two Jack and The Beanstalks all season, so it was a bit of a shame that I saw both the night after each other.

 

In this show, our baddie was the wonderful Sherrie Hewson as the Evil Joyce Templeton Savage, who fresh from managing the Solana in Benidorm to looking after the Giant’s abode up in Cloudland. She was wonderfully evil, although unfortunately never got round to making us all some nice crispy duck with Orville!

 

My favorite part of the show, had to be when Dame Trott arrived on stage in a Mobility Scooter, obviously borrowed from Madge in Benidorm. Nigel, as ever was excellent as the Dame, and showed off a number of wonderful dress creations. The best of them all, a fantastic cake/Table dress, which stole the show!

 

Ben James Ellis made a good Jack, although very different to Lee Mead the night before. Having mentioned last night’s show being very similar to Birmingham in 2010, then Keith Harris’ act was identical to the same show. He kept reminding everyone that it was our fault he kept singing “I wish I could fly” as “You bought it”. Well, let me put it on the record right here and now ... I DIDN’T!!!

 

Ken Morley was the King, and  played the part far better than King Crumble the previous night. That said, thanks to the Wonderful Sherrie who was definitely the best baddie to date and the always excellent Nigel Ellacott, this was a very enjoyable evening out.

 

For the record, when i pull together my Pantomime awards, I exclude Nigel so that I can’t get accused of favoritism!

 

After the show, I had the chance to catch up with Nigel, at a Chinese I had been going to every year after Panto. Sherrie joined us, so the pressure was on for the meal to be good! (I’d seen her on Celebrity Come Dine with Me) so I was worried!!

 

Thankfully, as in previous years the food was superb, only bettered by the company. What an enjoyable evening, and what a lovely lady Sherrie is. I even think I’ve managed to secure “Mates Rates” at the Solana!

From Wolverhampton it was the short trip across to Birmingham for New Year’s Eve and the big budget Robinson Crusoe, starring Brian Conley, Lesley Joseph. Kathryn Rooney and Andrew Ryan. There is no doubt that Robinson Crusoe was Qdos Pantomimes big budget show. Spectacular costumes, elaborate sets and in Brian, Lesley, Kathryn and Andrew  stars worthy of filling this beautiful theatre.

 

The show got off to a fantastic start as we followed Robinson Crusoe around Birmingham on a Giant Screen. Then it was the arrival of the very impressive Jolly Roger ship.

 

Brian Conley was his usual energetic self, full of one liners and musical numbers. When Blackbeard taunted Robison Crusoe about that fact he was “useless and terrible in the jungle”, Brian responded blaming “That bird from Corrie who took all his grub away”!

 

There was certainly an original way of deciding who would become Mrs Crusoe’s boyfriend for the evening. With the aid of the big screen and a video camera, the entire audience could see the “poor unfortunate victim”. Brian asked the crowd if there were any Country and Western fans in. and when the odd shout of “Yes” came back, they were quickly told to “Get a Life”.

 

We had seen some enjoyable Gangnam Style references during Panto Season, and we weren’t to be let down here, as Brian brought up a lady from the audience he had already interacted with in the show, and surprised her as he got her to do her best Korean Dance impression. Very Funny! 

 

Lesley Joseph made a wonderful temptress of the seas, and was simply breath-taking in her big number “It’s Me”, but for me the real star of the show, was the fantastic Andrew Ryan, who was simply superb as Mrs Crusoe. As always his costumes were extravagant and spectacular. My only disappointment was that Susan Boyle and Anne Robinson didn’t find their way to Treasure Island. The twins had managed to fly their car down from the Theatre Royal Newcastle in order to aid Robinson Crusoe and his quest to cross the Island.  There was also a rather nasty sea monster for our hero to have to contend with. Birmingham never fails to deliver, and that’s probably why the first thing we did at the end of the show was to book to return next New Year’s Eve, when Snow White will be in town.

 

From Birmingham, it was back to Sheffield to grab another look at Cinderella with Damian Williams. The show was just as funny the second time as I had remembered from my first visit. Yet again Ian Smith and Michael A Batchelar were simply sensational as the Ugly Sisters, and their quick change routines would go down well in Las Vegas! Sue Devaney again demonstrated why she was currently leading my awards for best fairy, and as ever Damian Williams was simply superb. He has the ability to get the entire audience in stiches with the slighted facial expression. The one liners kept coming thick and fast, and the whole audience left thoroughly entertained. I was able to catch up with Damian after the show, and he is such a lovely person. Thankfully he has been confirmed back next year as Dame Trott in Jack and The Beanstalk.

 

From Sheffield, it was time to pay a second visit to my favourite pantomime of the season so far... Stoke on Trent, and the Eric Potts written Cinderella starring Johnny Wilkes, Christian Patterson and Kai Owen. This show was ever funnier the second time. This was the final matinee of the run, so the crew had a few surprises in store for the cast, which made it even more entertaining. We had overweight dancing foxes, a rather strangely sounding fairy godmother and Johnny Wilkes big arrival on stage on a kiddy bike! There were obviously plenty of return visitors to the pantomime as when Johnny, Christian and Kai attack the audience in 12 days of Christmas, the audience fought back! Yes our intrepid Buttons, Nessa and Stacey got absolutely drenched thanks to the audience members in the front rows, getting their own back for a previous soaking. I would like to “thank” Kai especially for ensuring I got absolutely drenched!! Cheers!

 

With only a handful of new panto’s left to see, I knew it was going to take a lot to knock this wonderful show off the best Panto of the Year slot in my awards (to come later), so I was delighted to be invited back stage at the end of the show to meet the stars who had entertained me so much on two occasions. Here we are talking about my panto experiences this season.

 

Having met Johnny, Kai and Christian (who is now starring in Mr Selfridge) I was even more delighted that they were my Best Panto of The Year elect! They were three really nice guys, and their friendship with each other so apparent on stage seems even stronger off it. I think that was why their show works. The show is certainly the fastest paced of all the panto’s I have seen this year. It isn’t laugh a minute its laugh a second.

 

In no other show have the cast seem to be enjoying themselves as much as these three do. I hope they stay as a team next year. It was great meeting you all, and speaking to all the people leaving the theatre on both occasions, I can definitely say you entertained everyone!

 

As is seeing two Cinderella’s in one weekend wasn’t enough, it was off to Bradford, to see the man I refer to as Mr Panto, the ever young, always energetic Billy Pearce alongside Lynda Bellingham and Brendan Sherin from Coach Trip.

 

This was a fabulous show, full of spectacular scenes, wonderfully bad Ugly Sisters, but it wasn’t just the scenery it shared from last year’s Birmingham production. It was practically the same script.  That said we did get to see Billy’s own take on the show, and as always he completely mesmerised the sold out Bradford audience. It just isn’t panto without a visit to see Billy ... Twice usually, and yes I do intend to go and see this fabulous show before it ends at the start of FEBRUARY!

 

I was rather disappointed that Cinderella didn’t head off to the ball in a rather large Coach, with everyone’s favourite tour guide Brendan leading the way! He did of course arrive on stage in his coach! Brendan was great although I did feel he was given a very small part! Lynda Bellingham was yet another Loose Woman, ensuring Cinderella got to the ball, despite the best attentions of those horrible sisters, Brian Godfrey and Ben Stock Who i had enjoyed seeing in Darlington the previous year. As always Billy’s arrival was spectacular, this time on a Segway, which he struggled to drive! He advised the audience he “looks a lot like Robin Hood” (last year’s role) but that he has “Put Weight on ... I’ve had a lot on my plate!”

 

When the laughs weren’t as loud as they deserved to be, the audience were asked “is this your first time as an audience?” The Ugly Sisters continued to give poor Buttons Grief, but he couldn’t run away! Why? “Because I’m booked here till February 3rd”!  That said, they didn’t frighten him, as “I’ve worked in Barnsley” came the response. There was a great scene with Billy and Brendan as Ballerina’s. Something tells me that we won’t be seeing either at the Royal Ballet anytime soon! On conversing with the Fairy, Buttons remarked he had seen her before... “In Calendar Girls” where she “looked a lot colder then”!

 

When Brendan remarked that his Piston Broke, the Ugly Sisters remarked it was “just like us in the club last night”.

 

Before the end of this wonderful show, there was still time for a rendition of Th e 12 Days of Christmas “Qdos Style”, yes whilst there may not be a Bra that was meant to hold 3, there were 2 water pistols, ensuring the audience got very very wet.

 

Thanks to the very long run, I will have the pleasure of seeing this lovely show again.

 

From Bradford, there was a bit of a break as a number of shows had now closed, so I would have to wait until the following weekend, and a double header in Nottingham. In the afternoon it was time to visit the Playhouse for their Robin Hood with Babes in the Wood before heading to the Theatre Royal down the road in the evening for yet another Cinderella.

 

Robin Hood was a great show. Whilst this was my first visit to the Playhouse Panto, having read the programme, it certainly wasn’t the first visit of most of the cast, and judging by the cheers as they entered the stage, the majority of the audience had been here before. Certainly when John Elkington as the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Anthony Hoggard as Arnold came on stage the theatre went mad with cheers and applause. 5 minutes into the show it was clear to see why, they were simply superb and by far the most talented members of a very strong cast.

They both wouldn’t have looked out of place in a much bigger setting. Anthony Hoggard was simply superb as the hapless Arnold, The Sheriff’s trusted side kick who kept getting hit on the “bottom”. When Writer, Producer and Dame Kenneth Alan Taylor entered, it was in spectacular style.   He may by his own admission be getting on in years, but on this performance you would never have guessed.

 

This was a well written and extremely fun pantomime, and whilst it may well have been my first panto visit here, I doubt it will be my last.

 

I then had an hour to catch the first half of my football team, Sheffield Wednesday’s victory over Hull City in the bar next to the Theatre Royal, before heading back to Fairyland, otherwise known as the Theatre Royal Nottingham.

 

This was a truly wonderful show. I absolutely adore the Qdos soundtracks for Cinderella. I keep hoping they will get on to ITunes sometime.

 

Here we were to be entertained by Sheila Ferguson, John Partridge and the absolutely wonderful Grumbleweeds.

 

We were also to see last year’s Birmingham Ugly Sisters again, the great Martin Ramsdin and David Robbins.

 

This was a wonderful and magical show, but the laughs were all from the wonderful Grumbleweeds.

They came on stage, and one was showing off their new shoes... “There nice, where did you get them?”.. “Outside a Mosque” came the response!

 

There were a number of very funny scenes, including Cher as you’ve never seen her before! And a couple of the Teletubbies also made an appearance.

 

John Partridge made a fun if not a rather camp Prince Charming, and he has plenty of fans in tow on the front few rows.

 

Sheila Ferguson’s wonderful voice made the wonderful soundtrack even more enjoyable to listen to.

 

A really fun show and well put together.

 

From Nottingham it was off up to Newcastle for a second visit to their excellent Aladdin. Another chance to see the impressive Danny Addams, Clive Webb and Co.

 

It was another chance to see the wonderful Giant Balloon Scene, and the hilarious If I was Not. My seat however was in direct firing line for the “Rain”, “Window Cleaning” and other mess that descended on to the audience. I left soaked but thoroughly entertained.

 

With my 2nd Newcastle visit over, and pantomimes closing left right and centre, it was to be another week before I was to see my last “New” Panto of the Season. Darlington and Sleeping Beauty starring Sam Kane and his Wife Linda Lusardi.

Whilst this year’s offering was certainly better than Darlington’s effort last season, the real highlight of the show for me, was the excellent Beauty, played by former Pop Idol, Zoe Birkett.  I had gone to the show with high expectations for madness and mayhem as it was the final matinee, but apart from a few “bogus names” provided by the crew for the Dame to read out in the “shout out” section there was no mayhem. They certainly escaped lightly, although I did like the shout out for “Tulisa Car” from “Darlington Car Hire”.

 

Last year, Sleeping Beauty had been “THE” panto in 2011-12. This year it has been the most disappointing of all of them. Neither Hull nor Darlington came close to hitting the highs of Newcastle or Sheffield the previous year. I hope that FFE will look to add a Sleeping Beauty to their ranks sometime soon.

 

So with that, I thought I had brought the curtain down on my Panto tour for 2012-13, but not wanting to leave the tour on a downer, I decided to have one more visit to Bradford before the last panto closed its doors for the season. That way it’s only 10 months until Jack and the Beanstalk opens in November 2013!

All in all, it’s been a great season. There have been plenty of laughs, references to Gangnam Style in all but two shows (Bradford and Camberley) and I don’t think Simon Cowell and One Direction’s bank balances will be too low given the royalties they will have been paid this season!

 

I was disappointed to have missed Bristol where I have heard great reviews, and Cardiff for Joe Pasquale in Sleeping Beauty, but fortunately, he will be treading the boards in Wolverhampton next year, and I hope to see their fabulous show there again next year.

 

So, now it comes time to pull together my awards for the season.  It is always difficult to decide who wins what. I discount Nigel as I don’t want to come across as Bias, but rest assured he was as always magnificent.

 

 
Panto Awards 2012-13
  1st 2nd 3rd
Best Pantomime Cinderella - Stoke on Trent Jack & The Beanstalk - Southampton Peter Pan - Manchester
Best Set Jack & The Beanstalk - Southampton Dick Whittington - Woking Robinson Crusoe - Birmingham
Best Production Costumes Robinson Crusoe - Birmingham Aladdin - Newcastle Peter Pan - Manchester
Best “Lead” Comedian (e.g. Buttons) Tam Ryan  - Smee - Manchester Kev Orkian - Buttons - Milton Keynes Shane Richie - Buttons - Southend on Sea
Best Dame Andrew Ryan-Mrs Crusoe-Birmingham Chris Hayward- Empress- Newcastle Eric Potts- Sarah The Cook-Woking
Best Fairy / Guardian Sue Devaney - Sheffield Julian Clary - Southampton Denise Welch - Northampton
Best Prince / Aladdin / Pan Jassa Ahluwalia - Peter Pan - Camberley Lee Mead - Jack - Southampton George Sampson - Peter Pan  - Derby
Best Baron / King / Brokers Men Peter Piper - Baron Hardup - Southend on Sea The Grumbleweeds - Brokers Men - Nottingham Clive Webb - Mr Twankey - Aladdin
Best Princess / Cinderella Carly Day - Cinderella - Southend on Sea Zoe Birkett - Sleeping Beauty - Darlington Anna Williamson - Cinderella - Milton Keynes
Best Script Cinderella - Stoke on Trent Jack & The Beanstalk - Southampton Cinderella - Bradford
Best Baddie Sherrie Hewson - Wolverhampton Jarred Christmas - Wimbledon Tom Lister - Sunderland
Best Scene If I Was Not In Pantomime - Aladdin - Newcastle Gangman Style - Warwick Davis - Wimbledon 12 Days of Christmas - Stoke on Trent
Best Musical Score Cinderella - Southend on Sea Jack & The Beanstalk - Southampton Cinderella - Nottingham
Best Special Effect Magic Carpet - Aladdin - Newcastle King Kong - Aladdin - Newcastle Flying Car - Robinson Crusoe - Birmingham
Best Gangnam Style Warwick Davis - Snow White - Wimbledon Brian Conley - Audience Member - Birmingham Tam Ryan - Song sheet - Manchester
Best Entrance Priscilla Presley - Wimbledon David Hasselhoff - Manchester Tom Lister - Sunderland
Best Ugly Sisters Kai Owen & Christian Patterson - Stoke Ian Smith & Michael J Batchelor - Sheffield Nathan Kiley & Andrew Dyer- Southend
   
Special Awards
   
Best Pantomime Gag Stoke On Trent Tesco online dating - got myself a bag for life
Best International Import Jarred Christmas Wimbledon
Best Dame Costumes Nigel Ellacott - Cake Dress Even though he is excluded from the awards. Too good to ignore !!
Biggest Suprise Performance Jarred Christmas Wimbledon - not sure how stand up would do in panto but was excellent.
Special Mention Damian Williams Buttons is Jessica Ennis

 


2nd January 2013 Updated 5th March 2013

Ian Sandy

 

My dear friend Ian Sandy passed away on Sunday 23rd December at the age of forty eight. I have had the great pleasure of knowing him and working with him for eighteen years.

Ian was the face of the Birmingham Hippodrome Pantomimes for Twenty Two Years. He was company manager for the pantomimes there and gave the building that very special personal welcome that made it a magical time.

Peter Robbins and I first met him when we arrived at the Hippodrome for the "Cinderella" pantomime that starred Rolf Harris, Gary Wilmot and Judy Cornwall. Ian was the person you turned to for advice, for help and for the social services- by that I mean he headed the Social Events for the company. Skillfully weaving and bonding the company making it jollier, stronger and creating a happy place to spend the twice daily days. He would sort out all your problems, and post notices for company meals, company events and make certain everyone was looked after.

This was in his blood. Ian had been entertainment Manager of a large holiday complex, and used this skill together with his theatre background- he had begun his career at the age of seven-he was a child actor in programmes like God's Wonderful Railway, and later  his acute business skills were always to the forefront. He became area controller running fourteen holiday camps.

Ian left Birmingham Theatre School in 1983. He worked as an Actor and a performer in theatres and in holiday parks. He was featured in the Documentary "Seasiders" which was filmed when Ian was head of Ents at Primrose Valley.

He appeared in Pantomimes, and was a very fine Friar Tuck in "Babes In The Wood" In Birmingham, at Darlington, with Cannon and Ball, Leslie Ash and Freddie Lees,  at Plymouth, Leeds and Southampton. At Swansea Grand Theatre Ian found himself thrust centre stage when the star of the pantomime, Carole Lee Scott was taken ill, and with virtually no notice Ian took over as "The Wizard" in place of TV's "Grotbags".

Only two months ago Ian travelled to Swansea to meet up with Ian Parsons who was organising a Pantomime exhibition at the Grand, and taped his experiences as part of this event.

Peter Robbins, Andrew Ryan and I remained firm friends or "Family" as he liked to call it ever after that first meeting at the Hippodrome. Ian accompanied the show when it moved on the following year, and we were fortunate to play the Hippo, only this time the newly rebuilt Hippo with "Cinderella" a few years later with Brian Conley, and enjoyed a second Birmingham Season- lots of meals out, and a lot of fun during a very happy run.

In the years between Peter Tod, then running the Hippodrome asked us to create a touring show to promote the theatre while it was closed, and Ian joined us on tour playing a role he was very good at- Mr Sandy the Theatre Manager. He was also required to appear as Henry VIII in the show. This was a role he had played in many events and corporate functions in the past- he made a very fine Tudor Monarch.

Ian later took on the role of co-ordinating and booking our Pantomime Roadshow into theatres throughout the UK. He had done this for just over ten years. Sometimes he would accompany us as we toured the schools, and we had very many laughs along the way. Ian was producing our Roadshow to the very last- our final meeting with Ian and partner Dan was a couple of weeks before he died, when we all celebrated the October and November Roadshow that Ian had organised with a meal in Birmingham, Ian's home town.

Andrew Ryan and I were looking forward to spending time with Ian and Dan as Andrew was booked as Mrs Crusoe in the Hippodrome Robinson Crusoe, and I was booked as Dame Trott twelve miles up the road in Wolverhampton. Sadly this time was taken from us.

Nick Thomas wrote:

Ian Sandy was both a friend and a valued member of the Qdos family. His role as Company Manager for Qdos' Birmingham Hippodrome Pantomime was best described as vocational; whether he was driving Joan Collins to and from the hotel in the snow, helping to  run the press launch, or massaging an artiste's dented ego, Ian was the master of diplomacy and discretion at all times. Ian had a phrase which summed him up professionally, "Never a problem Nick, only a solution!". Ian was a big man with a big heart and a 'class act' through and through. His like was a rarity in today's entertainment industry, and everyone who knew Ian will treasure his memory.

Paul Elliott said:

Ian Sandy...what can I say?...from the moment I met him at a holiday camp in Bridlington about 25 years ago he was then and to the very end helping people. Nothing was ever too much trouble...never did I see a frown or unhappiness...he was a friend who not only was a wonderful Company manager of all the pantomimes but even on a disaster I had in London would not tell me the actual figures some nights as it might upset me!...all my family loved him and in return he was supportive to them all...his film for Laura Jane's 18th birthday was a masterpiece...and I am still waiting for the bill!!

Even now he is running around the clouds above organising some event with a spirit that goes as usual above and beyond the call of duty.

He was a very special man and we who knew him will miss him so much.

Michael Harrison said:

In all of the magic and fairy dust that panto brings, Ian's passing has brought us all crashing back into the real world.

Ian's life wasn't just about the Birmingham pantomime but to us, the producers, the artistes, the wardrobe, the stage management, the crew, the front of house and theatre staff he was the Birmingham pantomime - we all relied on his support, expertise, knowledge and guidance. He was a gentle giant, a great friend and we will all miss him very much.

Jonathan Kiley said:

I first met Ian in the 80's when we appeared together in Babes in the Wood at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, where he gave his Friar Tuck, one of my Merry Men, funny how Ian was always a merry man, we became friends immediately and have worked together in some capacity ever since, always the the great organiser, as company manager he cared for the company with the greatest of enthusiasm and his last night parties are legendary, as the host with the most he compered his awards ceremonies with great panache and humour. Nothing was ever a problem for Ian when he answered the phone his bubbly Brummyness lightened your day! Thank you Mr Birmingham for all the good times and oh so many laughs! You will always be in our thoughts.

 

The Birmingham Mail ran a three page feature on his passing and quoted from several of his friends. One close friend was Joe Pasquale.

Ian was a great company manager who will be sorely missed Joe Pasquale

RIP Dear Ian Sandy, company manager extraordinaire. Birmingham wont be the same without you Julian Clary.

Rodney Worth a friend and colleague wrote:

Ian Sandy was very much a part of my real and Panto life in Birmingham. Ian's generosity was boundless and his consideration always tempered with a logic that is beyond myself...thankfully. A huge part of my life is changed forever. Ian was a big man with a big heart and he will be an even bigger loss to all of us who knew him. Our hearts go out to Daniel at this difficult time.

Ian ran and hosted large outdoor events and classical music concerts.

During the Olympics Ian arranged for the Pantomime Roadshow to perform in the National Arboretum during the Olympic Torch relay, on National Army Day. He co-ordinated this event superbly.

Ian supplied artistes and provided the entertainment at Thornwick Holiday and Leisure Park, and Primrose Valley. I was proud that Ian asked me to write four pantomimes a year for the venue over the past few years, and these were directed by Thornwicks  Phil Beck. The mantle of producing these shows will now be carried on by Ian's dear friend Mark Richie

Ian presented the annual Christmas Shows at Tamworths Snow Dome up until this year. Again I wrote the scripts for some of these events- and Ian's TPO company presented the shows ranging from Pantomime to Christmas Shows featuring Sooty, Basil Brush and The Characters From Rainbow.

He founded his own school BSS Spotlight, later rebranded BSS Showbiz at the Hippodrome Theatre along with partner Dan Chen ten years ago, and over 150 to 175 children and young people between the ages of 5 and 18 each term learned theatre skills in acting, dancing and singing in his classes at the theatre every Saturday.

We are one of the few stage schools that just let children have fun- that is more important than ability he said. "What everyone has to remember is that the only person who stops you from doing something is you. You are in control of your own destiny, and you have to get out there and have a determination to make things happen"

The School will re-open in early January and, as Ian would have wished will continue and expand enabling more children to experience being a part of live theatre in Birmingham.

And me? I will so miss those weekly and often twice weekly phone calls that always began "Ah! Mr Sandy! " followed by "Ah! Mr Ellacott! Well.. What's the gossip?" Hours spent on the phone laughing and catching up- I will miss those calls so very much- and the help, the advice and the generosity of this lovely man. The Hotel I am in this panto was booked by Ian with every detail mailed to me- the Roadshow we just finished all organised superbly by him and those very last few phone calls a day before he was taken ill during which we gossiped, laughed and he told me how much fun he was having with the Calendar Girls, including Lesley (Joseph) and Kathryn (Rooney) standing in as their Company Manager for two weeks before the Hippo season started rehearsals.

I am certain that there will be one huge memorial show at the Hippodrome that involves all his mates and involves the BSS Showbiz children celebrating his life in the near future, and that his name is immortalised in the building that became his second home. Mr Sandy- I thank you for everything. Love and thoughts go to Daniel and to Ian's family.

Nigel Ellacott

A celebration show has been announced for Sunday 12th May 2013 at the Birmingham Hippodrome - tickets are not yet on sale and more details TBC

Express and Star Tribute

The Stage Obituary


25th November 2012

Charles Vance 1929 - 2013

Vivyan Ellacott writes

I first met Charles Vance at a Theatrical Management Association meeting at the start of the 1970s. He was the President of the TMA and would always make a grand entrance, complete with a silver-topped cane which allegedly belonged to Henry Irving (more likely it came from some old props room!)  Immediately Charles’s glorious “overdone” theatrical voice would boom across the table dispensing with the business at hand.  It was all part of a big theatrical performance, but when we got down to the business in hand he would analyse, dissect, summarise and solve contractual and managerial minutiae with incision and profound skill.

He was an extremely clever man, erudite, learned and a great show-biz character, an actor, producer, writer, editor, repertory manager, and inveterate name-dropper.  An evening with Charles Vance was enormously entertaining.  I suspect working for him would have had its ups and downs – everything was done on a shoestring, all budgets cut to the bone  - but his love of the business, and his delight in his role as one of the last of the old-time actor managers always came through.

In a 50 year career he produced a very large number of tours, repertory seasons, and apparently 180 pantomimes (one of which – Porthcawl in 1982 employed my brother Nigel and Peter Robbins as Ugly Sisters early in their careers).  He also provided employment for thousands of other actors.  The theatre world is a lot less colourful, and a lot less fun now he is no longer with us.

The Stage Obituary


25th November 2012

This is Llandudno Calling......

 

As part of Skype's sponsorship of the Qdos pantomime season, the performance of Peter Pan on the 13th December will be Skype'd live from Venue Cymru, Llandudno to Great Ormond Street Hospital. Peter Pan is coming home....

 

As someone who has toured to Llandudno many times - I hope they find a good Wi-Fi signal!


9th November 2012

Robert Marlowe 1937-2012

 

Here at IBY we were saddened to receive news from Paul Holman that Robert Marlowe died in Eastbourne on Sunday 4th November. Robert had been ill for some time.

 

A prolific pantomime director and choreographer, he worked for Derek Salberg, Howard & Wyndham, Triumph productions for Duncan Weldon and Paul Elliott, and for Paul Elliott's E&B productions, for the Theatre Royal Norwich on several pantomimes and many seasons for Paul Holman Associates, which included playing Captain Hook at Sutton.

 

Paul Holman's online panto archive has more information on Robert's Pantomime work for PHA. It can be found on www.paulholmanassociates.co.uk/archive

 

Robert Marlowe began his pantomime career at the Alhambra Bradford in Jubilee Year, 1953. It was his first professional job, and he had joined a team of speciality Stilt Walkers for the Francis Laidler 1953-54 season. The troupe was sold to Laidler as a fully experienced Stilt Act for paying The Giant Family in "Jack & The Beanstalk", but in fact for the entire troupe it was their first professional engagement. He was sixteen years old at the start of the panto.

 

The Principal Boy was Betty Dane. She was the sister of Billy Dainty. The Dame was Bunny Doyle. More information can be found in our articles section under Francis Laidler, King Of Pantomimes.

 

His early panto career included choreographing and performing in "Aladdin" at the Swansea Grand in 1958 with local star Ossie Morris and Allan Wells.

 

In 1970 he directed and choreographed Salberg's "Aladdin" at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton.. He appeared in this alongside John Hanson, Billy Burden, Hope and Keen and the wonderfully named spesh, "Currie's Volcanic Eruption"! You couldn't make up a name like that in the annals of comedy if you tried! His was to be the last Salberg Pantomime at the Grand- ending a 34 year tradition.

 

In 1978 Robert directed the Triumph pantomime "Dick Whittington" at the Ashcroft Croydon for Duncan Weldon and Louis L Michaels. Barbara Windsor starred in the title role alongside Norman Vaughan, with Reg Dixon as Sarah The Cook and Bill Owen.

 

A veteran of Summer season, Robert Marlowe began his long career in revues such as "Out Of The Blue" for Brandon & Pounds, followed by Cyril Fletcher's Summer Shows- and for veteran comedian Sandy Powell, For Richard Stone and a twelve year residency at Folkestone.

 

Robert presented the now famous Cromer Seaside Special shows which he devised, directed and choreographed.

 

In 2008 He wrote his autobiography "Look Mummy I'm Dancing" in the style of a letter to a dear friend. The book is available through Amazon and gives an insight into the era when Summer Season was hugely popular in this country.

 

Nigel Ellacott

A message from Paul Holman:

I am very sad to inform everyone that our dear friend Robert Marlow passed away on Sunday 4 November. I had known Bob for many years, indeed I saw him work in summer season when I was a teenager.

Robert is probably most well known for devising, directing and choreographing the cult Seaside Special show on Cromer Pier for 21 years. This show frequently was heralded in the national press and had featured several times on TV.

His first job was at the Bradford Alhambra as part of The Seven Romas stilt act, this was for the pantomime producer Francis Laidler.

Bob directed, choreographed, danced and played baddie for all the top producers, including Derek Salberg (Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Torquay), Triumph, E and B, Paul Elliott and three seasons writing and directing at The Theatre Royal Norwich. He also directed and choreographed 15 productions for PHA. His first production with us was in 1989 at The Civic Barnsley and an original version of Alice in Wonderland. I was also able to persuade him to come out of acting retirement to portray a role, as a first for Bob, as Captain Hook in Peter Pan in Sutton, which broke all records. His last pantomime was at Watersmeet, Rickmansworth in Snow White with Bernie Clifton.

Bob performed in panto alongside many top names including Tommy Trinder, Arthur Askey, Charlie Chester, Leslie Crowther, Barbara Windsor, also celebrated dames Jack Tripp and George Lacy. Other names in pantomime he directed included Mike and Bernie Winters, Larry Grayson, Wayne Sleep, Harry H Corbett and Anne Charleston, and even Basil Brush and Postman Pat.

In addition many of his scripts have been performed through NODA by many amateur societies.

Robert also had a dance act, his first partner being Jenny Vance, followed by Nina Brown performing in summer seasons and on The Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary.

In summer shows he first appeared and choreographed for Brandon and Pounds in Out of the Blue at Felixstowe, Southend and Hastings. He choreographed and appeared for Cyril Fletcher in Eastbourne and Brighton, also directed and choreographed for Sandy Powell at The Pier, Eastbourne in Starlight, and the big star shows for Richard Stone at Southend, Weston and Bridlington. This was followed by 12 seasons at Folkestone where he appeared, devised, directed and choreographed before he went to Cromer. At Cromer, apart from the many seasons with Gordon and Bunny Jay and The Simmons Brothers, it marked the start of the careers of Bradley Walsh and Darren Day.

Bob was also a great painter and he travelled widely. His travels often gave him inspiration for his work.

A truly passionate man of the theatre, his creative and innovative style was legendary.

Obituaries

EDP24 Tribute

 


23rd September 2012

Ha Ha Hackney!

The Golden Years of Variety - Sunday 9th September 2012 7.30pm


Full Report Now Available!

26th August 2012

Updates Galore!

 

So what better way to spend a British Bank Holiday weekend then to have a clear-out of your inbox, and that's exactly what I've been doing! In doing so I've discovered items dating back to 2011 and I can only apologies to the contributors who had long since given up hope of ever seeing their pictures or articles on the site - and that goes for Nigel as well!! Too many to name individually, but alongside the new articles A Right Royal Panto! and Mayflower Open Day 2012 you'll also find updates in our Scenery Stores (lots of new Qdos Sets added), Drury Lane (wonderful illustrations including many of the Dan Leno era), numerous new photos in our Principal Girl, Dame, Fairies & Villains and Aladdin galleries. A new picture in Chris Hayward's article on Rene Mills which then put a new picture into our Wylie Tate and Dorothy Ward articles. Our 2012/13 Amateur Pantomime Diary is also up and running, so why not add your details by emailing the site. Plus of course we've had some detail to add to the 2012/13 diary - it's only about 130 days to Christmas, so it's getting close!

 

So sit back and enjoy the new bits and pieces and I'm making a promise to myself to never get that behind again! I've not forgotten our long sparse article POPSTARS IN PANTO which is currently undergoing some reconstruction and will be available soon.

 

Simon 


26th August 2012

McCartney Honours Panto King!

 

Tyneside's King of Pantomime and Qdos Panto Supremo Michael Harrison was recently recognised for his services to pantomime by being awarded the Companionship of Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (LIPA), the school which was set up by Sir Paul McCartney. Congratulations Michael from all of us here at IBY.

 

You can read all about it here.


26th August 2012

Dorothy Ward

When we started putting together our article on Dorothy Ward and Shaun Glenville we were very lucky to be contacted by David Hartshorne whose Grandmother was Dorothy's cousin. He has over the years provided us with wonderful photos and also helped us fill in the blanks with snippets of information. David has recently completed a site dedicated to Dorothy Ward and it's filled with fantastic photos of Dorothy and Shaun, along with covers of sheet music etc. Do go and have a look around at www.missdorothyward.co.uk. You can also see our article here.


26th August 2012

Lisa Gaye

Lisa Gaye (Mrs Bunny Baron) died on February 23rd 2012 following several years’ residence at Brinsworth, for most of which she suffered incapacitating illness.  She was in her seventies.

She came from a North Wales family and originally danced with her sister in a double  act known as The Gaye Sisters. At the beginning of the 1960s, at Weymouth  in “Summer Showboat” with Eddie Reindeer, she fell in love with the comedian and producer Bunny Baron,  and would shortly become his second wife.

She then became an essential part of the Bunny Baron Organisation, which included both a production office and an agency, working alongside Keith Salberg, who was Bunny’s General Manager at that time, and, at various points, with Gordon Holcomb, Syd Raymond, Pat Ward and  Clive Stock.

Lisa’s main responsibilities were as choreographer, wardrobe and office management of a growing business producing summer and pantomime seasons throughout the country.  She would be choreographing six or more major pantomimes each season., and the “Lisa Gaye Dancers” became a regular feature of pantos and summer shows for more than twenty years.

Through the 60s and 70s Lisa choreographed pantomimes at  Hastings, Weston-super-Mare, Lowestoft, Felixstowe, Lewisham, Slough, Aldershot, Camberley, Barnstaple and the Granville, Ramsgate amongst others. And among the artists appearing in her shows were Ian Lavender, Len Howe & Audrey Maye,  Bob and Alf Pearson, Sandy Powell, Rosemary Squires and Johnny Worthy.

In 1978 Bunny died, aged 68, and Lisa took over full control, adding Scarborough and  Eastbourne to her venues. Her last full year as a producer was 1979, with a summer season at Weston-super-Mare with Freddie Davies, Bobby Crush, Anna-Lou and Maria, Keith Harris and Joan Hinde, and the 1979/1980  “Cinderella” at Weston-super-Mare with Bobby Bragg, Bobbie Kent and Eddie Munro, directed by Audrey Maye.

However, she found running the production office too demanding and gradually wound down,  accepting an offer from Eastbourne Council to serve as front-of-house manager at the Royal Hippodrome and as occasional relief-manager at other Eastbourne venues. During the remaining fifteen years of her career she also took an active and valuable role on committees of the TMA.

In 1995 she retired as front of house manager at the Devonshire Park and Royal Hippodrome Theatre, following two serious strokes.  A tribute concert was staged at the Devonshire Park in 1997 with an all-star cast, staged by Jack Tripp and Charles Vance.

She was forced to give up the business because of  increasing ill-health and retired to Brinsworth for the last years of her life.

Obituary by Keith Salberg and Vivyan Ellacott, with additional information from Bobbie Kent with apologies for its late inclusion.


28th July 2012 Updated 26th August 2012

Geoffrey Hughes

1944 - 2012

 

All of us here at IBY were saddened to hear of the passing yesterday of Geoffrey Hughes after a long battle with prostrate cancer. He is best known for three iconic figures in long running television series - Eddie Yates in Coronation Street, Onslow in Keeping up Appearances and Twiggy in The Royle Family, but his television career also included long stints in Heartbeat, Z Cars, Doctor Who, The Saint, The Likely Lads and many more. He began his stage career in rep in Stoke before moving into the West End in the Lionel Bart musical Maggie May before moving onto productions of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (with Andrea Ryder) and Run For Your Wife (with Jeffrey Holland).

 

’Orful Onslow & ‘Orrible ‘Uddy (Geoffrey Hughes & Roy Hudd)

 

In Pantomime he appeared regularly with Roy Hudd in productions of Babes in the Wood, he can be seen in a YouTube clip here in action with Jack Tripp in Plymouth in 1991. This production also visited Sadlers Wells with Keith Barron in 1994. His last pantomime appearance was in the 2004/5 season when he appeared with Paul Nicholas at The Mayflower Southampton in Peter Pan.

 

Roy Hudd, Keith Barron and Geoffrey Hughes - Babes in the Wood, Sadlers Wells

 

Further press coverage

BBC Website

The Telegraph

The Daily Mail

The Stage

 

Click on images to enlarge - More Images from 1991 in Plymouth and 2004 Southampton


20th July 2012

Mayflower Southampton OPEN DAY!

Saturday 11th August 2012 - 10am to 4pm

Nigel Ellacott & Andrew Ryan will be bringing Panto  to the Mayflower in the Summer!

The Mayflower Theatre celebrates Twenty Five Years of presenting shows this Summer. To mark its silver jubilee of presenting Opera, there will be excerpts from La Boheme on stage, courtesy of the Welsh National Opera, and the world of Ballet is commemorated with a dressing room to explore, filled with costumes and wigs provided by English National Ballet.

The World Of Pantomime isn’t forgotten- come along and join Nigel Ellacott and Andrew Ryan in their Panto Dame finery as they meet and greet during the day- popping up in unexpected places as you tour this vast theatre. You may run into a few guest celebs along the way. A great opportunity to tour this vast theatre front of house and backstage.

Food, face painting, practical demonstrations of scenery and effects, combined with costume exhibitions and a short film on this buildings existence as a theatre since 1928.

We were delighted to be part of the 2008 Open Day, and look forward to a fun packed day. For full details click HERE

Pictures from 2008 Open Day

Hope to see you there!


20th July 2012

Pantomime Roadshow 2012

COMING TO A TOWN NEAR YOU THIS AUTUMN!


Redbridge Pantomime Roadshow

Week commencing September 24th and week commencing October 1st 2012.

Visiting schools in The London Boroughs of Redbridge, Newham and

Waltham Forest on behalf of the Kenneth More Theatre, Ilford. 

 

The Pantomime Roadshow:

Week Commencing October 15th   Bradford, on behalf of the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford.

Week Commencing October 22nd  Glasgow, on behalf of the SECC Glasgow.

Week Commencing October 29th   Aberdeen, on behalf of His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen

Week Commencing November 5th  Wolverhampton, on behalf of the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton


28th June 2012 Updated 1st July 2012

Armed Forces Day - Pantomime Roadshow

National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire

 

On Saturday 30 June, the Arboretum will run a full programme of events to commemorate and celebrate Armed Forces Day. Kick starting the day will be the arrival of the Olympic Torch Relay at 7.30am! And then at 9.05am Nigel Ellacott and Andrew Ryan will be joined by Nathan Daniel to present The Pantomime Roadshow. There are plenty of other events throughout the day including The Band of the Irish Guards, Cannock Highland Pipe Band, Jump4Heroes and an Armed Forces Day parade. Details about the event can be found here or by viewing the full programme here (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).

 

Why not pop along and see the torch and then stay for the Roadshow on the Big Stage, The Naval Review.

Photo from the day

 


22nd June 2012 Updated 1st July 2012

VICTOR SPINETTI - 1929 - 2012

'The man who made clouds disappear!' - Sir Paul McCartney

 

VICTOR SPINETTI ON LIFE AND WORK - Extract from BBC Series Great Lives

Entire Episode is still available through iPlayer until 27th May 2012

Here at IBY we were saddened to hear that Victor Spinetti has passed away. The Welsh-born star of stage and screen, has died at the age of 82. The news was released by his agent Barry Burnett. He died at a hospice in Monmouth ,on Monday morning. For the past year he was in ill health but kept an incredible fortitude and humour to the very end.

Victor was the man you invited to your party and hung on his every word. He was a skilled and practiced master of the anecdote, and reflected this in his long running One Man Show on tour.

Victor’s words of wisdom to aspiring actors was:

Do everything from Pantomime to Shakespeare, and learn the three “R’s”-

Redundancy, Rejection and Resting!”

He did just that- everything from Pantomime to Shakespeare, and made a major contribution to Panto Villainy in his portrayals of King Rats, Abanazars and as Pantomime Dame - a role he took on with relish at the Belgrade Theatre Coventry in 1973. He appeared in The London Palladium “Dick Whittington” in 1980 and the Shaftesbury Theatre’s “Emu In Pantoland” in 1976. He appeared with his great friend Barbara Windsor in two pantomimes, at Leeds Grand with Billy Pearce in “Aladdin” in 1999 and played the vast Apollo Hammersmith in pantomime with Freddie Lees and Jim Davidson among many other Panto appearances.

Britt Ekland, wrote: “Just heard my wonderful friend, co writer and director Victor Spinetti died. I Am devastated to have lost a true acting genius.”

Victor recently co-wrote Britt’s One Woman tour that was seen across the UK.

 

Barbara Windsor, his co-star in the West End stage play Oh! What a Lovely War which transferred to Broadway and a lifelong friend, had visited Spinetti last Thursday.

“We were very close. He was another of my great friends from that era. He was such a great man,” she said.

“We just chatted and chatted and talked about old things. But he said, ‘let’s not talk about all that, let’s talk about the future’.

“What he was trying to say was that everything was happy in his room. I was happy to see him. He didn’t look ill. He looked great. He was swearing a lot, like that would get rid of the illness, and we just laughed.”

Victor had recently appeared on her two-part radio series Clubland, and she wanted to play it for him.

“I got the nurses to wake him up to hear it,” said Windsor.

“Some of the nurses didn’t know who he was so I wanted them to hear it too.”

He was part of my life and I’m going to miss him so much. We’d go out for lunch and have a great gossip together.

“He was such a good actor because he took notice of people and used their characters. He portrayed them wonderfully, whatever he did.”

Scott Harvey recalls appearing in “Dick Whittington” with Victor :

My proudest moment as an actor was working in two pantos with Victor. (Even if he did send me and John Virgo off the stage for corpsing in the same scene twice a day, for a week!).

The crew were taking bets on whether we’d get through it without one of us cracking up. Victor said “Get off the stage you pair of fools… I’ll finish the scene myself”. As we scuttled off in shame he bellowed- “Go on, back to drama school”.

He was dressed as King Rat at the time- with Rat’s ears and a made up face with whiskers. A Priceless moment!

A lesson from a mighty actor – and we never laughed in that scene again!”

Jim Davidson appeared with Victor in the London Palladium Pantomime “Dick Whittington” in 1980. Victor played King Rat. He later starred Victor in his saucy “Adult” pantomime “Boobs In The Wood” as Friar Tuck.

In his blog Jim Davidson remembered Victor:

Dear old Victor has passed away. I will miss him. I first met Victor in 1980.I was to play Dick Whittington at the Palladium, he was to be King Rat. We became close friends. I used to go to dinner at his house with his partner Graham. We would eat drink and be very merry. He was a great teller of stories. I could listen to Victor’s tales forever. He was THE best person to have at a dinner table.

One of his stories tells of when he was sitting in John Lennon’s front room and John said, ”It’s a bit cold in here Vic, shall we go somewhere warmer?” They went to Marrakech.

Victor introduced me to the great director Joan Littlewood. I got on well with her. Victor loved her and spent a lot of time with her at the end of her life. Victor was like that, a true friend. His driver Jack was treated more like a brother than a worker. The last time I saw him he was happy and full of joy. He always seemed to be happy.

He played Friar Tuck for me in the mucky panto BOOBS IN THE WOOD. He was tremendous.

What a shame he has gone…all those great stories! Still he’s with Graham now. He’ll be happy with that. Goodbye old friend x


Cast of London Palladium Dick Whittington

Freddie Lees recalls memorable pantomimes with Victor, as well as a long season at the London Palladium in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, when Victor played the Baron.

“ I said to Victor I always regret never having seen your One Man Show. He said “Sit down, I’ll do it for you now!”

 

Ruth Madoc talks to BBC Wales about Victor - from BBC Website

 

It was his performance in Oh, What a Lovely War! that prompted the Beatles to ask him to appear in A Hard Day’s Night (1964), the first of the group’s five films. It is suggested George Harrison told Spinetti that he had to be in the film because “me mum will only go to see them if you’re in them”.

Spinetti’s collaboration with the Beatles saw him appear in their next two productions, Help! (1965) and the hour-long television film Magical Mystery Tour (1967).

His stage career saw him win a Tony award for his Broadway performance in Oh, What a Lovely War!, as well as co-starring with Jack Klugman when The Odd Couple toured London.

31 films, including Zeffirelli’s The Taming of the Shrew, Under Milk Wood with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Becket, Start the Revolution Without Me, Voyage of the Damned, The Return of the Pink Panther, Under the Cherry Moon and The Krays.

In his television career, he is perhaps best known for voicing the arch villain character Texas Pete in the S4C animated series SuperTed. And his Television adverts as the Mad Jaffa Cake Eater”, and the catchphrase “They’re Orangey!”

Victor Spinetti was also a noted raconteur whose creative output included poetry, an autobiography and his one-man show, A Very Private Diary. He appeared on Stage in The UK and on Broadway, on Television, Major Films as well as Pantomime.

Victor’s last UK theatrical tour was in the comedy thriller “Murdered To Death” . Victor played Bunting, the aged retainer in this comedy which also starred Norman Pace and Sandra Dickinson. He was appearing in this tour into 2011.

 

Further Reading

 

BBC Obituary

BBC Tribute Page - including Sir Paul McCartney and Rob Brydon

The Guardian

The Telegraph

Wales Online

The Stage

 


10th May 2012

THE DAVE LEE TRIBUTE SHOW

A Blog by Martin Ramsdin - Ugly Sister

BRING ON THOSE BEAUTIFUL DAMES

A TRIBUTE TO DAVE LEE - AT THE MARLOWE CANTERBURY

Sunday 6th of May 2012, its with some trepidation I pack my case and set off to catch a train too Canterbury, I feel uneasy because its something of an historic trip ...

Its been nearly 17 years since I last stood on the stage at the Marlowe Canterbury in Cinderella. In 1996 it was my first proper job as boy dancer after drama school , and it was a magical run and one which I probably the most fondest of, as the cast really bonded and we had a great time.

Since then I've not seen the Marlowe and one of us has had a face lift! possibly the wrong one some would say. But I was returning for a very special reason, I had been sadden to hear of the passing of comedian Dave Lee who had been our Baron Hard Up in the 1996 production, and had observed his countless encore returns to the Canterbury pantomime in the posters on its behind you.

With Michael Bachelor

So when Ian Smith and Michael Bachelor popped in too say Hi during our run at Birmingham and told me about a possible tribute show to Dave, I said YES just let me know where and when and I'll be there! And in due coarse Paul Hendy contacted me to take part in something unique 12 pantomime dames on stage at one time in tribute to Dave.

With Antony Stuart-Hicks

So I find myself,  suitcase in hand at London Bridge station (my car not behaving itself since before the run in Birmingham) and thinking this is going to be an emotional day, when I spy on the platform Mr Antony Stuart-Hicks, panto dame, producer and agent! Thankfully Ash is far more awake and sensible and we get on the correct back 4 coaches of the train as appose to the front where without his help I would have ended up in Folkstone!!

The hour and half journey whizzed by as we caught up on pantomime gossip and general hilarity and before we knew it we were in Canterbury gamely deciding to walk to the near by theatre by sat nav on my iphone. What I wasn't anticipating was how massively different the venue is now!! Gone is the converted cinema and here stands a modern glamorous new front of house and auditorium .

We're shown too our dressing rooms which rather reassuringly are the same old dressing rooms repainted and refurbished, There are too be 10 of us, we range from very experienced to the novice and quite a wide age range, I'm not saying where I fall in that second category,

(in photo from back row top left)

There's  Antony Stuart-Hicks (whose not performing this year as he's producing 3 shows himself!)

Ian Smith and Michael Bachelor ( playing Sisters this year in Sheffield)

Nick Wilton (playing Tunbridge Wells)

Damian Williams (in Sheffield- dame this year)

Sam Rabone (in St Albans)

(in the front row)

Ben Roddy (about to play his first dame in Canterbury)

Brad Fitt (playing Shrewsbury)

and yours truly Martin Ramsdin (and I'll be Sister in Nottingham this year)

Now I have been a line of dames before, for a photo shoot and press launch with Churchill, and that was the first time I met Nigel Ellacott , Andrew Ryan Ceri Dupree and Brian Godfrey, however this time the ensembled dames need to learn the words and choreography too There is No one like our Dave (to the tune of Nothing like a Dame), we start about 2pm and curtain goes up at 7pm!!!!

Well gentle readers you can imagine the hilarity as we are put paces by choreographer Paul Tracy, who will join us on stage as a dame to top up numbers, he will have only a couple of songs to change from his dance number into full dame costume hair and make up! After a few hours of us grappling with the number we run it one more in front of the Bryan Rogers dancers, quite what these beautiful talented dancers think of these 10 men stumbling around the stage is anyone ones guess but they are very kind and clap. We have just time for a roast dinner at the Canterbury Tales and then its show time!!

Roast Dinner with Nick Wilton and Lynette McMorrough

And what a show line up it is as the wonderful band strike up lend by Chris Wong (my MD from 1996!!)

Dave Lee is truly loved and it reflects in the talent on stage Bradley Walsh, Jim Davidson, Paul Hendy, Bobby Davro, Shaun Williamson, Joe Pasquale, Emma Barton, Jeff Conrad, Toyah Willcox, Freddie Davis

We are second too last, between Bradley Walsh and Jim Davidson (how often can you say that!)

Backstage I get reunited with Barbara Sturgeon the radio favorite who played Fairy Godmother with me in the 1996 Cinderella,

with Barbara Sturgeon

All feeling a little strange that the shows started but not to yet in make up we decided to get ready asap, although even when fully frocked and ready as the end of the show approaches and Bradley Walsh is finishing I can't tell you how just plain nervous we all are! But then the music starts and we're ON!!!!

10 dames take the stage in the only way they know how and the theatre is awash with colour and glitter and more importantly gentle readers I think we pulled it off!

After Jim Davidson the cast unite on stage for the finale 'Bring me Sunshine' which with its lyrics 'Bring me Laughter all the while' sums up Dave so well. It really had been a memorable day and all through it everyone's been discussing what IS the collective name for a group of dames, a clutch, a handbag, a coven? whatever it is I wouldn't have missed it for the world!


2nd May 2012

ALL ROADS LEAD TO.........WOLVERHAMPTON

We are pleased to announce that this Panto season Nigel will be heading to the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton to appear alongside Sherrie Hewson and Keith Harris in the GIANT of a Pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. With performances from the 8th December 2012 to the 20th January 2013 there are plenty of opportunities to see Nigel in action. So book early!!

 


18th January 2012 Updated 14th February 2012

Dave Lee MBE

Here at IBY we were very saddened to hear that panto legend Dave Lee MBE has passed away on January 16th. Dave was honoured with the MBE for his charity work- in particular Dave Lee’s Happy Holidays Charity raised over two million pounds for children in need of laughter and joy. Dave supplied plenty of this through both his work as a comedian, in pantomime and in his charitable and sporting causes.

Dave was to play Baron Hardup this Christmas at the Marlowe Canturbury, where he has been appearing for the past 16 productions, including “The Jungle Book” in 2007 and Peter Pan at the Marlowe Arena. This year’s pantomime , running until January 22nd starred Stephen Mulhern, John Partridge, Sue Devaney and Ben Roddy- he was billed and on the handbill when sadly due to ill health Dave was forced to withdraw from the production. His battle with pancreatic cancel ended yesterday. He was 64 years old.

A firm favourite in Kent, and much loved as commentator for Lashings World XI, Lashings Cricket Club, he was to receive the honour of being created a Freeman of the City Of Canterbury on January 31st.

Many of Dave’s fans remember him from the Marlowe Pantomimes, and from his tours with Jim Davidson’s adult pantomime- “Sinderella” with Jim and Charlie Drake. Dave featured as Ugly Sister opposite Roger Kitter in the "Sinderella" Video of Jim Davidson's stage show- this also featured Jess Conrad, Mia Carla and Diane Lee, and later Simon Bashford played Ugly Sister opposite Dave at Manchester and in London. The "Sinderella2" website has an introduction to Dave Lee by Jim Davidson.

He is remembered too for his television appearances in shows – “Live From The Palladium”, The Brian Conley Show, Jim Davidson Presents, Big Break, A Royal Gala For Prince Charles and Des O’Connor Tonight. As well as his own show- “The Fat Bloke Show”.

Here at IBY we would welcome tributes and memories of Dave from those who worked alongside him, from his friends, from the members of the panto audiences who came to see him each year at Canturbury, and from all his colleagues. Please feel free to mail us here and we can add them to the tributes already pouring in to facebook, twitter and in the online newspaper pages throughout the South East.

We begin with one from Simon Bashford- his “Sister” in “Sinderella”-

Tributes

'I was really sad to hear last night that Comedy Legend Dave Lee has passed away, I had the pleasure of working opposite this beautiful, giving man when I joined the company of Jim Davidson's SINDERELLA in the West End at the Cambridge Theatre, before playing a season at the Opera House, Blackpool.

Dave took me under his wing and we bonded instantly. Playing opposite him every night was a master class in comedy excellence, I treasure the memories and learned so much from a true master of his art.

Sleep well lovely man and thank you for being my 'Big Sis!'

Simon Bashford (The Skinny One!)

Dave Lee and I go back years. He was a "Turn" as it were, long before me..but we were bonded by Light Entertainment and the great flag of London Weekend Television.  Me on Copycats and he appearing on other Light Entertainment shows during the 80's with me. Dave was of course also a great drummer earlier in his career in the 60's ....this was after his many years pitching door to door selling technique with various household appliances......but it was Comedy he excelled at.  We also shared the Support Act slot nicely plus we had the same management too..ie ..Dave would support Jim Davidson one year ..I would do the next...then I would support Richard Digance on tour and he would do the year after etc etc...so our paths crossed a lot.

I used to stay with him and his late wife Linda when in Herne Kent..they became good mates.

Doing panto at the Marlowe theatre Canterbury was my highlight of Dave and seeing the genuine adoration my pal had from the audience...i just knew he was their legend coming back year after year entertaining the audiences of Kent.

When he invited you to his dressing room for a drink....it was all set up like a bar with optics the lot..but i rarely saw Dave drink himself if ever. He just wanted to entertain his mates. 

He was the most pleasant honest caring fun thoughtful family minded man i have ever had the pleasure to know. A truly great comic..a wonderful Panto dame...an actor, Singer ,drummer and finally, if grandad's were Carlsberg....he'd probably be The BEST!! xxx

I shall miss my friend. We were texting each other every couple of days from the moment he found out he was ill, to 2 days before he died. Never will I forget that smile that lit up a TV studio...or a stage....and the Ghost Bench gag will somehow always have a small part of it missing....well...when I say small.....lol..xxx

RIP Dave Lee MBE xxxxxx

Hilary O'Neil

I'm very sad to hear the news the wonderful Dave Lee is no longer with us, I did my very first job as pretty boy dancer in Cinderella at the Marlowe Theatre Canterbury with Dave as Baron Hardup. And there couldn't have been a more joyous introduction to the world of Panto. Dave was loved by one and all.  

Like all good things we think they will be here forever and it's awful when they're suddenly not, however I know no one can say the words Dave Lee without a warm smile on their face and what a wonderful tribute to legendary man.

Martin Ramsdin

I first worked with the legendary Dave Lee in Aladdin at the Marlowe in Canterbury when I stepped in to replace Colin Devereaux who had had to pull out of the role of Widow Twankey because of cancer. Dave made me feel so welcome and part of the team in what was obviously a sad situation for the Marlowe regulars at the time! I had the huge pleasure of working again with him in Panto the following year and also appearing in two of his incredible charity shows. He had such a passion for and a joy of life. He worked constantly for his charity sending ill and under privileged children on holidays they would otherwise not have had.

I have such fond memories of him establishing the "Fat Boys Club" which was basically him, Colin Baker, me and an honorary membership given to the significantly less rotund Phil Holden who would dash from the theatre each Wednesday for a late night banquet at Dave's sons wonderful pub/restaurant just outside Canterbury.....wonderful!

I directed Dave as Daddy Warbucks in the Canterbury community production of Annie staged by our dear mutual friend, Kevin Wood. Dave's accuracy on the text was less than perfect but mattered so little when his glorious personality filled the stage earning a hugely warm round of applause on his first entrance every performance. The people of Kent had long previously taken this gentle, good hearted giant to their hearts where I know his legacy will remain.

Rest in Peace my fellow fat boy and if you get a chance, find a quiet corner up there and see if you can't finally learn the words to NYC.

I, like so many others will miss you dearly but am grateful for having known you. Thanks Dave.xxx 

Eric Potts

Dave Lee MBE was a pantomime legend.  He performed in the Marlowe Theatre pantomime for sixteen consecutive years.  He appeared in over 1000 performances and, in all that time, he never missed one single show which is a great testament to his professionalism.  Over the years, he played Baron Hardup, Herman the Henchman, French Frank, Dandini, Ugly Sister, Dame Trot, Nurse Nellie, Widow Twankey and (believe it or not) Tinkerbelly in Peter Pan! He will be best remembered as our Dame and he really was one of the best in the business.  He played the role as it should be played… 'a man in a frock'!  In fact, more than that, he played it as 'Dave Lee in a frock' and that's what made it unique, hilarious and truly memorable.  

I always referred to Dave as 'Kent's Best Mate' and that's exactly what he was.  Everybody who met Dave warmed to him instantly.  He had a gag for every occasion and he never had a bad word for anyone.  He really was an inspiration.  In this business, we all do work for charity but Dave went further.  Much further.  He raised over 2 million pounds for his own charity 'Dave Lee's Happy Holidays' and thousands of disadvantaged and under-privileged children benefited from his kindness and generosity. For that, he will never be forgotten. 

Dave Lee was one of the greats.  He was a great comedian,, a great Dame, a great philanthropist and, more than anything, a great friend.  We at Evolution and the people of Kent will miss him.  The legendary ghost gag routine will never quite be the same without him.

Paul Hendy

Wrote to Dave in January. “Heard you haven’t been too well Dave. How are you now?”

Not too bad mate –how are you? was his response. Typical of the lovely man he was. Heaven must be rolling in the aisles.

Alan Jordan

From Hayden Parker a link:

http://www.thisiskent.co.uk/Tributes-flow-online-amid-reports-panto-legend/story-14438588-detail/story.html

From Your Canterbury

http://www.yourcanterbury.co.uk/news/comedian_dave_lee_dies_after_cancer_fight_1_1179269

From Kent online-

http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/2012/january/17/comedian_dave_lee_dies_after.aspx

We are very grateful to Paul at Limelight Studios, on behalf of Evolution Productions, for providing the following photos charting Daves incredible pantomime characters in recent years.

Click on the images to enlarge

   

13th February 2012

The Panto Party's Over

At this time of writing pantomimes all over the UK have come to an end. Mine, at Llandudno finished the earliest- and Bradford finished the latest- February 5th. Birmingham Hippodrome and Newcastle, along with Wolverhampton were long runners, and now the party is ended, and plans are underway for next season!

One thing about an early finish for me was a rare chance to see some pantos around the country. I started by heading for
Bradford and the Alhambra. Andrew Ryan was giving his Nurse Nelly in “Robin Hood” with Billy Pearce in the title role, and my mate Hilary O’Neil playing the glamorous and wise-cracking Enchantress who saves the day when Billy/Robin is tricked by the Wicked Sheriff played by Jay Worthy. Jay of course was the equally wicked Fleshcreep with me last year at Dartford.

Andrew Ryan in the Nottingham 2009 "Jack" with Paul Zerdin

Also at Bradford was the lovely Sarah Ford. Sarah was assisting on wardrobe for the Bradford pantomime this year, having been with me at Dartford the year before, and at Ilford the year before that, and previously in Wimbledon with Andrew (Ryan) again the year before that! We are trying to keep Sarah captive between us. During the summer months I was lucky to have Sarah with me to prepare and fit the Kenneth More Theatre pantomimes, and will keep my fingers crossed I can do the same this Summer! Not only is she a superb costumier but she makes a mean “Sock Monkey”. A monkey. Out of a sock. I think there’s a market out there for Sarah’s Sock Monkeys!

The Sock Monkey

The panto had a few very good special effects on display- the magic waterfall that can spell words and a magnificent Dragon that flew out into the audience. Hilary as always gave a good “Impression” or two, and Andrew made appearances not just as Nurse Nelly but at one point as Anne Robinson and Susan Boyle. They entertained the citizens of Yorkshire and beyond well into the first week of February!

After Bradford I decided to visit Birmingham Hippodrome on my way home from Llandudno- and what a joy it was to meet up with Brian Conley, Kathryn Rooney, the fabulous “Sisters” David Robbins and Martin Ramsdin, along with my mate Ian Sandy. The Hippodrome panto has always been held in the highest esteem by me- I’ve loved playing it twice in panto, and in “A Christmas Carol” and “Wind In The Willows” before then. The evening watching this year’s “Cinderella” was made extra special by being joined by Peter Tod. Peter ran the Hippo during both my “Cinderella” seasons, and employed Peter, Andrew Ryan and myself to take a show around the schools for a month, based on the Hippodrome and the history of Theatre. We also took our Panto Roadshow around Birmingham schools for five years.

Enjoyed myself thoroughly, and found myself enjoying some fond memories of doing the show- in a different version, with Brian so many times. This one had a truly wonderful horse that bonded with Brian in the “Stable” scene, and a very exciting flying motorbike that took Brian across the auditorium and almost to the front circle!

After Birmingham I found time to unpack at home, and then head for Windsor Theatre Royal to see my mate Britt Ekland in “Sleeping Beauty”. This is a departure for Britt, as she is usually the Good Fairy, and she revelled in being a Baddie this season, aided by her “Spy” Rasputin- who looked surprisingly like her own Chiahuwa “Tequila”, despite the wings attached! Had a good catch up after the show which also starred veteran Panto performer (and one of the finest “Peter Pan’s” that ever there was) Anita Harris and Tony Christie.

I had an invite from my friend Laura Taylor to visit FFE’s panto at Wimbledon, and sat with Laura to thoroughly enjoy “Dick Whittington” starring the legendary Dame Edna Everage. I actually cried with laughter- and marveled at the comic timing from the genius that is Barry Humphreys. From flying through the auditorium in a giant Wombat, to throwing Gladdies at the circle as The Dame exited, it was a fabulous show- aided and abetted by a great cast headed by Eric Potts who wrote and directed as well as playing Sarah The Cook. There was also an excellent Undersea 3D sequence created by my friend John Port. John created some stunning projection sequences for the Kenneth More Panto a few years back, and for UK Productions pantomimes and tour of “Beauty And The Beast”.

After the show had a quick drink with Paul Hendy and Emily Wood- they run “Evolution” pantomimes, and Emily’s brother George Wood who appears as Principal Boy in pantomimes across theUKfor First Family Pantomimes. They were heading in to see the next show- this one would include an after show “Q&A” session with the cast and, of course, the great Dame in Barry Humphrey’s persona. What a great evening that must have been!

Had a chance to see the Ilford “Jack And The Beanstalk” after Wimbledon. Having costumed it during the Summer, and wrapped and packed it in September, it was almost a surprise to see the costumes again! Great to meet up with mates Loraine Porter- she has performed in pantomimes here for a good many years, and Christopher Marlowe. Chris has played the Kenneth More in panto eleven times- as Prince, as Comic and latterly as Dame. Directed by the new Theatre Manager Steven Day the panto was another long runner- finishing on January 22nd.

Since then I’ve “put to bed” the Ilford “Jack And The Beanstalk” costumes, unpacked my own costumes that arrived back from Llandudno, and sorted an “Aladdin” that the Kenneth More hired out this season- and as I left the building a few days ago Steven suggested we talk about the costumes for Cinderella 2012-12 in a few weeks. Almost time to Get This Party Started again!

However, just in case I need one last panto fix of the season, there is still ONE last panto running- “Oh No There Isn’t!” I hear- well actually, Yes there is! “ The Brick Lane Music Hall Cinderella” in East London’s Silvertown, just a short distance from me, a beautiful building nestling on the very edge of the Dockland’s City Airport- an adult pantomime produced and starring Brick Lane’s Vincent Hayes, directed and starring Ian Adams, with the fabulous Julie Paton as “boy”, with Nicki McNamee, the amazing Julia Sutton as Fairy Godmother, Radio Kent’s Paul James and Andrew Robley as Baron.Brick Lane’s glitzy panto- the panto that starts the evening off with a meal, and then the panto – or a matinee tea and a panto- runs until March 3rd!



13th February 2012

Daniel Dawson's Pantomime Travels and Awards 2011/12

Daniel Dawson, a regular contributor to IBY makes extensive travels around the UK each pantomime season to see as many Pantos as possible. Here is this year’s blog from Daniel- with his personal Pantomime Awards to follow.

We here at IBY point out that this blog represents Daniel’s personal views on the shows he has seen, and does not reflect the views of www.its-behind-you.com. The same applies to Daniel’s Panto Awards for 2010/11.

That said - Over to Daniel Dawson!

And so it begins, this year earlier than ever before. It is still November, but with the Christmas Market selling festive treats outside, and my first cup of mulled wine for the season, Christmas has definitely arrived in Newcastle.

Over the next 6 weeks, I will be travelling from Newcastlein the North, to Wimbledonin the South, Southend in the East, to Bristol and Llandudno in the West and all that is in between in search of the best pantomime in the land! Unfortunately, I will miss out this year on two of my favourites from last year, Julian Clary in Plymouth and Paul Zerdin in Cardiff, which are just too far to fit in this year!

Having never been to the pantomime in Newcastle, I had never heard or seen Clive Webb or Danny Adams before, so I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a full to the rafters newly refurbished Theatre Royal crowd desperate to see the return of their hero’s from previous years. This in fact was their 7th successive year in Newcastle, and they were already booked back for Aladdin in 2012-13.

It didn’t take me long to find out why this pantomime was a practical sell out for the entire run, or why it had been extended by an additional week, and why the stars had already been booked for next year!! It was the best possible start to the season.

The costumes were elaborate, the set superb, but in Danny Adams, the show had a real star. Every time he was on stage there were tears of laughter coming down the cheeks of the entire sold out audience. The ridiculous laugh, the funny voices and the excellent one liners. This show was pure pantomime gold.

There were some excellent topical gags, the controversial name change of St James’ Park and the awful X Factor Contestant Frankie Cocozza came in for some ribbing, but the funniest part of the night was the excellent 12 days of Christmas. Yes this is always one of my favourite routines in Pantoland, but this was executed with more madness, mayhem and laughter than any I’d previously seen. The highlight being the destruction of the new £19,000 theatre curtains! Followed by an appeal at the end for audience contributions.. towards the repair of the curtains.

This was opening night, but the show appeared as “tight” as a show that was well into its run. A real credit to the talented cast.

This show was a 5* hit from start to finish, and given that it is on until the 21st January I can certainly see myself sneaking in for another viewing.

So with Panto number one out of the way, and the season well and truly started, it’s off to Manchester to see what FFE have in store for us this year.

A packed first night house inManchesterto see the return of Tam Ryan in the role of Buttons “this year” as he reminded us on his arrival on stage. He was joined by Louis Spence and Suzanne Shaw. As I sat in my seat waiting for the curtain to rise, I couldn’t believe it was nearly two years since I last saw Cinderella, having failed to find one performance last season.

Indeed it brought back many memories, I think it could have been in Manchester that I saw Nigel and Peter for the first time as the Ugly Sisters. Just thinking about it brought a tear to my eye. However good the show was going to be, it would never reach those heights.

What we did have for the next couple of hours was a good honest pantomime. Suzanne Shaw made an excellent Cinderella, with a great voice and stage presence. Tam Ryan as last year made a fun, and entertaining leading man. We were also given our first rendition of the Mr Who, What and I don’t know of the season.

For those of you who enjoy that routine, a little hint, visit Youtube, type in “Paul Zerdin Aladdin” and you will see my favourite version from last year!

With most pantomime’s still not having opened, I would have to wait a further week for my next dose of seasonal fun, this time inDerby, with Linda Robson, Paul Nicholas and the excellent Mike McLean.

Derbyisn’t one of the big budget productions, and the set may not be as glamorous as some, but what you do get here is two and a half hours of non-stop laughter. Highlights included the excellent “ If I was not a… something else I’d rather be” song, and the Russian Ballet Scene. This show was laugh out loud from start to finish, and as he was last year, Ian Good made an excellent Dame.

Next up, the following night was Milton Keynes, with FFE’s Aladdin with Gareth Gates and Britain’s Got Talent star Paul Burling.

This show was great five years ago when I first saw it, the unfortunate thing is, now 5 years later and back in Milton Keynes, the show just hasn’t changed enough. I think I knew the script as well as those acting it out. Don’t get me wrong, Gareth Gates has an amazing voice and put in a great performance, and Paul Burling was very funny, but there was just nothing new. There was also a bit of a bland 12 days of Christmas routine. I put that down to it being very early in the run, and the show was still finding its feet.

With curtains now going up all over the country, I only needed to wait until Tuesday for my next fix. Darlington with Ray Quinn, Deena Payne and Jimmy Cricket.

Despite good solid performances from Deena Payne at the Fairy Godmother, Ray Quinn as the Prince and Jimmy Cricket as the Baron, in truth, this pantomime was instantly forgettable, and didn’t have any real laugh out loud moments. I have to say it was also the first time I have ever seen a Cinderella Ball scene without a clock!! How would poor Cinders know what the time was?

And so to Friday and my “home” fixture of Sheffield, where I would get to enjoy the wonderful Damian Williams, all be it without Beverly Callard who had been forced to drop out due to illness.

The biggest shock before the pantomime started was in the programme. Damian Williams would be back next year, but would NOT be wearing a frock!! He was to return as Buttons in Cinderella. I pity the Ugly Sisters, boy will they need to be good.

So what about Sleeping Beauty this year? Well what can I say; absolute class from start to finish. Damian Williams is a genius and as he kept reminding us, they were all “new jokes” (How I wish certain other script writers had been in the audience). An excellent supporting cast only helped propel this pantomime up to the higher reaches of those seen so far.

The Bathroom scene was fantastic, very funny and extremely original. This pantomime was also full of excellent one liners… “I’m not saying the wicked fairy is going to appear, but if she doesn’t, something’s gone horribly wrong!” and “You know what they say, there can’t be any ghosts in a Sheffield Panto without a fat bloke dressed as a woman, wearing a Sheffield Icon” . .. Cue Damian’s entry in a Super tram Costume. I had taken my mum to this Panto, it was the first she has seen in probably over 20 years and she absolutely loved it. It was hard not to. Paul Hendy’s Pantomimes are highly originally and very funny, and when you have a star of the calibre of Damian Williams to deliver the lines, you know you are on to a winner.

The bathroom scene will certainly be up there for Scene of the Year and Damian has definitely set down the gauntlet to the other Dames for my Dame of the Year. I now need to find a way of seeing it again before the season finishes, because to see this quality only once, isn’t enough!!

There was also a fabulous adaption of the Mr Who, What, I don’t know routine which involved the audience who “had no idea!”.

Next up Stoke. What can I say about Stoke … mmmm well it was highly original in places! It starred Joe Swash, although having hardly seen him on stage, I did wonder whether he had returned to the jungle in the intermission. All in all, this wasn’t a great Panto, but credit to the young guy who played Aladdin .. Leon Tagoe who was excellent, and maybe deserved a better script than he got.

The production wasn’t helped by curtains not dropping on time, and various different actors forgetting their lines. My favourite had to be when Joe Swash was getting the audience to shout out every time he came on stage, forgot his name, and got everyone to shout out “Watcha Mickey” (his character in East Enders!) instead of Watcha Wishee!! So for the rest of the evening, every time he came out, the entire audience were shouting “Watcha Mickey” As with last year, a disappointing pantomime, and I will be hoping for better when I return to Stoke at the end of January to see Jonathan Wilkes and Paddy McGuiness with their adult pantomime!! I also think it is a real shame when a pantomime doesn’t use a live band, and uses recorded music instead as the Stoke one did.

So back in the North East with work, I decided the best way to get into the Christmas spirit was to visit the Theatre Royal again and see my early front runner for Panto of the Year 2011-2.

I was so glad I went to see it again, it was even funnier the second time than the first time, if that was possible. There are just so many funny scenes, its laugh out loud from the first minute to the last. The entire cast are excellent, the baddies are wonderfully bad, and Danny Adams again was just a comedy genius. Chris Hayward makes an excellent Traditional Dame and the special effects are spellbinding.

I came out of the theatre, not only thinking who could beat this show for the Panto of the Year, but whether this was actually the BEST PANTOMIME I had EVER seen. Beating last year’s Dick Whittington in Birmingham, Billy Pearce and Bobby Bennett’s Dick Whittington many years ago in Bradford and the original Brian Conley, Nigel and Peter’s Cinderella. The reality is, it probably is the best ever. I have tickets to see it again in January, and I wouldn’t rule out a fourth visit either. I could sit and watch that show night after night. There are so many fantastic scenes it’s hard to choose which is the best. Their rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas is the BEST I have ever seen! And Muddles does the X Factor is highly original and bloody funny! And Muddles becomes the Terminator is the hardest I have laughed in years, and I haven’t even mentioned the malfunctioning car, the Princess into the Suitcase, the Cleaning of the Statue Scene, and Muddles becoming a Frog !!

The following night it was a quick drive 8 miles down the road to Whitley Bay for Aladdin. Obviously the tickets were far cheaper than Newcastle, and the budget vastly inferior, but I was interested to see what this show had on offer.

The script was very close to an Eric Potts Aladdin, even though he hadn’t been credited with writing it. The young Aladdin played by Jassa Ahluwalia had a great voice and great stage presence and will definitely be a star of the future. Steve Walls also made a fun Wishey, but apart from that, it really didn’t offer anything too special. I have to say that the Dame was poor, and compared to others I had seen this year, he was very disappointing. Again another Panto relying on recorded music as opposed to a live band. I was also amazed at how unsettled the audience were throughout the show, adults, and children coming in and out of the auditorium all the time, something I felt was rude to the actors.

My conclusion, however good Jassa and Steve were, my recommendation would be to spend £8-£10 more a ticket, and go 8 miles further down the road to Newcastle!!

With my first visit of the season to Bradford planned for Christmas Eve, there was still time to sneak another visit to Sheffield to see the wonderful Damian Williams in Sleeping Beauty.

Again another fantastic evening enjoying the exploits of Damian Williams on stage. He really is the focal point of the show, and has the theatre eating out of his hands. The talk at the interval was all about the Dame. He is certainly well loved in Sheffield, and I hope he stays here for years to come, as it will save me trekking all over the country to see him, as Panto season now wouldn’t be the same without him! Well worth a second visit, and really pleased I had chance to see it again.

It certainly seems as though Sleeping Beauty is the Pantomime this year, so what would a visit to Nottingham and Joe Pasquale and Ceri Dupree give us?

The answer was another wonderful evening of entertainment, with a strong cast, fantastic costumes and great performances from the leads.

Ceri Dupree is without doubt the most glamorous of all the Dames and her costumes were simply “Fabulous Darling”! Joe Pasquale was back to his best after a previous disappointing performance in Birmingham. I especially enjoy him being lifted up by the curtain, very amusing.

In all the show was really enjoyable, Lucy Evans making the best Beauty I had seen so far this season. At this point I am struggling to decide on the Dame of the Year. Damian Williams is certainly the funniest, but Ceri Dupree was so far the most glamorous, and really entertaining.

And so to Bradford and Robin Hood. Robin Hood is not the easiest story line to make into a Pantomime but, the excellent Billy Pearce, Hillary O Neil, Andrew Ryan and Jay Worthy certainly made a great attempt at turning it into something special.

The special effects were superb, the flying dragon, and the magic waterfall were two highlights, so too was the near decapitation by the Sheriff of Nottingham of poor Maid Marion, but thankfully she managed to escape before the metal jaws snapped together!

Jay Worthy as in previous years made a superb baddie, and it was quite novel to see him with so much hair!!

Andrew Ryan never disappoints and thankfully there were appearances by Anne Robinson and Susan Boyle to add to the enjoyment!

Billy was his usual energetic self, and had the audience eating out of the palms of his hands!

Whilst a fully enjoyable pantomime, a few new jokes wouldn’t have gone a miss!!

Boxing Day meant a trip over to Llandudno, and front row seats to see Nigel Ellacott in Aladdin. As always Nigel was superb, and his costumes were absolutely fantastic. His Washing Dress which I believe was new this year was without doubt the best costume I would see throughout the entire pantomime run, and must have taken him hours to prepare.

Alongside Nigel, the real star of the show was Jason Gardner, who made the most wonderful Abanzer. He was without doubt the best baddie I had seen to date. This was a great fun show, played out in front of a packed auditorium; the only shame was it was such a short run.

From Llandudno, it was off to Northampton, and another Aladdin, this time starring Bobby Davro.

Again, a very similar script to Llandudno, but this as well was an excellent show. Whilst Bobby sometimes came across a bit over the top, especially nearly drowning some kid from the front row in the water pistol scene, this was a great show, very funny, plenty of original comedy and laughs, the only disappointment was in Jeffrey Holland’s costumes as the Dame. In the first half, he didn’t change his costume ONCE, in fact there were only 4 more changes in the entire show, and the frocks weren’t that impressive either. That said, it was a great show all in all, Basil Brush was actually very funny. (Funnier than he was to be in Birmingham) and the 12 days of Christmas were a great laugh.

From here, it was cross country to Bristol and the Hoff and Andy Ford in Peter Pan. This was the show that had transferred from Wimbledon the previous year, and had been pretty awful. If you were wondering where the review was in last year’s blog, it was edited out!! Probably wise J. This years biggest change was Andy Ford replacing Louis Spence, and boy did that make a difference. The Hoff was actually excellent as Hook, and he has a great voice! Andy Ford was his usual hysterical self and was worth the long drive to Bristol alone to see.

A huge improvement on the previous year’s Peter Pan, and a very enjoyable evening.

The next night I had tickets to see the Big Bucks Pantomime of the Year .. Wimbledon, so I decided I could fit in Bromley and Snow White en route. Let’s just leave the Snow White review as .. I wish I hadn’t!! and move on to the Fantastic Wimbledon show!

Dame Edna .. WOW This show was fantastic from start to finish.

The show was very similar to last year’s Bristol script, but thanks to Dame Edna, lasted an extra 30 minutes!! There were too many one liners to remember, but my favourite was when she was addressing her loyal subjects in the Upper Circle and assured them “that I will look up at you from time to time, but only in proportion to how much you have paid for your tickets.”

Her entrance was hugely spectacular, very Cher like in Vegas!! She arrived by flying across the theatre in a furry rat! Her facial expressions clearly indicating she had no idea what she had let herself in for.

Edna advised the audience that there was some “man dressed as a woman” on stage (Eric Potts) and that she really didn’t like that sort of thing!! Cue plenty of face pulling and pointing next time she was next to Sarah the Cook.

Midway through the show, she “forgot” what happened next, cue picking some poor lady out of the front row with a programme and spending ten minutes giving her the full Edna treatment!

Kev Orkian was simply superb as Idle Jack, again extremely funny, and full of energy. Eric Potts also showed what an excellent Dame he is, and managed to work the script very well to ensure Sarah The Cook could co-exist alongside Dame Edna.

There was a wonderful 12 Days of Christmas where I got totally drenched by panto favourite Ben Goffe reprising his role as Captain Tichworth.

Yes, you knew that this pantomime will have been this year’s biggest budget, but it was worth every penny, as it worked superbly. I always judge a pantomime if I would want to see it again, and had Wimbledon not been such an awkward place for me to get to, I would have definitely gone and seen it again and again, even at £40 a ticket and £15 (chokes) to park!!!

Next day it was off to Dartford to see Snow White starring Craig Revel Horwood and Anne Widdecombe.

Once Craig had entered the stage as the Wicked Queen, it was easy to see why this show has been extended by a week. He was excellent, and it was a great show. I had loved the music score last year in Bradford, and was delighted to hear the same music score again in this show. In fact I can’t get one of the blooming tunes out of my head!!! Grrrr.

But now to my big criticism and the reason why this show wasn’t up there in the top 5. No disrespect to the Children who did a great job, but there were no real dwarfs. Sorry but that just doesn’t work for me. I don’t care if they cost more, they are the charm of the show. What made it worse for me, was they used a backing track .This was really disappointing! You had the most fantastic performance from Craig as the Queen, a brilliant Snow White, and you spoilt it by cost cutting. Please … Real Dwarfs and no voice overs. Also have to say I didn’t think Nick Weir was a particularly good Muddles! But that is just personal opinion. A really good show that could have been GREAT!!

Then it was off to Southend on Sea in the evening, although with the amount of rain that was pouring down I thought it was going to become Southend in the Sea!!!

Shane Richie and Peter Piper starred in this Aladdin, and it was absolutely great. Maybe not one for the purists as there was a lot of messing about, and you could tell the run was coming to an end, but non-stop entertainment from start to finish. Unfortunately the Dame wasn’t one of the better ones I would see, again with minimal costume changes, but the show was thoroughly enjoyable and well worth the visit.

The highlight had to be when Aladdin suggested going in disguise into Abanazar’s lair dressed as a Cat and a Dog. Peter Piper turned up as Scooby Doo, whilst Shane Richie turned up as Kat Slater! Might have been an obvious gag, but really funny anyway and brilliantly executed!!

So after an excellent time down south, it was time to drive back up to the Midlands. New Year’s Eve was to be spent at the Hippodrome Birmingham for Brian Conley in Cinderella.

After last year’s Pantomime extravaganza I had great expectations. Dick Whittington had been Panto of the Year 2010-11 and I was looking forward to seeing what Birmingham had in store for me this year.

Whilst this was a fun show, and definitely a new slant on Cinderella, I was left feeling disappointed. It wasn’t close to being as good as last years. One of the best scenes in the show was a carbon copy of Bradford (Everything I Do), and the entire show was very disjointed. There was no real flow. The Ugly Sisters were great, and the best I had seen this year. The stables scene was clever, but I was still left wanting more!

I am not sure if the Flying Horse at the end of Act One was meant to fly over the audience, it certainly looked like it should… but it didn’t go anywhere!! I am a huge fan of Brian Conley and think he is hugely talented, but again, some new jokes wouldn’t go a miss.

A nice traditional pantomime but without the cutting edge of last year. That said, the first thing we did was book tickets for next New Years Eve to see Robinson Crusoe!!

And so with 2011 behind us, and a lot of pantomimes now closed, I would have to wait a week for my next encounter, a trip to Hull to see the Chuckle Brothers!!

So off to Hull I went and off to see The Chuckle Brothers for the first time.

I was disappointed on arrival at the theatre to find the show was less than two hours, including an interval!! This disappointment intensified during the show, because it was really funny and I wanted the “missing 20-30 minutes” !!

There were some fantastically original scenes, and the Chuckle Brothers really rolled back the years! There was one hilarious scene, where Barry Buttons Chuckle ended up in just a pair of frilly pants ! not sure if that was a highlight, seeing a pensioner in his knickers, but it was absolutely brilliant!

At the end, they also did an excellent scene inviting “mummy’s and daddy’s” on stage as opposed to the children as they performed a highly unique version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

The Ugly Sisters were also really good, according to the programme it was the first year they had performed together as Sisters, but after this show, I would certainly suggest they become a double act and continue to work together in the future, because on this performance it would be a very bright future if they did.

The entire cast were excellent, including a wonderful Cinderella played by Emma Dearden.

It was just a shame there was no Baron Hardup and the show started in the Forest and not the Market Place or outside Hardup Hall. Great Show just too short.

Well this was to be the last “new” pantomime I would see this year. I did however manage another trip to Bradford and another TWO visits to Sleeping Beauty in Newcastle.

Both had added their own “tributes” to Anthony Worrall Thompson which were extremely funny.

At the start of my final visit to Newcastle, it had been announced that they had already enjoyed £500,000 in advanced ticket sales for next year’s Clive and Danny instalment.. So it can’t just have been me that thought this year’s was the best show on offer!

All in all it had been a very enjoyable Pantomime Season. I still had the visit to Stoke for the Adult Pantomime left to go, but knew that I would now have to wait until the end of November 2012 and Aladdin in Newcastle before I would get to scream “oh no it isn’t” again.

I had enjoyed trips to new venues, and been pleasantly surprised by some wonderful scenes and shows.

All that was left to do now, was my Pantomime Awards for 2011-12 and to wonder who will be where for the 2012-13 season.

Pantomime Awards 2011-12
Winner 2nd 3rd
Best Pantomime Sleeping Beauty - Newcastle Dick Whittington - Wimbledon Sleeping Beauty - Nottingham
Best Set Sleeping Beauty - Newcastle Dick Whittington - Wimbledon Cinderella - Birmingham
Best Production Costumes Cinderella - Birmingham Sleeping Beauty - Newcastle Robin Hood - Bradford
Best "Lead" Comedian (e.g. Buttons etc) Danny Addams - Newcastle Kevin Orkian - Wimbledon Shane Richie - Southend On Sea
Best Dame Damian Williams - Sheffield Ceri Dupree - Nottingham Nigel Ellacott - Llandudno
Best Fairy / Guardian Dame Edna - Wimbledon Hilary O'Neil - Bradford Deena Payne - Darlington
Best Prince / Aladdin Jassa Ahluwalia - Whitley Bay Leon Tagoe - Stoke On Trent Gareth Gates - Milton Keynes
Best Princess / Cinderella Lucy Evans - Nottingham Emma Dearden - Hull Suzanne Shaw - Manchester
Best Script Sleeping Beauty - Newcastle Dick Whittington - Wimbledon Aladdin - Southend On Sea
Best Baddie Craig Revel Horwood - Dartford Jason Gardner - Llandudno Steve Arnott - Newcastle
Best Scene Bathroom Scene - Sleeping Beauty Sheffield 12 Days of Christmas - Newcastle Muddles is the Terminator - Newcastle
Best Musical Score Sleeping Beauty - Newcastle Snow White - Dartford Cinderella - Birmingham
Best Special Effect Flying Car - Newcastle Dragon - Sheffield Magic Fountain - Bradford
Best Entrance Dame Edna - Flying Rat Wimbledon Brian Conley - Birmingham David Hasselhoff - Bristol
SPECIAL AWARDS
Best Pantomime Gag Danny Addams  - Newcastle "Im not called Muddles anymore, I am now the Sports Direct Comedian!"
Best International Import Dame Edna Everage  
Best Dame Costumes Nigel Ellacott  - especially the laundry dress  
Biggest Suprise Performance The Hoff - excellent voice !!  
Nicest Celebrity Met Barry Humphries / The Hoff  
Special Mention Nathan Kiley & Andrew Dyer - Hull First Panto together as Ugly Sisters - could have a great future, good costumes and great chemistry!!
Most Improved Act from Previous Years Peter Pan - Wimbledon to Bristol .. Much better this year.  
Fish Out of Water Award :( Still Louis Spence - Still Dreadful    

 


13th February 2012

Jean Telfer

We are grateful to Freddie Lees for letting us know that after a long illness veteran actress and pantomime star, Jean Telfer passed away on January 9th, 2012 at Denville Hall, the theatrical residential home. As well as being a leading lady in various West End musicals and the Fol de Rols , she was a highly respected Principal Boy in pantomimes for the Impresario Emile Littler.

One of Jean’s earliest pantomime appearances was in 1942 at the Finsbury Park Empire in “Jack and The Beanstalk”. She was principal dancer in a production that starred Alec Pleon as Dame Trott.

In 1946 she appeared in revue at the Playhouse Theatre, London for a One Night Services show. The review “Between Ourselves” was by Alan Melville and featured Thora Hird, Bill Fraser, Wallace Eaton and Ian Carmichael. In this show Jean and three of her fellow artistes were described as “Obviously on their way to stardom” because of their “Mary Queen Of Scots” number. They were Irlin Hall, Joy O’Neill and Myrette Morven.

That year, 1946-7 Jean was asked to take over from Wendy Toye in the pantomime “Simple Simon” at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. Wendy Toye had been cast in C.B.Cochran’s new show in London and left the cast during its long run. In this unusual pantomime Jean appeared with Margaret Thompson as Miss Prim and Miss Proper before taking over as Diana, the leading role. It also featured Crazy Gang Stars Naughton and Gold. Later that year she appeared in Summer Season at Scarborough Spa Theatre in “Music Box”.

Pantomime season 1947-8 saw Jean Telfer at the Empire Sheffield in “Jack and Jill” for Emile Littler. She remained a firm favourite of Littler and appeared in several of his shows. This panto featured Jean as Principal Girl, with Marjorie Sandford as Jack, Roy Barbour as Simon, Jack Hayes as Dame and the double act Desmond and Marks.

Jean went on to appear in the Alan Melville review “A La Carte” at the Savoy Theatre later in 1948 appearing with comedian Dickie Henderson and Hermione Baddeley.

Christmas 1948 she returned to Littler’s “Jack and Jill” as Principal Girl at The Manchester Hippodrome with established Principal Boy Eve Acott as Jack, Henry Lytton as Dame Horner, Wendy Terry, Ellis Carlysle, Mildred Turner and once again Roy Barbour as comic.

Jean’s connection with Wendy Toye continued when she was cast in the musical “Tough At The Top” at The Adelphi Theatre London. It was Directed by Wendy Toye, and presented by C.B.Cochran. Among the cast were Carol Raye (Jean was to work with her again a year later), Geoffrey Bayldon, Beryl Kaye, Brian Reece, George Tozzi and Eddie Byrne.

That Christmas, 1949 Jean appeared in “Jack and Jill” with Eve Eacott for Littler at Leeds Empire as Principal Girl with the same cast, with the addition of Austin Harford.

In 1950 she appeared in Emile Littler’s play “Dear Miss Phoebe” which starred Peter Graves and Carol Raye at the Phoenix Theatre London, playing the role of Miss Charlotte Parratt. She understudied Carol Ray, and after an eight month run, took over in the title role alongside Peter Graves on tour. The show, similar in style to “Quality Street” Noel Dyson also featured, alongside Gretchen Franklin. Her hit number was “I leave my heart in an English Garden”. The show was staged by Freddie Carpenter. The tour ended at The Birmingham Royal in October 1951. In 1951 she featured in “The Passing Show” a series about fifty years of Show Business on Television, before playing the lead role in Littler’s revival of the 1920’s musical “Sally” on tour.

“Sally” featured Clifford Mollison, Hilda Dixon, Pauline Johnson and Frankie Cariello, as well as starring Shamus Locker, Malcolm Goddard, Eddie Childs and Cyril Boganny. The Musical toured the length and breadth of the country through 1952- it opened in August at the Pavilion Bournemouth, and into 1953.

The 1953 Pantomime season was “Cinderella” at The Empire Sheffield for Emile Littler. It starred Albert Modley, Desmond and Marks, Helen Jutson, Willie Carlisle, Billy Nelson, Chuck O’Neill and Billy Morris.The following year 1954-55 this production of “Cinderella” opened at the Palace Theatre, Plymouth. This cast remained the same with Tommy Fields replacing Albert Modley, with Harry Ristori, Sam Woodcock as Baron and Sylvia Norman appearing.

In 1955 Jean Telfer starred in the West End opposite David Nixon at the Palace Theatre , Cambridge Circus, London in “Cinderella” as Prince Charming. She appeared for Emile Littler in this role throughout the 1950’s and into the 1960’s. The Stage and Television magician Nixon played Buttons, Erica Yorke as Cinderella, with Paula Marshall as Dandini, and Desmond and Marks as The Ugly Sisters and Sam Woodcock as Baron Hardup.

Later that year Jean joined The Fol de Rols at Scarborough-an association she was to continue for several summer seasons and a Christmas season. In 1956 she was appearing in the Empire Leeds in the same production of “Cinderella” this time joined by Pamela Beasley, and the following year, 1957 in “Cinderella” at the Manchester Hippodrome with the same cast.

During 1958-59 Christmas season Jean starred in the Fol de Rols at the Edinburgh Lyceum alongside Jack Tripp and Leslie Crowther, following this with seasons with the “Fols” in 1959 at Great Yarmouth with Jack Tripp and Glasgow with Leslie Crowther. During pantomime season 1959 / 60 she played the title role in Aladdin at the Palace Manchester with Bernard Bresslaw, Lauri Lupino Lane and George Truzzi, Linda Walters as Princess, Artie Mayne, Norman Caley, Jack Skinner and his speciality act “Emerson and Jayne”

During the Summer of 1960 Jean appeared once again in the “Fol de Rols in Blackpool. In June she became engaged to Manchester Show Business Columnist Neville Wareham. By the August the show was at the White Rock Pavilion, Hastings appearing with Jack Tripp, Allen Christie, Kathleen West, Bruce Gordon, Peter Mander, Pat Ellis and John Gower.

Christmas 1960 – 61 she played Prince Charming in Cinderella at the Streatham Hill Theatre, with Frankie Howard as Buttons , Helen Cotterill as Cinderella and Dawkes and Webb as the Sisters . This pantomime also featured Christine Taylor, Chuck O’Neill, Billy Nelson and Billy Morris. Freddie Lees recalls seeing this show. The newly married Mrs Wareham appeared in Wendy Toye’s dance and mime short film “The King’s Breakfast” in 1963. Adapted from an A.A.Milne poem about the King who wanted butter for his bread it featured cameos from Richard “Mr Pastry” Hearne, Warren Mitchell, Una Stubbs and Lally Bowers.

In the April of 1964 Neville Wareham left the Manchester Evening News to take up his new job as Light Entertainment Publicity Officer for BBC Television, and they bought a house in London.

Jean Telfer was one of Emile Littler’s brightest musical stars throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, and one of pantomime’s finest “Boys”.

Our thanks again to Freddie Lees and thanks to Vivyan Ellacott for supplying information on Jean’s life and career.


24th October 2011

Caro Gurney

We were saddened by the news that Caro Gurney passed away last week after an illness at the age of sixty three.

Caro was among the top Principal Boys of the late 1970’s and 80’s, and brought an enormous amount of style and humour to the roles she played in pantomime.

Following the news that veteran performer Kalman Glass died recently, this is especially sad. I appeared in the Leicester Haymarket “Mother Goose” with both Kalman and Caro in 1978. Caro played the swaggering hero Colin, alongside Roy MaCready as Dame, Suzanne Kaye as Principal Girl in this sparkling Terry Parson designed production.

Caro along with many other members of the pantomime cast was already in repertory at Leicester and performing in their production of “My Fair Lady”, which transferred to London’s Adelphi Theatre the same year. Caro appeared in the musical and covered Liz Robertson as Eliza, and went on to perform the role opposite Tony Britton. This production also starred Dame Anna Neagle and ran for 891 performances.

Caro had appeared as Guinevere opposite Richard Harris in “Camelot” and as Queen Elizabeth opposite Paul Jones in “Drakes Deam”. Caro had a strong sense of comic timing and became a favourite of Roy Hudd, making many appearances in the revue “Just A Verse And Chorus” by Weston and Lee. Graham Hoadly appeared with Caro in this show at the Churchill Theatre Bromley in 1986. Here is a link to youtube to enjoy Caro and Graham in a pantomime songsheet from the revue. She also appeared in the farce “Run For Your Wife” with Eric Sykes and Robin Nedwell, as well as farces like “Boeing-Boeing”.

The following year in 1987 I had the great joy of reuniting with Caro when she and June Shand teamed up at Ilford’s Kenneth More Theatre to play Dandini and Prince respectively in “Cinderella”. Peter Robbins and I played Sisters opposite these two truly wonderful “Boys”.

l to r - Caro Gurney, Kerry Jane Beddows, June Shand

As “Boy” Caro worked opposite Frank Ifield, Dickie Murdock, Charlie Williams, Les Dennis and his then “Sister” partner Dustin Gee in “Cinderella”, with Dana, Michael Barrymore and opposite Les Dawson.

Caro appeared in many Music Hall productions around the country, with Roy Hudd and with Aline Waites and the Abba Dabba Music Hall.

I only wish that aspiring performers and potential Female Principal Boys of the future (should that tradition ever return) could have seen Caro Gurney light up the stage as Panto Boy. She had the style and the timing that cannot be taught. We will miss her in Pantoland.


18th October 2011

Book Review - Creating Pantomime by Joyce Branagh and Keith Orton

This hugely readable, colourful and educational book is just what Panto has needed for a good while. It acts as a handbook to aspiring Pantomime producers and societies on the one hand, but has enough fascinating fact and practical advice to work on several levels, for the ‘Pro to admire and the Amateur to aspire!

It also acts as a compact “Coffee Table”  book crammed with sumptuous colour photographs and illustrations. It is rare to find a book on the genre published recently that actually has a dip in and indulge quality- I enjoyed it very much, and will continue to enjoy it as I find it a useful resource as well as an enjoyable read. I especially enjoyed the sections about the Watford Palace Pantomimes and The Coliseum Oldham Pantomimes- two of my favourite venues, along with Nottingham Playhouse and Hackney Empire outside of the vast commercial stages.

The book’s introduction describes the passion that guides it, and this passion for panto is all too apparent in its pages. The authors claim that “The synthesis between writer/director and designer exists to create the most successful pantomime- I would add that the addition of inspired casting and a core of experienced pantomime artistes will create the most magical pantomime!

Sections on scenery and costume were backed up by excellent illustrations. Panto is all about colour, and any book that ignores that element will not hold the attention of anyone except for the most ardent scholar. This is a book to read from cover to cover, or use as a reference tome- however you treat it it is well worth purchasing- and at £16.99 for all those colour photographs I think it is a huge bargain, and a great Christmas gift for the panto fan or the panto artiste!

Enjoy this book. I certainly did!

Nigel Ellacott 28/9/11

Creating Pantomime : by Joyce Branagh and Keith Orton. Published by The Crowood Press Ltd. 2011

www.crowood.com ISBN 978 1 84797 255 2 £16.99


18th October 2011

Pantomime is not just for Christmas - it's for life!

Several times during the year I’m asked for contact details of managements and whether I have any insider information on auditions (I don’t!). I am also asked for advice from actors regarding auditioning for pantomime- often an actor’s first job outside of drama school. That gave me the idea to pen a few thoughts that may, or may not be of use....

From the audience’s point of view, Pantomime is a perennial entertainment, unique to this country, and it happens over the Festive Season when the nights draw in, and the Yule logs crackle by an open fire.

The audience knows it is a “safe” place to take the family- the kids, Gran and Granddad. They know it will always be there. Warm and comforting, and that it will never change.

Ah! But of course it does change, and it has changed over its peculiar development into one of Great Britain’s intrinsic art forms. It is our art form, even though we stole a bit here and there to make it so. If Pantomime didn’t change, I doubt it would be one of the all time money-spinners and popular entertainments we have today. Pantomime has constantly changed. It has evolved and adapted, and in doing so it has ensured audiences for the future, made managements and theatres a fair bit of profit and, in some cases has enabled theatres to fund the forthcoming rep season well into the summer months.

This Panto season alone, over 360 professional pantomimes will be staged in this country, and a great many actors, musicians and technicians will be employed for periods of up to nine or ten weeks in many cases. Annually it provides regular work for an army of artistes and techies, it employs musicians (although it has to be said in ever decreasing numbers) writers, directors, choreographers and a vast army of outworkers- Scenic artists, wardrobe and prop makers, footwear suppliers and wig makers. Pantomime monopolises the transport industry as pantechnicons travel the length and breadth of the land collecting wardrobe boxes, crystal coaches and giant inflatable beanstalks!

The preparation for the annual onslaught from Fairyland begins, on average while the current pantomime is half-way through. The Pantomime “Giants” are not looking for Daisy the Cow to make a Daisy-Burger; they are the “Big Boys” who control the largest number of productions around the country. In this year of writing Qdos hold the poll position as pantomime employers.

Qdos will produce twenty three pantomimes in the UK this season, with three in Scotland, one in Belfast and three in Wales, and the others ranging from The Hippodrome Birmingham, Newcastle Theatre Royal, Plymouth and The Alhambra Bradford.

First Family Entertainment has eight prestige pantomimes on offer this season, with venues ranging from Wimbledon to  Manchester Opera House.

Paul Holman Associates (PHA) has thirteen pantomimes this year, Imagine has Eleven pantomimes, while UK Productions has Ten pantomimes around the country. Evolution, has six,  Hiss & Boo has four and  Duo Productions, John Spillers , New Pantomime Productions and Sheer Enchantment are just a few of the many producing managements providing pantomimes all around the UK.

A helpful place to search out these companies would be on the diary section of this website: www.its-behind-you.com. Every pantomime in the UK is listed there. There are useful links to each of the producers.

If you consider that Qdos will employ on average ten principals, six to eight dancers, six musicians, A director, choreographer, company manager, three stage management in each of their twenty venues- the numbers begin to mount up. In addition the venue will provide a stage crew, electricians, sound and wardrobe staff, as well as the combined efforts of in house marketing, publicity, box office and FOH staff.

Pantomime is often the longest running show in the provinces during the year.Seasons can run between four to nine weeks.At the moment the current short Christmas school holiday has affected the pantomime business in some areas. A three week run now fits in with the school break. However the lengthy runs can still be found- The Alhambra Theatre Bradford runs until February 4th,and the Stevenage pantomime is a long running production each year.

Major star names adorn the posters. The Managements increasingly trying to outdo their rivals with bigger names, more lavish productions- with standards constantly rising, panto is no longer the poorer relation of the theatre world. Admittedly there was a lull somewhere in the 1960’s and 70’s when it seemed as if an air of complacency had settled in pantoland, but over the past few decades the genre has taken on a new lustre.

A few years ago the newspapers were delighted to announce that a theatrical Knight, one Ian McKellan was to don the skirts of Widow Twankey and perform panto at the Old Vic no less! The lure of the Golden Egg has brought soap stars from Australia, and Hollywood stars to strut their stuff on the stages of Richmond and Milton Keynes.

There’s nothing new in this- Panto has simply done what it does best. It has constantly taken on board the new, the novel the “Now” and the “Wow” factors to keep its position as our premier family entertainment. Augustus Harris employed the “star” system at the Drury Lane Pantomimes of the 1890’s. Pantomime sucked in Music Hall stars and the odd sporting celebrity in the Edwardian era just as today it might embrace a Big Brother “Celebrity” or a bona fide classical actor from the RSC.

Desmond Barritt, much loved at the RSC was performing as Dame many years before Sir Ian. Sir George Robey was doing the same sixty years before.

Pantomime has always had its stars- from Dan Leno to Danny La Rue. It has always had its impresarios, from Augustus Harris, Francis Laidler, and Emile Littler to Paul Elliott. It has also been a home to many artistes starting out in the business, and still remains so today. In this day and age it may be difficult “ to solve a problem like” a first job, but with pantomime as a major employer of actors, singers and dancers, it is “a very good place to start”!

I’m my 30th year of pantomime. It came as quite a shock to receive a call from a Birmingham newspaper asking for an article on the Silver Jubilee of Ellacott & Robbins! The word “veteran” always used to belong to someone else- the poor old soul in the King’s costume in the wings. Now I keep hearing it constantly!

Peter and I had made a conscious decision twenty-five years previously. That decision was that we would specialise. When I started in “the business”, many of the Ugly Sisters in pantomime were specialists. They were a double act that arrived at the theatre “Act as known”. They brought with them all their costumes, their props and their routines. By the early 1980’s this style seemed to be dying out. We saw a gap in the market, and decided to market ourselves as a complete package. Hopefully this saved management time in rehearsals, and money in costuming two actors. The rapport between us didn’t hurt either!

Pantomime is the place to specialise. The traditional characters of the plots are tailor made for this. There are the comics- the younger comedians who follow the origins laid down in commedia d’ell arte- those of Harlequin who evolved into “Buttons” or “Muddles” or “Simple Simon”. There are the Principal Girls, who, like Columbine before them are expected to be the epitome of femininity, but unlike Columbine are expected nowadays to have a “belter” of a voice- sweet ballads have evolved into “The Saturdays” latest hit!

The Dame role appeals to both the older comic and the character actor, The “Sisters” to character actors with a penchant for villainy and high camp. Sadly today the role of Principal Boy is more likely to be cast as a male. Up until Norman Wisdom played “Dick Whittington” at the London Palladium, the role seemed safely held by the ladies. However, things change, and eventually we might see the resurgence of the fishnets and swagger that personified the role. For now the requirements are Hollyoaks looks and a strong singing voice.

Pantomime is not ageist. As well as encouraging the newcomer, it welcomes the elder statesmen of theatre. There are roles for Villains, Kings, Fairy Queens and of course Dames, as well as Wicked Queens and Baronesses. Maturity, and the well crafted skills learnt in a lifetime of performing and observing are more than welcome in Pantoland.

If I had to use just one word to describe the chief requirement a performer needs in Panto, it would be this: Energy.

Energy is required both in performance on stage, and if it is well controlled and paced, off stage as well. The audience is young. The attention span of the average child is getting shorter. Panto has evolved to meet this new challenge. The pace is faster, the dialogue sharper, the effects more transfixing. However- woe betide the performer who lacks energy. The children will not be fooled by a lack of energy, and a lack of truth. Truth is the second requirement.

Pantomimes may be lavish and spectacular. They should be comical and magical, but the entire structure is based on one solid and immovable thing- the plot. It is the story that will transfix the audience. It is what drives the pantomime onward through to its inevitable conclusion. That good will always overcome evil.

That simple retelling of what is essentially a morality play can only be held together by truth. If the performer believes in their character- be it good or evil, then the audience, and the child in every audience will believe in it too. In panto we have no “Fourth Wall”. We talk directly to the audience at times (well, certain characters can. Others shouldn’t). Barriers you find in plays are broken down. Direct contact is encouraged. A pantomime is, after all, the original “Interactive” game.

To create the magic that IS pantomime, we onstage must believe in that magic. We must do it with a truth and a great deal of energy if that magic is to work.

Pantomime is larger than life. When we are on that stage we become almost cartoon characters. Gestures are broad, expressions are big, and the excitement of the storyline is expressed by our excitement in performing it. Twice a day. Every day. Six days a week. Twelve shows a week for perhaps eight weeks. That energy must be controlled and it must be paced. I’d lie if I said it isn’t tiring. Peter and I changed costumes twelve times a show. We strove to make each and every performance seem like it is the first time we had done it. So does everyone else. It is tiring, it can be exhausting, but the feedback you receive knocks performing a play into a cocked hat!

Sadly Peter Robbins, my “Sister” and friend of over thirty years passed away suddenly in the Spring of 2009. We were to have played Wolverhampton that Christmas in “Cinderella”. It was hugely touching to discover the overwhelming love and support that flooded in after his death. This helped me come to terms with the loss of a very dear friend, and, after consulting with Michael Harrison at Qdos, to make the decision to head down the Dame path. I really couldn’t imagine playing “Sister” with anyone else after nearly 29 years with Peter.

Dame Dolly was my first foray into Dame-dom, at the Kenneth More Theatre -2009-10- among mates, and with the time and space to see how the character was going to develop. It was a very good launching pad and I learned a lot.

This year, 2011 began with me appearing in “Jack and The Beanstalk” at the Orchard Theatre Dartford as Dame Trott. Each year I’m getting to play a Dame Role that I’ve probably written a dozen times, but never played before. It is all strangely new and yet familiar at the same time. The transition from “Sister” to someone’s Mum has well and truly begun. Costumes have been tweaked, or made from scratch, and the very glamorous costumes still get a look in, but only when the money comes rolling in to Trott’s Farm, Dame Dolly’s Coffers or Twankey’s Twin Tub and Washeteria!

After finishing panto and seeing the pantomime at Ilford that I’d written and designed, there was a gap of about a month before discussions were taking place about the next Pantomime- 2011-12, which is to be “Aladdin” at The Venue Cymru in Llandudno with Jason Gardiner in his first panto and me in my thirty-fifth I believe, but my first Twankey.

The costumes I designed for this season’s “Jack & The Beanstalk” at The Kenneth More Theatre were made during the Summer- having spent April and May sourcing the fabrics, completing sketches and finding the makers. These were completed on the second week of September, in time for the first leg of the Pantomime Roadshow.

The roadshow which features Andrew Ryan, Nathan Daniel and myself played to around four and a half thousand children in East London, and in late October will visit Glasgow (on behalf of the SECC) and Bradford (on behalf of the Alhambra Theatre) to play to around six thousand children before it ends.

In between designing the Ilford “Jack”, I’ve organised the fourteen costume changes I’ll need for “Aladdin”, consulting with Jonathan Kiley at Qdos as to how best to fit in the costumes. There are several new costumes that I’ve had made, and a few wigs, as well as adapting a few stock costumes of mine to fit in with Peking!

After that there are two weeks to pack and get the Twankey Costumes skipped and shipped, and rehearsals will begin for the next pantomime- Aladdin.

 Pantomime is not just for Christmas, - it’s for life. OH YES IT IS!


28th September 2011

Sequins and Sparkles - Danny La Rue Costume Exhibition

 

We have had this blog forwarded to us outlining a visit to an exhibition of Danny's costumes with Annie Galbraith, who readers of IBY will know as Danny's costumier and close friend. Some fantastic photos.

 

http://tonbridgedaily.blogspot.com/2011/09/sequins-and-sparkles-exhibition-of.html


28th September 2011

Kalman Glass

 

We at IBY were saddened to hear that veteran pantomime dame Kalman Glass has passed away this morning at the age of 83. Kalman was one of Scotland's fine Dames and character actors, and specialised in the Baroness Role in "Cinderella" for several years. I had the great pleasure of working with Kalman in pantomime at the Haymarket Theatre Leicester in 1978-79 in "Mother Goose". Kalman played two roles- Squire of Littleworth and King Gander- he was an enormous man with an enormous personality.His wit, theatricality and warmth were very much to the fore!  Roy Macready played Dame, Suzanne Kaye was Principal Girl and Caro Gurney played Boy. We are grateful to Kalman's Great Nephew Mike Jackson for sending us this sad news.

 

Nigel Ellacott 15th September 2011


23rd July 2011

Mander and Mitchenson Collection - A New Home

The Mander & Mitchenson collection – This vast archive of theatre and pantomime related ephemera has finally found a permanent home- it is now housed in the University Of Bristol Scholars and students of Pantomime can request to view items by contacting Heather Romaine at the University.:

The University Of Bristol Theatre Collection,

Dept. Of Drama,

Cantocks Close

Bristol BS4 3DQ

Heather Romaine

http://www.bris.ac.uk/theatrecollection/

Tel: 0117 331 5086

The M&M collection has been added to the theatre archive/collection of Bristol. Not currently online .

Take a look at their website as the Friends of the Theatre Collection have a good selection of greetings cards for sale by post.


13th June 2011

Herald Scotland - An Interview with Michael Harrison

by Brian Beacom - 1st November 2010

He is only 29 years old but impresario Michael Harrison is aiming to change the way Scotland sees pantomime.

 

Meeting Michael Harrison, the hottest young theatre producer in the UK, is more of a surprise than discovering the Ugly Sisters to be sympathetic, that Sleeping Beauty is insomnious or Snow White in fact favours the Fake Bake-look.

 

First up, there’s his clothes. Theatre producers who lunch with Elaine Paige and have the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh on speed dial typically wear slick Savile Row suits, or perhaps a flamboyant velvet three-piece more in keeping with the theatricality of the world of stage.

 

Harrison, however, a man with 21 pantomimes under his aegis – including Glasgow’s upcoming Armadillo spectacular with John Barrowman – looks more like a media studies lecturer, dressed in sports jacket, casual shirt and designer-free jeans. Success, with a series of hit shows such as Art and Witches Of Eastwick, clearly hasn’t gone to his wardrobe.

 

The Geordie working-class accent of the man is also incongruous, a million miles away from the fey voices of West End theatre producer legends such as Binkie Beaumont. Then you discover that he was born without a right arm and wears a prosthetic.

 

But it’s his age that’s the real surprise. At 29, Harrison’s career has developed faster than a casting director can say ‘Next!’, not only with his own company Michael Harrison Productions, but as managing director of panto giants Qdos Entertainment.

 

Harrison’s big break came via the King’s Theatre in Glasgow. “I decided to study acting at Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh,” he recalls. “But I was honest with everyone from the start that I didn’t want to act, that I wanted to become a producer, and the tutors accepted this. The course leaders in fact suggested I go over to the King’s, which was in panto rehearsal at the time, and just watch and learn. So that’s what I did, watching Alex Norton direct Elaine C Smith and Johnny Watson in Sleeping Beauty.”

 

The King’s manager at that time, Pauline Murphy, would let Harrison sit in the auditorium as often as he liked. Smith was aware of this quiet young phantom-like figure who would creep in quietly and sit at the back of the stalls. “I was impressed with his keenness,” she says. “He was desperate to learn.”

 

Six years later the phantom Geordie would be back at the King’s, but this time as the director. During a phone call Murphy revealed that the King’s was looking for a director for the next year’s panto, Mother Goose, as Norton had recently signed up to Taggart.

 

“I said; ‘I’ll do it!’” Harrison recalls, grinning at the sheer cheek he displayed. “Pauline laughed and asked if I’d ever directed panto before. I said ‘No.’ And while she knew I was desperate to do it, she reckoned she wouldn’t get the idea past her bosses, Ambassador Theatre Group. So I said, ‘Look, Pauline, go back and tell them I’ll do it for a pound’. She said ‘Are you serious?’”

 

He was. The bold idea at least got him to a meeting with ATG boss David Williams, who passed the final decision on to Smith, who was starring that year. Thankfully, Smith remembered him from the back-of-the-stalls days and was so impressed by his plans for panto – the need to accentuate the elements of magic and surprise, his plans to fly a fairy across the auditorium, to use film and pyrotechnics – she backed him to the hilt.

 

In fairytale style, the panto run was a massive success (and he got paid the full rate) and soon Harrison was headhunted by Britain’s biggest panto production company, Qdos. A remit to produce four pantos expanded to eight across the country, which eventually grew to become 21, with the proviso he could run his own separate company, Michael Harrison Productions. The result has been co-productions with the likes of Lloyd Webber’s Aspects Of Love with David Essex, and Cameron Mackintosh’s Witches Of Eastwick, starring Marti Pellow.

 

But where did this talent emerge from?

 

“I’ve always loved theatre,” says Harrison, retracing his stage steps. “From the age of six I appeared in everything I could, from the local drama club to panto to operatic societies, and I’d sit staring wondrously at the likes of Dana in Snow White at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle or watch Little and Large in Jack And the Beanstalk dozens of times.”

 

And while you can’t imagine many people ever running off to Sheffield to see Les Dennis in Aladdin, the young Geordie boy did just that. But his dream of becoming an actor faded as fast as dry ice.

 

“I wasn’t any good,” he says. “Then I thought I may become a theatre manager. But when I realised what a producer does, I knew that was the job for me.”

 

What do producers do? They find a sensational show they assume people will flock to see, book a theatre, hire a director, a stunning cast, a lighting crew. Then they pray to the gods for a hit. After the show’s run, they either wheelbarrow the takings to the bank or remortgage the house, sell the kids into slavery – and have another go.

 

Aged 14, the first-time producer rang up the local community centres and social club his grandfather frequented in Wallsend, put on a deep voice to sound older, and offered to stage a custom-made panto. Given the green light, he hired two am-dram actors, rigged up old curtains for a front cloth and taped a series of songs on his ghetto blaster. Old Mother Hubbard was a smash hit.

 

“I paid the actors £25, and the social club paid me £200. So I thought, ‘This is alright!’ But I couldn’t just do it at Christmas. What about the rest of the year? My granddad suggested the old folk would love a music hall show, the Good Old Days, so I did that as well.

Looking back, the shows were pretty terrible, the posters for example were done in dayglo paper, but I learned how to make a few quid.”

 

Harrison even made a few quid producing small shows while at college (when he wasn’t watching panto rehearsals) but he still craved the elusive break into the big time. That came about on his return to Newcastle and a chance meeting with the late Peter Sarah, then manager of the city’s Theatre Royal. Sarah was so impressed that he offered him an introduction to every major producer in the West End. And just 15 minutes into the meeting with David Pugh (Art, Equus, Rebecca), Harrison had a short-term contract to promote Pugh’s current touring play, the Morecambe and Wise tribute, The Play What I Wrote.

 

“I thought he was mad to take a chance on me,” says Harrison. “But he did.”

 

The colourful Pugh denies the insanity accusation. “I thought he was one of the most enthusiastic people I’d ever met. He was just so passionate about theatre.” Pugh adds, with a dry delivery; “I then took him on as an envelope stuffer – but to be honest he was pretty hopeless. Stuffed about three a week.”

 

Pugh wasn’t really offering the young hopeful a job as an envelope stuffer. What he was offering was an apprenticeship, a front row seat to the reality of producer life where Harrison could learn from both the triumphs (Equus and Art) and the disasters (The Play What I Wrote, when it moved to Broadway.)

 

Pugh wasn’t surprised when his ambitious assistant left to produce for Qdos and set up his own production company, teaming up successfully with the likes of Lloyd Webber or Elaine C Smith and producer husband Bob Morton’s RPM company, with whom he toured comedy shows such as The Woman Who Cooked Her Husband.

 

Interestingly, Harrison admits he doesn’t have to love a show to produce it. “It’s all very subjective, of course, but I’ve produced shows that I think are terrible. What’s important is that audiences will like them. Yet, there are others I’ve lost money with, such as the Al Jolson Show with Allan Stewart, where we lost forty grand, but would produce again and again. I’m convinced I just have to build it.”

 

The odd setback comes with the territory. But you sense not only does Harrison have a gift for judging zeitgeist, he is also a psychology master who understands performers.

 

“Everybody warned me off working with Elaine C Smith and Gerard Kelly,” he says, grinning. “I was told that two giant egos together would be too much to handle. But I’ve worked on two pantos with Elaine and produced three plays with her and we’ve never had a cross word. We’ve had discussions, yes. But you can’t fall out.”

 

Pellow, whom he worked with on Witches for a year, proved to be a demanding creature.

 

“David Essex is, as you’d imagine, laid back, and one of life’s really nice men. But Marti would call me nightly, complaining about the sound. Yet, he was only calling because there was a problem. And I quite liked the fact he could ring me and get it sorted. The good ones all have an opinion, and rightly so.” He adds; “I’ve produced Elaine Paige’s last two concert tours and while some say she’s difficult, I always look forward to a Sunday lunch with Elaine.”

 

Harrison is certainly not an actors’ yes man. “Actors get to go out on stage and if they’re good they’ll get a 1000 people applauding them. And that’s fantastic. But they’re not sitting in an office every day worrying how to raise the money to put on a show or if there’s enough money to pay the wages on Thursday for the one that’s currently running.”

 

Harrison’s prosthetic arm has perhaps not made him a great envelope stuffer. But if anyone ever thought it would be a hindrance to his career, they never bothered to tell the hot shot producer about it.

 

“It can be embarrassing – not for me, but for other people, when they go to shake my right hand,” he says with a shrug. “But it’s not hindered me.

 

“I never think that I’ve had anything to prove because of my arm. If I’ve got anything to prove it’s because the last show I did was crap and I want to get the next one better. And it’s not that I’ve lost the arm. I never had one so I don’t miss it.”

 

He adds, a mischievous smile slipping onto his face. “People work with me for weeks before they realise about the arm, but sometimes when I get a bit drunk I take it off and it gets passed around Joe Allen’s [the trendy Covent Garden eatery]. I’ve never gone home without it, but had a real laugh watching people find it.”

 

Harrison admits he fully expects to become a failure. “I haven’t been in that position yet, but it will happen. Probably three times in a producer’s career. But it seems the major disasters come about when you try the West End. I deliberately haven’t produced in the West End because when I do I want to put on a show that’s incredibly special.”

 

That could be his current dream, a stage version of the Whitney Houston film The Bodyguard. If sheer enthusiasm for the theatre world is a factor, Harrison will certainly succeed. It’s no surprise to discover he has no hobbies, that he actually lives in London’s Theatreland, in an apartment in St Martin’s Lane. Nor is it a shock to learn his partner is also in the business, actress Kathryn Rooney. “We’ve been together six years and it’s lucky she understands completely what I do. But she’s a normal actress.”

 

Normal actress? Surely an oxymoron?

 

“She has her moments,” he says. “But no, she’s got a great sense of humour and loves the business as much as I do.”

 

The pair met when Rooney played Snow White to Lesley Joseph’s Wicked Queen in one of his productions. “She was in a relationship at the time. And I went to her dressing room one night and I said, ‘You’ve got a choice here. I’m offering me, or you can stick with him.’ And she came down to my house in London for the weekend and never went back.”

 

Harrison’s soft-spoken voice belies grit and determination. And the more you chat to him the more you realise he represents a fascinating dichotomy; he’s terribly serious about his work, and yet terribly funny. He’s certainly serious about changing the face of panto in Glasgow, bringing panto to the Armadillo for the first time.

 

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be doing the panto at the King’s,” he admits. “But they didn’t want me. They’ve got their own outfit.”

 

The King’s may regret their decision to pass on the talents of the uber-producer. Now, Harrison is primed for battle, with Barrowman and The Krankies his weapons. “Indications are the business will be fantastic,” he says, “and we expect to get an audience of people who don’t come to the panto. And we don’t think we’ll affect the Pavilion at all. It’s a different audience.”

 

If the Armadillo experiment is successful, don’t be surprised if Elaine C Smith returns in 2011 to star at the same venue. Meantime, Harrison can’t sit still and chat any more. He has hit shows to produce, Michael Ball to lunch with.

 

“My mum often reminds me that on Christmas mornings my brother would open his presents slowly, spend ages trying it out, see if it works. But I’d open mine, look at it, then move on to the next thing. That sort of sums me up. Always looking ahead. But still enjoying the journey.”

 

He adds, smiling; “It’s theatre. How can you not enjoy it?”


26th April 2011

Hinge and Bracket Petition

 

We have been approached by some Hinge and Bracket fans asking for us to lend our support to an online petition regarding the Doctor and the Dame.

 

Sue Lavender, with the support of the Hinge and Bracket Fan Club, is trying to get the BBC to blow the dust off the H&B TV recordings and actually broadcast them again. They are also asking for a TV tribute to be made in time for the 10th anniversary of Patrick Fyffe's death, which will be in May 2012.

 

The Hinge and Bracket Comedy Classic TV Tribute petition is at www.petitiononline.com/HandBTVT/petition.html - if, like us, you still miss these 'Dear Ladies' on our TV screens then please add your signature to those who are missing some 'Gala Evenings' on the BBC.

 

You might like to check out the official website www.hingeandbracket-official.co.uk where you will find a fantastic wealth of information and also the chance to take part in an auction, if you wish, to win one of Dame Hilda's stage dresses and also a signed copy of Dame Hilda's autobiography 'One Little Maid.


18th April 2011

Trevor Bannister

14th August 1934 - 14th April 2011

 

Here at IBY we were very sad to hear of the death of Trevor Bannister aged 76. Alongside the role of Mr Lucas in Are You Being Served, which is probably what most people will remember him for, he was an exceptional pantomime dame. He last appeared in Newport in the 2004/5 season in Aladdin. He will be sadly missed.

 

In December 2003 he was interviewed by BBC South Yorkshire about playing Dame entitled DAME ACADEMY - a fascinating insight. Part One Part Two - it also contains two audio interviews.

 

BBC News Item

The Telegraph


20th November 2010

Michael Sharvell-Martin (1944 - 2010)

 

We are sorry to report another loss to the panto community. Michael was due to have performed this year in Windsor. He is a veteran of many pantomimes for E&B/Qdos and many other companies, and is pictured below with Freddie Lees as Sister. For a full obit, follow the link to The Stage.

 


30th October 2010 Updated 3rd December 2010

 

Some more sad news today in the death of seasoned pantomime performer Dave Peters. We are awaiting tributes from a number of Dave's friends and colleagues and will post these as we receive them.

 

THE STAGE Obituary

 

Dave Peters

 

Stephen 'On The Buses' Lewis and Dave Peters performing The Echo Gag


29th October 2010

 

We are saddened here at IBY to hear today of the death of Gerard Kelly and also, earlier this month, of Paul Gyngell. All our best wishes are with their families at this very difficult time.

 

Gerard Kelly

27th May 1959 - 28th October 2010

Gerard Kelly was to have appeared at the King's Theatre in Glasgow in Snow White this season, but he died after a short illness last night at the age of 51. He celebrated his 20th year in Pantomime at the Kings last year, and he will be greatly missed. Tributes have been flooding in, and many articles have appeared already on this uncrowned King of Scottish Pantomime.

 

First Family Entertainment, the producers of the pantomime at the Kings, have released this short statement:-

 

Everyone at the King's Theatre is shocked and saddened by the news of Gerard Kelly.

Our thoughts are with his family at this moment. The King's Theatre crown has lost one of its most precious jewels.

 

BBC News

Pauline McClean Blog

Stars Pay Tribute to Gerard Kelly

The Sun

Scottish Herald

Hounslow Chronicle

The Stage

 

Paul Gyngell

26th Jan 1959 - 3rd October 2010

We are also saddened to hear of the death of Paul Gyngell, a true professional and one of our Princes at the Hippodrome in Birmingham in 1995/6 (pictured above with Jodie Jackson our Cinders). His friends and family have set up an appreciation page on Facebook.


29th October 2010

Over The Footlights

Not wasting any time after his retirement from the Kenneth More Theatre, Vivyan Ellacott has launched a new website www.overthefootlights.co.uk - an Online Encyclopaedia of British Theatre History incorporating Rogues and Vagabonds, and An Encyclopaedia of London's Theatres and Music Halls. Well worth a visit.


6th October 2010

Sir Norman Wisdom (1915-2010)

4th February 1915 - 4th October 2010

Here at IBY we are very saddened to hear of the death of Sir Norman Wisdom, one of the great comedians of the 20th Century. Norman died peacefully on the Isle Of Man which had been his home for a good many years.

 

Norman�s contribution to pantomime was hugely important. He was responsible for the current trend of having the role of Principal Boy in pantomime played by a male actor.

 

His break-through sellout appearance as Aladdin at the London Palladium in 1956 led to a succession of male performers taking the roles of  Robin Hood, Dick Whittington and Robinson Crusoe.In this pantomime he appeared with Valentine Dyall, Sonnie Hale and Ken Wilson.

 

Norman was to return to the Palladium as Dick Whittington in the pantomime �Turn Again Whittington� in 1960. His co stars were the songstress Yana, and veteran comedians Billy Whittaker and Ken Wilson.

 

His Buttons in Cinderella was the stuff of pantomime dreams, and his appearances in Pantomime and Ice Show Pantomimes (At Wembley) continued throughout his career.

 

In 1952 whilst starring in �Cinderella� at The Grand Theatre Wolverhampton he raced down to London to be reunited with his comedy heroes- Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, who he appeared with in Variety.

 

It was thanks to Rex Harrison the British film actor that Norman Wisdom�s career began. The star saw him perform in a charity show and suggested he take up the profession. He made his debut in 1946 having left the army, and swiftly ascended the ladder to stardom in both stage and in films.

 

As the star of Rank�s film like �Trouble In Store� and �One Good Turn� he became a household name and a cinema favourite. His numerous films include �The Square Peg�, �The Bulldog Breed�, �A Stitch In Time� playing his �Gump� character of Norman Pitkin, the put upon working class hero- much in the vein of George Formby before him. Charlie Chaplin cited him as one of his favourite comedians.

 

He broke into the American Movie market with his appearance as the Vaudeville comic in �The Night They Raided Minsky�s�.

 

Television viewers recall Sir Norman (He was Knighted in 2000) as far back as the Sunday Night at the London Palladium shows in the 1950�s, appearing opposite Bruce Forsythe performing the classic panto sketch �Papering The Parlour� through to his appearances on BBC TV�s long running �The Last Of The Summer Wine�. Norman made appearances in this series from 1995 to 2004.

 

He decided to retire at the age of 90 to spend more time playing golf.

 

The Grand Order Of Water Rats, The worlds of Theatre Film and Pantomime will sorely miss the small man with the huge comic skill that was Sir Norman Wisdom.

 

LINKS

Norman Wisdom Website (with tributes and more links)

The Stage

BBC News

BBC Audio Slideshow

BBC Article - How Slapstick stayed the course


11th September 2010

All Change at the KMT

On September 5th my brother Vivyan Ellacott retired as Artistic Director and General Manager of the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford.

Vivyan's retirement from the day to day running of the KMT will not end his directorial connection with the theatre- he'll be returning to the KMT to direct Sleeping Beauty his 36th pantomime in December. In the next few months he will be lecturing in Shakespeare and drama at a University in Bulgaria before returning to prepare for pantoland once again.

On Sunday 5th the Kenneth More hosted a tribute show to mark his retirement. It was attended by nearly 500 people- when the auditorium sold out the show was relayed in the foyers on a screen. Nearly ninety people appeared in his show which was written and devised by the KMT's technical Manager Rob Mitchell-Gears. There were so many people involved in this production from artistes to the volunteer Theatre Club Members who provided staff, that it would be nigh impossible to name them all.

Backstage was amazing- IBY's Nigel and Simon bumped into each other from time to time- Simon, down from Cardiff was immaculate in Dinner Jacket with an Operatic Aria up his sleeve, and Nigel was dressed in polka dots with a yellow wig on at the time!

Gilly Daniels and Nigel, Yolanda Grant-Thompson and Simon

Old friends and performers from nearly thirty seven years ago were there to see Vivyan off on his new adventures- To name but a few panto folk Freddie Lees, Steven Fischer, Gilly Daniels, Peter Dayson, and from recent times Steven Day, Zoe Ellen,  Rikki and Tammi Stone  in a show that followed a narrative of a Yellow Brick Road featuring Panto regulars Loraine Porter, Isobel Hurll, Anna Karen, Natalie Cleverley alongside Katie Waller , Laura Nayman, Simon Lipkin and Nic Greenshields.

Steven Day

The 'Glorious Dames Of The KMT' were represented by Keith Hopkins, Christopher Marlowe, Andrew Ryan, Marc Seymour and myself (Nigel Ellacott!). That was one crowded dressing room! Five Dames in crinolines- a clutch of Dames in fact!

Before!

After! The Dames of the KMT!

Christopher Marlowe, Marc Seymour, Keith Hopkins, Nigel Ellacott and Andrew Ryan

It was a hugely emotional and an amazing experience. The evening concluded with a speech by David Ian, a presentation by Barbara Hills and a  filed tribute to Viv's work at this East London Theatre of the past thirty-seven years. All those shows.. all those Pantomimes- and it all started with a pantomime- starring Harry Secombe at The Swansea Empire Theatre.

Natalie Cleverley, Rikki Stone, Viv, Barbara Hills, Nigel, Loraine Porter

Vivyan made his professional debut as a child dancer in the 1949/1950 pantomime at the Swansea Empire, and got his first grown-up job in 1962 working as Studio Manager for BBC TV in Cardiff.

Swansea Empire - 1949

In order to pay his way through University, between 1963 and 1966, he undertook all manner of backstage and television work, from playing a policeman in a TV drama series to working as a stagehand at the Royal Opera House. He also worked in a number of Fringe theatres including the Open Space in Tottenham Court Road. After University he worked as House Manager of the Grand Theatre, Swansea, and at Wimbledon Theatre, and then returned to Wales as staff producer with the Welsh National Opera and later as Manager of the Swansea Grand.

Isobel Hurll, Viv, Marc Seymour

During his years at the Swansea Grand Theatre he worked alongside the Artistic Director John Chilvers, and as well as his involvement in the long repertory seasons at Swansea, he was involved in the pantomimes. The Swansea Panto would run from Boxing Day through until St. David's Day on the 1st March- and played to capacity audiences from all over South Wales. The stars of those pantomimes included those from the 'pop' era- Marty Wilde, Jess Conrad, Johhny DeLittle and Vince Eager, and included established stars such as Ivor Emmanuel, Stan Stennett, Reg Dixon, Ivor Owen, Ryan and Ronnie, Clive Dunn, Harry H. Corbett and many others. Further details on these pantomimes can be found in our Swansea Snapshot article or on www.swanseasgrand.co.uk

Keith Hopkins, Barbara Hills, Barrie Stacey, Nigel

In 1973 he came to Ilford to take up the post of General Manager and Artistic Director of the Kenneth More Theatre.  He has been based at Ilford since then, during which time he has directed over 275 in-house productions, including 35 pantomimes, and 28 operas. These Operas were presented by Edna Graham and frequently featured our very own Simon Curtis (IBY's co-host) in roles before he joined the Welsh National Opera Company. Vivyan also presented around 130 musicals and innumerable plays, ranging from Shakespeare to farce.

Simon Curtis and Danielle Denoto - Carmen 1997

Pantomimes were instrumental in the planning schedule of the Kenneth More Theatre. They play to almost total sell out capacity, and have done since the first 'Dick Whittington' directed by in 1975. 

Puss in Boots - Freddie Lees as Dame and Nigel Ellacott as Puss

The Theatre at that time had only recently opened its doors to the public, and had no stock of either costumes or scenery. For the first two  pantomimes the  scenery and costumes were hired,  and following that the theatre invested in buying two productions of 'Sleeping Beauty' and 'Mother Goose' from Producers Cyril Fletcher and his wife Betty Astell. Nearly all of these original costumes can still be found in the Kenneth More's costume store- but now they are joined by additional costumes created for the KMT over the past thirty years!  Most of these were constructed by the KMT's Wardrobe Mistress, Margaret Brice.

For a small sample of these see our recent article on costumes designed by Nigel Ellacott .

Simon Lipkin, Rikki Stone

Over the years the KMT under Vivyan's direction has launched the careers of quite a few West End Stars and personalities. In the world of Pantomime the KMT  has enjoyed the talents of pantomime specialists and established Dames like  Freddie Lees, Desmond Barritt, Roy Alvis, Terry Gardner, Keith Hopkins, Adam Daye, Kent Baker, as well as launching the Dame careers of Peter Thorne, Christopher Marlowe, Marc Seymour, Andrew Ryan and Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins.

Desmond Barritt

Performers who played Panto here in their early careers include Michael French, Paula Jennings, Hilary O'Neil, Jenny Powell, David Ian, Jonathan Kiley and Anthony Lyn with a number of KMT regulars who have performed here over a great number of years- Loraine Porter, Isobel Hurll and Robert Quarry. Robert incidentally holds the pantomime record for the greatest number of consecutive pantomime performances in one theatre- 36 years with never a performance missed!

Outside of the KMT, Vivyan's freelance work has included directing an opera in Communist- controlled East Berlin, when he became the first Western director to work behind the Iron Curtain.  His other opera work has included productions in Mannheim, Vienna and Budapest. He has directed several UK national tours including a record-breaking 'Rocky Horror Show' which toured non-stop for seven years from 1983 to 1990, playing every major theatre in the UK, and in France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Austria and Israel.  In this tour alone his work was seen in 109 different theatres. This production saw several cast changes- among the Frank N Furters were Jeffrey Longmore, Jonathan Kiley, Bobby Bannerman, Bobby Crush, Mark Turnbull and Cameron Stewart. Other cast members included Peter Thorne, David Ian, Marc Seymour, Andrew Ryan, Alison Pollard, Julie Faye, Julie Fox, Paul Critchlow, and Lorinda King.

Natalie Cleverley and Katie Waller

Vivyan served 3 years on the Drama Panel of the Welsh Arts Council, 15 years as Chairman of the Commercial Theatre Producers Committee of Great Britain, 12 years on the Theatrical Management Association Executive and the Theatres Advisory Council, and recently completed thirty years as a Trustee of the Theatre Council of Great Britain.

Glen McLaughlin, Marc Seymour and Andrew Ryan

In 2001 Vivyan was honoured with the Freedom of the London Borough of Redbridge in recognition of his long service to the arts in Redbridge. He will be returning to direct his 36th pantomime 'Sleeping Beauty' at the KMT in December 2010. We'e all looking forward to another sell-out season, with very many more directed by Vivyan to follow!

Nigel Ellacott - 6th September 2010

Laura Nayman

Oh What a Night! I wouldn't have missed the show for the world. Wherever I am in the country on tour, the KMT will always be home to me - I have so many happy memories of shows there and I wouldn't be doing what I do now if I hadn't found the theatre and in particular Vivyan and the much missed Edna Graham. In my ten years, or so, in performances at the KMT I performed in Musicals, Plays and Opera as well as stage managing many productions, including the Pantomime, and being a musical director for a number of productions. I then looked after the KMT website for 10 years, only giving this up this year due to time constraints. Sunday night was like a theatrical version of Friend Reunited or Facebook - and all to celebrate Vivyan's impressive rosta of shows and to also laugh at the amazing photos from the archive! I even had hair in some of them, as the pictures above will testify!

Thank you Viv, enjoy your retirement.

Simon Curtis - 11th September 2010


11th September  2010

A Wimbledon Centennial Celebration

Sunday 26th September 2010

 

A Centennial Celebration is a celebration of 100 years of entertainment at New Wimbledon Theatre, which officially turns 100 on Boxing Day this year.  To celebrate this event the theatre are staging a huge show on Sunday 26th September in aid of the Entertainment Artistes� Benevolent Fund and the Wimbledon Civic Theatre Trust.

 

The show�s full line up includes Master of Ceremonies Shane Richie alongside comedy from Alistair McGowan, Barry Cryer, Bobby Davro, Catherine Tate, Joe Pasquale, and Paul Zerdin; music from Faryl Smith, Four Poofs and a Piano, Gareth Gates, Ruth Lorenzo and The Unconventionals; dance performances by Matthew Bourne�s New Adventures and Britain�s Got Talent finalists Stavros Flatley; music hall numbers from Jan Hunt and Anita Harris; appearances by June Whitfield, Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford; and celebrations of Wimbledon�s very own world premiere musicals Half A Sixpence and Oliver! in which Fagin himself, the legendary Ron Moody will be Reviewing the Situation once again. They will be supported by a twelve piece orchestra conducted by Mike Dixon and the Laine Theatre Arts Dancers. All this and there will also be some special surprise guest appearances on the night.

 

Ticket details and further information available from theatre website.


22nd August 2010

Happy Birthday To Us!!

It's ten years since we sat in a room in Ilford and discussed putting 'a few bits and pieces' onto the internet to celebrate the Magic of Pantomime - and it's flown by. Throughout that time we are very grateful to Qdos for sponsoring the site and allowing us to grow what was originally designed as a 20 page site into the monster (1350 pages and counting!) it is today. We are very grateful to all of our readers, especially our eyes and ears on panto casting and news, and look forward to another 10 years of celebrating Pantomime and everything that goes with it. More articles are in the pipeline and the 2010/11 Panto season looms into sight with increasing speed.

Nigel and Simon


22nd August 2010

Swansea's Grand

 

Swansea's Grand, the first ever definitive history of the only remaining theatre in Wales' city by the sea, is a compelling compendium of fascinating facts, photographs and stirring memories. That's what it says on the leaflet, and that's what the book delivers. The author Ian Parsons was very helpful with filling in many of the blanks in our Swansea Snapshot article and we sent our own roving reporter to the book launch last week in the Arts Wing of the Swansea Grand. A full report and photos to follow.

If you are interested in getting hold of a copy, please order through Ian's website www.swanseasgrand.co.uk - there are also some official photos taken at the launch.


8th July 2010

Name The Dame Competition

There is nothing like a dame and you can�t have a pantomime without one! Snow White has Dame Dolly Dumpling dishing up comedy from the castle kitchen. Sarah the Cook stows away on the Saucy Sal before being ship wrecked! Dame Trott is of course instrumental in the birth of a beanstalk and then there�s the grand dame of all dames, Mother Goose, who learns the hard way that virtue will always win over vanity!

This year�s pantomime Sleeping Beauty at the Palace Theatre, Newark, is no different! Putting on the face and frock of pantomime dame is Opportunity Knocks legend Bobby Crush. Britain�s top piano playing dame is at the moment nameless and the Palace Theatre and Paul Holman Associates (PHA) are asking the good readers of IBY to come to their aide!

At PHA the Sleeping Beauty dame has historically been known as Nurse Tilly Lint, and she looks after Princess Aurora - so a Dame�s name that depicts her caring side or a medical name would be ideal. Suggestions already made include Nurse Susie Syringe, Nurse Patsy Plaster and Dame Double Dose.

Ideas for new names for the dame should be emailed to enquries@paulholmanassociates.co.uk no later than 5 September. Sleeping Beauty is a traditional, family pantomime so names for the dame should keep within the style of the production. The producers of the show, along with Bobby Crush, will decide on the best name and the winner will receive two free tickets to see Sleeping Beauty and meet the newly named dame! More details about the show can be found in the diary.


13th June 2010 Updated 17th June 2010

Panto People - In Town Tonight!

For those who can�t wait for the panto season to be upon us once again, there are quite a few touring shows as well as West End shows with a few pantomime stalwarts appearing at the moment.

Having a hair raising time in �Hairspray� is Brian Conley, appearing as Edna Turnblad with Les Dennis as Wilbur coming to a theatre somewhere near you shortly! Brian of course will be in Cardiff for Panto this year, and Les returns to Liverpool.

Ray Meagher- �Home & Away�s� Alf will be appearing at the Palace Theatre London in �Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert� from September, and will not be able to appear in panto this season, while panto Principal Boy Anita Harris is on tour in �Stepping Out� with  Wicked Queen Natalie Cleverley.

Veteran Panto Dame Barrie Howard is touring with a fellow Dame, Damian Williams in �Hi Di Hi� this Summer, along with Panto villainess Nicki Kelly .Damian returns to Sheffield this panto as Dame in Peter Pan with Nigel Planer. Ben Roddy and Kate Burrell are also touring in �Hi Di Hi�.

Jeffrey Holland and Judy Buxton are touring for Ian Dickens in the comedy �It�s Never Too Late�. Jeff is spending Christmas in the Hippodrome Birmingham as Sarah The Cook fending off the plague of rats accompanying Joan Collins and Nigel Havers as they battle the Spirit of the Bells- Julian Clary!

�Circus Hilarious� stars Clive Webb and Danny Adams, and tours the UK this summer as it has done for many years, selling out wherever it goes. Clive & Danny join Chris Hayward this season once again in Newcastle. Ceri Dupree is touring his collection of outrageous and glamorous ladies around the UK this summer. Hilary O�Neil is performing her cabaret on board the luxury liners until Christmas, when she docks for Northampton Panto.

Andrew Ryan who appears this year as Widow Twankey in Aladdin at Nottingham Theatre Royal is touring in �Waiting For Gateaux� with Emmerdale�s Lisa Riley- The  Panto Ring Mistress from Goldilocks,and Magical Genie are among  her other roles.

Marti Webb, star of the London Palladium �Babes In The Wood� is touring in �Oklahoma, while Britt Ekland, frequently Fairy Godmother is touring in her one woman show around the UK.

Paul Nicholas is donning his Pirate King costume to appear in �The Pirates Of Penzance�  before adding a hook and sailing into Reading with �Peter Pan�.

Cinderella Michelle Potter and Prince Charming Sean Needham are in �Mamma Mia� at London�s Prince Of Wales Theatre, while down the road Dean Chisnall , Pantomime�s Prince appears in �Love Never Dies� at the Adelphi Theatre alongside Summer Strallen.

Fabled King Rat (and Dame!) Victor Spinetti is touring in �Murdered To Death� for Ian Dickens Productions, while Peter Byrne- The original �B� of �E&B Pantomime Productions� is appearing in �Witness For The Prosecution� alongside Panto veteran Mark Wynter.

Simon Lipkin is touring with �Spamalot� as Sir Galahad, and Sarah Whitlock, Panto Fairy and Kim Hartman, Panto Villain are both touring in �Keeping Up Appearances� on stage- produced by legendary Principal Boy, Jan Hunt. You will also find Jody Crosier and Caroline Dennis touring in the Neil Sedaka musical 'Laughter in the Rain'.

I�m pretty certain there are a great many Panto stalwarts I�ve neglected to include- you could always e-mail them to us and we�ll add the missing links as we go along!


13th June 2010

Nick Thomas and the Cooper Horse

Expanded article from the Scarborough Evening News 4th May 2010

Entertainment company Qdos, owned by Scarborough-based Nick Thomas, has already unveiled a full programme of pantomimes for more than 20 venues, from Aberdeen to Swindon and announced a cast for more than half a dozen of them. John Barrowman, Joe Pasquale, Brian Conley and Craig Revel-Horwood are just a few of the star names in a total cast of 700 actors, dancers, musicians, stage staff and creative teams who will work on this forthcoming panto season.

The Qdos panto portfolio is one of the most impressive in the business and earned Nick Thomas and his business partner Jon Conway a place in the top 20 of The Stage 100 a a list of the most powerful figures in the theatre world. Last year more than �1 million of tickets were sold in advance of curtains going up across the country.

Mr Thomas said: "It takes more than 1,000 people, including actors, dancers, musicians and stage staff to bring all Qdos pantomimes to life." This year will see Billy Pearce, who is at the Futurist Theatre, Scarborough, throughout July and August, in Snow White in Bradford; Brian Conley in Cinderella in Cardiff; Craig Revel-Horwood in Snow White in Crawley, John Barrowman in Aladdin in Glasgow and Christopher Biggins as Widow Twankey in Aladdin in Wolverhampton.

There will be several productions of Sleeping Beauty including ones in Aberdeen and Hayes; several Aladdins including in Hull and a plethera of Peter Pans including in Crawley, Darlington and High Wycombe. Qdos Entertainment was set up in 1982, originally called Nick Thomas Enterprises, to produce the Keith Harris Summer Show at the then Royal Opera House in Scarborough and a panto starring Jimmy Cricket in Preston.

The company is now based in Queen Margaret's Road, Scarborough, and also has a base in Beverley.

 

Can�t stop collecting? The solution- Buy a pub!

 

Nick Thomas, head of Qdos has been collecting on a major scale for as long as he cares to remember. His collections of Theatrical and Pantomime memorabilia became so immense that he solved the problem by buying a pub and lining the walls (and ceiling) with a glorious collection. Looking down on you from the walls as you turn a corner will be Freddy Davies, Richard Hearne (Mr.Pasty), Reg Varney, Joan Regan with stars of Victorian panto vying with Morecambe and Wise and Jewel and Warris for space. Doddy beams down at you as do the modern stars of panto in this Theatrically themed award winning pub- The Copper Horse, in Seamer near Scarborough.

 

Nick also has one of the largest collections of puppets as well, and, when they outgrow his house, perhaps a puppetry themed pub might be on the cards! If you spot �The Punch & Judy� going up for sale, keep an eye on it!

 

 

Nick�s career began with puppets- For those who don�t know, here�s a brief run down-Courtesy of Wiki:

 

Nick J Thomas  won the ITV talent show New Faces in 1975 aged 15 with his act 'Tommer Puppets'. He became a theatre producer in 1982 and on 31 December 2008 he was rated as the decade�s 5th most influential figure in the UK Entertainment Industry by The Stage, in the ten strong roll of honour lead by Lord Lloyd Webber.

 

The son of a garage proprietor and youngest of five children, Thomas moved to Scarborough, North Yorkshire, in 1968. It was here that in 1970 he saw Ken Dodd perform at The Futurist Theatre and he caught �the show-business bug�. Little did he know that his wife to be, Sandra, was one of Ken Dodd�s Diddymen in that show. Having won the TV show New Faces, Thomas left school before his O Levels and appeared in UK theatre shows with Dick Emery, Mike & Bernie Winters, Ronnie Dukes & Ricky Lee, The Nolans, Lena Zavoroni, Larry Grayson & Cilla Black. He built three teams of 'Tommer Puppets' to enable simultaneous performances in theatres, on cruise liners and in holiday camps.

 

He began producing at Scarborough�s The Royal Opera House in the summer of 1982 with The Keith Harris Show. By 1992 his company, then known as Artist Management Group (AMG), was producing 12 summer shows and 16 pantomimes annually. At the same time, AMG had established itself as a leading celebrity management business in London�s Covent Garden. He merged the production and talent management businesses to become Qdos Entertainment in January 1999.

 

Between 1999 to present day, Qdos has grown organically and made various acquisitions including Paul Elliott�s E & B Productions, Jim Davidson�s Midas Productions, Laurie Mansfield�s International Artistes, Janet Malone�s JLM Artistes, Nigel Hudston�s holiday park specialists The Entertainment Department (TED UK) and regional theatre operator Hetherington Seelig Theatres, to create one of the largest entertainment Groups in Europe. Qdos� business now spans theatre management, contract catering, live entertainment production and artiste management.

 

Nick is married to Sandra who he met whilst she was dancing in his Hi-De-Hi Sunday concerts in his first summer season of 1982. The couple have two daughters and maintain homes in North Yorkshire, Central London and Southern Spain. The couple owns the Les Routiers Restaurant of the Year 2008/09, The Copper Horse in Seamer near Scarborough, which is a theatrically themed gastro pub.

 

www.thecopperhorse.co.uk


13th June 2010

Alf and his Golden Logie!

 

AFTER a TV career spanning 40 years, Ray Meagher (and friend of IBY) finally has a Gold Logie.

 

The veteran Home and Away star triumphed over Packed to the Rafters star Rebecca Gibney to take the coveted Gold at the 2010 awards. Meagher had been the odds-on favourite, as well as the sentimental favourite, going into the Logies, but many still backed last year's winner Gibney for the top gong.

A beaming Meagher appeared emotional as he took to the stage.
"These things have never meant much to me over the years, really, mainly because I've never held one,'' Meagher said. "All of a sudden they seem unbelievably important.''

It's Meagher's first Logie win in a career that has including 22 years playing the lovable Alf Stewart on Network Seven soapie Home and Away. Meagher thanked his huge online fan base, even though he didn't understand the technology. "I hear there's a thing called Facebook and a thing called Twitter - I thought it was a bird-watching thing,'' Meagher said.

He said he hadn't won anything since a 1975 chook raffle, which he organised and drew. "It's been a long time between drinks.''

He also beat his Home and Away co-star Esther Anderson, Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation's Shaun Micallef, Good News Week's Paul McDermott, Rove McManus, and the ABC's Wil Anderson and Adam Hills.

Veteran TV presenter Bert Newton couldn't hide his feelings about the winner. "I have had the opportunity, over the years, to present many Gold Logies,'' he said.  "None have given me more joy than to present this to Ray Meagher.''

 

See News Item and Video

 

See also our new article - THE AUSSIE INVASION!

 


13th June 2010

Name That Dame!

 

has moved

 


8th May 2010

The Pantomime Roadshow 2010

It may be only May, but it's never to early to get out on the road! Nigel Ellacott and The Pantomime Roadshow are out and about making their annual visit to the London Borough of Redbridge. It is estimated that the show will play to over four thousand school children in the coming weeks, and will also be visiting Newham and Waltham Forest schools for the first time. Joining Nigel will be Andrew Ryan and Nathan Daniel.

 

For the w/c 17th May 2010 it will be in Redbridge and then w/c 24th May in Redbridge, Newham and Waltham Forest. Schools to be visited include St. Mary's Chingford, Churchfields Junior, Downshall Junior, Gilbert Colvin, Winston Way Primary, Mossford Green Primary, Mayespark, Woodford Green, Oakhill Primary, Sir John Heron, Manor Primary, Plaistow Primary , New City Primary, Cranbrook Primary and Nightingale Primary.

 

For further details about the Roadshow, go to our Roadshow Section

 

Andrew Ryan, Jody Crosier and Nigel Ellacott - Pantomime Roadshow 2009


5th May 2010

Alf and Priscilla!

Ray Meagher, veteran of over sixteen pantomimes in the United Kingdom, and friend of IBY, will not be appearing in panto this season- he'll be appearing in London's West End at the Palace theatre instead. Home and Away stalwart Ray Meagher will be taking a six month break from the show in order to star in London's West End production of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.

Gold Logie nominee Ray, who's played Alf Stewart on the show for over 22 years, will be taking on the role of Bob, having previously had a short stint in the role in 2007. "I did two weeks in that role (as Bob) in Sydney when Michael Caton wanted to have a rest, and that is when the producers said, 'Do you want to do this in London?'" Ray told the Herald Sun.

"They (Home and Away) have very generously allowed me to do Priscilla in the West End from September 20 roughly until early March (next year). I think the funniest thing for me is a bloke from the bush, who cannot sing or dance, has been asked to do a musical in the West End. That appeals to my perverse sense of humour."

We can also announce that our next article 'The Aussie Invasion' will feature Ray and all his mates from 'down under' - watch this space!!

 


16th April 2010

Nigel is Trotting off to Dartford!

We are delighted to announce that Nigel will be returning to the Qdos family this panto season as Dame Trott opposite Bobby Davro at the Orchard Theatre, Dartford. This HQ Theatre will be hosting a brand new production of JACK AND THE BEANSTALK which opens on the 4th December. Nigel is really pleased to be near home again this coming season and is looking forward to the photo shoot next week!!

 


24th March 2010

Qdos Hire Division Website Launch

The Qdos Hire Division was launched in 2005 and has gone from strength to strength, this year they have bought details online with photos and videos of their scenery, costumes and technical equipment. Why not take a look at the website - www.qdoshiresdivision.com - Some exciting items for 2010/11 will be appearing on the website soon! More details as they become available.

 

Many of the sets are featured in our Scenery Gallery.


27th February 2010 Updated 15th March 2010

Danny La Rue Costume Auction

Sale of Costumes and Gowns worn by the late Danny La Rue

To be held by public auction

Brick Lane Music Hall

Friday, March 12th, 2010

 

The sale will include iconic pantomime costumes; a suite of costumes worn in the West End stage version of �Hello Dolly�, sold with mounted and framed original design drawings; gowns worn for music hall and cabaret performances, featuring, rich sequin beading, acres of lame and yards of cascading feathers, as well as those famous head dresses; and �Danny�s ladies�, Zza Gabor, Tina Turner, Dolly Parton and Carmen Miranda, to name but a few.

 

Viewing and registration from 10am.  Sale starts at 12 midday.

 

For sale catalogue send name, address and cheque for �3.50 to:

Brick Lane Music Hall, 443 North Woolwich Road, London E16 2DA

 

please note the picture above is purely illustrative and is not an item from the sale catalogue

The Stage

BBC Website

 

UPDATED - Report and Photos from the Auction


3rd March 2010

The Art of the Pantomime Dame

 

In catching up with our inbox after a busy season, we have come across a link from Graham Hoadly of videos he has uploaded to YouTube in a series called The Art of the Pantomime Dame. Whilst we were putting them on our VideoMedia page we also thought that people might be really interested in seeing five great dames in interview, rehearsal and performance.

 

JACK TRIPP (1922 - 2005)

TERRY SCOTT (1927 - 1994)

BILLY DAINTY (1927 - 1986)

GEORGE LACY (1904 - 1989)

DOUGLAS BYNG (1893 - 1987)

We hope you enjoy them.

 


3rd March 2010

Seeking Memorabilia

 

Qdos Entertainment are looking for a selection of posters, flyers and programmes from yesteryear to provide colourful displays in its HQ theatre portfolio.

 

Its theatres include: Beck Theatre - Hayes, Cliffs Pavilion - Southend-on-Sea, Colosseum - Watford, Orchard Theatre - Dartford, Palace Theatre - Southend-on-Sea, Swan Theatre - High Wycombe, White Rock - Hastings, Wyvern Theatre - Swindon.

 

They would be looking to purchase individual items to full collections or are more than happy to have items professionally copied.

 

If anyone can help, please email npotter@qdosentertainment.co.uk or you can write to him at the address below.

Nick Potter

Qdos archivist

Qdos House

Queen Margaret�s Road

Scarborough

YO11 2YH


20th February 2010

Brick Lane Music Hall's Robin Hood and The Bawdy Babes in the Wood

 

Brick Lane Music Hall must have the longest running panto at the moment- it runs through from December 5th until March 6th- playing every day through the Christmas Holidays, and several times a week thereafter.

This year�s Adult Panto  has been written by Chris Emmett � his third at this venue- and he plays Dame Minnie, inebriated Nursemaid to the babes in huge traditional comic form.

Chris Emmett, national treasure! Veteran of BBC Radio�s �The News Huddlines�, Chris spent 26 years in that show alongside Roy Hudd and June Whitfield, as well as his television career including eight years in 3-2-1 with Ted Rogers- he certainly knows his comedy!

To watch his Dame is to step back into the world of true traditional Dame-the Dame  of Arthur Askey, Reg Dixon, and Billy Dainty- definitely a �Fella In A Frock� he brings huge joy to this tiny stage, joined by Brick Lane founder, Vincent Hayes as Vinnie, son of Minnie.

Chris and Vincent have several opportunities to team up for raucous routines, taking on the Wicked Sheriff of Nottingham played with every ounce of comic villainy by the wonderful Lowri-Ann Richards as the Cross Dressing Sheriff Shaun who wants to be Sharon!

The cast is bolstered by Pip Morgan as Will Scarlett, and a clever use of ensemble with The Merry Men engaging in every part of the show and the plot. Led by Andy Young (I had the pleasure of working with Andy at the Birmingham Hippodrome �Cinderella� a few years back) who also choreographs- he plays Little John, joined by Adam Coleman as Friar Tuck, Steven McMillan as Much, and Neil Canfer as Allan-a-Dale.

The Traditional Principal Boy is to be found at Brick Lane in the guise of Hannah Nichols as Robin Hood, and The Lady Marian is played by Natalie Moore-Williams.

The Brick Lane Orchestra consists of Laurence Payne, Musical Director and Keyboards and Bobby Cook on Percussion.

Directed by Chris Emmett this is a glorious night out a stones throw from City Airport. Yes- confusingly Brick Lane Music Hall isn�t in London�s Brick Lane. For that matter Selfridges don�t sell fridges either�No, this is Brick Lane Music Hall Number Three, situated in Silvertown. For location see www.bricklanemusichall.co.uk

Delighted to be there this evening to help celebrate the Music Hall�s Eighteenth Birthday! The original venue became a talking point after Danny La Rue, a great friend of Vincent�s appeared at the venue and, along with Barbara Windsor, Roy Hudd  and several Music Hall celebrity aficionados put the place on the map.

This venue is an amazing conversion- housed in what was St. Marks Church, nestling beside the Tate & Lyle Factory; it has been transformed by Vincent into a magnificent Victorian Music Hall � the only one of its kind left sadly- that produces shows throughout the year. - this year also sees Mothers Day Matinees, St. Patrick�s Irish Party Week, Appearances by The Bachelors, Roy Hudd�s �Best Of British� and �Give My Regards To Broadway�.

I�m a huge fan of the place, and there�s nothing like a jolly night out wining and dining, cabaret style as you watch the pantomime or the Music Hall.

The night I was in the audience included a group of the Lady Ratlings, King Rat Derek Martin (of East Enders Fame) and the legendary Jimmy Perry, creator of Dad�s Army and �Hi De Hi� to name but a few. What a smashing night out!

The Brick Lane Music Hall will be hosting the auction of costumes from the collection of the legendary Danny La Rue - this will take place on Friday 12th March 2010 and further details will be put on to IBY as soon as we have them.

Nigel Ellacott


25th January 2010

Surprise Surprise! SuBo in Edinburgh!

 

So what happens when the object of an impression turns out to be in the audience! Well Allan Stewart found out during Robinson Crusoe at the Kings in Edinburgh!

 

 


30th September 2009 UPDATED 22nd December 2009

Peter Denyer

20th August 1947 - 18th September 2009

 

A personal appreciation of the life of Peter Denyer by his friend Kevin Wood.

 

The death occurred on Friday 18th September of Peter Denyer aged 62, one of Britain�s leading actors of his generation.  I never knew a better technical performer, nor a more sincere friend.  After training at Bristol Old Vic, Peter achieved instant national fame as Dennis in �Please Sir�, and went on to play leading roles in the iconic TV series �The Fenn Street Gang�, �Agony� and as the much loved Ralph in �Dear John�.

 

On stage he made his professional debut at the old Sheffield Rep, and in a forty year career appeared at virtually every theatre in the land, playing almost every role from Shakespeare to Ayckbourn, from the West End to Summer Seasons and Rep.  However, he ended his life as the country�s most performed playwright, by virtue of a canon of twelve pantomimes that found favour with amateur and professional companies alike, to the extent that since the mid-nineties more than two hundred productions of his work took place every year.

 

I first met Peter in 1985, when he was cast in the title role in my adaptation of �The History of Mr Polly�.  We became firm friends and within a short time business partners for a range of productions that spanned the next twenty-five years.  During the mid eighties he joined us to run Kevin Wood Pantomimes, helping to establish a reputation for bespoke quality Christmas productions that paved the way for the current style of high value presentations having more in common with musicals than variety shows.

 

The company prospered and in addition to countless pantomimes, Peter directed national tours of �An Inspector Calls� starring Alfred Marks, �Peter Pan� with Toyah Willcox and �The Wizard of Oz� with Brian Blessed and Peter Duncan.  In recent years Peter came to work with me at First Family directing �Jack and the Beanstalk� at Richmond, and �Snow White� and �Cinderella� at Wimbledon.

 

Peter�s was a sensitive, prodigious talent that endeared him to everyone he worked with.  His loss will be mourned by a whole generation of theatre folk lucky enough to have witnessed his skill and craftsmanship.  He was a great friend and will never be replaced.

 

A website has been set up by his friends, with memories and pictures - www.petespals.com


13th November 2009 - Updated 23rd November 2009

Johnny Dallas

Here at IBY we are saddened to hear the news that Johnny Dallas, Pantomime Dame, has passed away at his home in Leicester.

Johnny was one of the country�s longest working dames. One of his early appearances in pantomime was at the Pavilion Liverpool in 1957. It was memorable for being the very last appearance in pantomime of Dorothy Ward, legendary Principal Boy, approaching her 70th birthday. Johnny�s last appearance in pantomime was in the the role of Dame Durden  in the 2007-08 season of �Jack and The Beanstalk� at the Grantham Guildhall and Arts Centre. The local press wrote:

�Johnny�s pedigree as an entertainer is unchallenged. He has pantomimes by the score under his belt, and has been seen on TV playing alongside household names during his long and illustrious career�.

Johnny appeared in his role as dame  more recently than in 2007. I had the great pleasure of seeing him in �Bless �Em All�, Stan Stennett�s touring revue at the Kenneth More Theatre in August of this year. Johnny was a regular performer in Stan�s troupe�, along with Johnny Tudor in theatres around the UK . It gave me the opportunity to catch up on his news when we met backstage. Johnny advised me to meet up in between shows as he would, in his words, be out of the building like a bat out of hell� to miss the traffic on his journey back to Leicester that evening. He was true to his word. In the time it took me to get around from front of house he had already left the building!

I had the privilege of working with Johnny in 1977 in a long summer season at the Gaiety Theatre in Rhyl, produced by Aubrey Phillips. Johnny performed a great number of his sketches, and did several singing spots during the different shows. Aubrey played Dame in the Summer Pantomime �Snow White�, with Johnny appearing as Huntsman. He did, however appear in Dame garb several times in sketches, as well as his celebrated �Chelsea Pensioner� role.

I learnt a great deal from appearing with Johnny- especially about timing, and about clarity- getting the right word in the punchline of a joke, and delivering it clearly. He had learnt his craft from his early years touring with Don Ross and his wife Gertie Gitana in Don�s �Thanks For The Memory� music hall and variety tours, as well as Don Ross pantomimes. He took on the Ross name as his early Stage name, appearing as John Ross, vocalist and entertainer.

Above all, Johnny was a superb entertainer. He became hugely popular in the North Wales resort that named him �Mr Rhyl�, and he appeared in many seasons at the Gaiety Theatre and across the road at the Queen�s where he enjoyed long residencies.

Johnny was a showman. Immaculately dressed on and off stage, he was the first person I had ever seen that had his very own radio mike. It was, admittedly very large, and was operated from a large suitcase in the wing, which most of us tripped over, but it was very impressive, as was his wardrobe of summer season suits and props. Sequins were to the fore in the Dallas summer season wardrobe, and  his Dame was as traditional as could be- Johnny was a stickler for tradition both as performer and as director of pantomimes. He once sent a blistering letter to stage when they reported that he retired, pointing out he only now wished to appear in traditional panto, and was extremely busy with his agency, promoting talent under the banner of �Basic/JD� agency.

The mark of Johnny Dallas was that on stage in August this year he was as spry and as dapper as he had ever been, and that on the day of his death he had several artistes under contract for various pantomimes around the country.

A great Dame and a great Showman. It was a pleasure to know you Johnny.

Nigel Ellacott

12th November 2009

A few memories from Stan Stennett and Johnny Tudor.

"Stan Stennett and I have both known Johnny Dallas for more years than we care to remember.  I don�t know about Stan But I first met him back in 1966 when I was appearing at the Gaiety Theatre Rhyl with Lonnie Donigan and Hilda Baker.  Johnny was appearing at the Sporting club at the time and I always remember his melodramatic monologue �My Little Rosa�. Had this been done by a lesser artist it might have seemed corny but in Johnny�s case it brought tears to the audience�s eyes.  I�m sure had he followed an acting career he would have made a fine character actor.

I was to work with Johnny many years later, in Dick Whittington where he played Dame of course and he was brilliant, a true Panto Dame and not a drag queen which many are today. He could be a miserable  old sod at times, always complaining about the state of the The Business,  but his lugubrious manner always gave us a laugh and in retrospect he was probably right -  Johnny was a traditionalist and he will be sadly missed by the World of Panto.

 Latterly Stan and I have been working with him in Stan�s touring Revue 'Bless �Em All' in which he played Mrs. Piddlewick and Jack Pleasance and never failed to stop the show. Stan always had trouble remembering his intro because it had to change for every town we played.  It went something like this:

�Please welcome Jack Pleasance who has returned from a standing ovation at the Lisvane Haemorrhoid clinic.�

 To my mind Johnny was up there with other great Panto Dames like  Bartlett and Ross and Jack Tripp and will be sadly missed by his fellow artists."

Johnny Tudor.

16th November 2009

From Bobbie Kent

I amongst many other people are very sad to hear about the passing of Johnny Dallas.

Johnny and I first met in the late 50s,we were in a show called Television Doubles, a Don Ellis Production, we were playing at the Palace Theatre Reading, Johnny was comedian compare, and I part of a boy and girl dancing act, Bobbie Kent and Necia Le Vere. Johnny doing his very popular stand-up comedy routine, in his Royal Navy Sailor Uniform, one of our routines I was in an America White Tropical Uniform, our Johnny was not too pleased when he spotted me walking on stage to open the show. But being the pro that he was and he realised we were a new act, and did not have too much in the way of routines, and costumes. He gave me a few harsh words, and from that day on we became over the years close friends. It was on his recommendation I took over from him at The Queens Hotel, in Rhyl 1977. Often we would share digs in Cardiff, while we were doing the club circuit. I also engaged Johnny as chairman in my South Wales Club touring Good Old Days Show, and also again a tour around South Wales of Snow White Pantomime, Johnny played the Prince, and as he said at the time "the oldest principal boy in the business".

Johnny in his time was the greatest Buttons ever in panto, he played the part with every ounce of sincerity, what a star performer.

My tribute, A Great Guy, A Great Pro, my pleasure knowing you.

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES.


6th October 2009

The Qdos / Churchill Photocall - Oh Yes It Is!

Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London

Monday October 5th

 

A highly enjoyable day in the West End, when you might have said that Pantomime had gone to the dogs! While you Paws for thought on that very bad pre panto chestnut, Panto folk celebrated the arrival of a new star- Churchill the Dog!

 

Qdos Entertainment and Churchill held a press launch today to celebrate their new pantomime partnership. Churchill had pride of place in the West End, and indeed will do so in 22 of The Qdos Pantomimes this coming season. He may not have made it into �Cats�, but he proved today he could hold his own among a plethora of panto performers.

 

Attending the event today were Linda Lusardi, appearing in Northampton this season, Joe Pasquale, appearing at Birmingham Hippodrome, Shane Ritchie- High Wycombe and Paul Zerdin with Sam- Nottingham Theatre Royal.

 

Panto Glamour was provided by a gathering of Dames, Sisters and Baronessess, namely Steve Arnott (Newcastle), Chris Hayward (Newcastle), Ceri Dupree (Birmingham), Brian Godfrey (Southend), Andrew Ryan (Nottingham), Martin Ramsdin and David Robbins (Dartford) and our very own Nigel Ellacott.

 

Qdos Entertainment�s Nick Thomas, Michael Harrison, Jonathan Kiley, and Ian Wilson were joined by Sharon Harding and Lesley Downie at the Lyric Theatre

 

For more photos, see a special Churchill area in our new Pantomime Launch Section and more details about Churchill's theatrical debut can be found on www.churchill.com/panto or you can follow his exploits on Facebook.

Churchill and the Churchill Dog character are trademarks of Churchill Insurance Company Limited.


6th October 2009

Thank You Qdos

 

A huge thank you from all at IBY to all at Qdos for agreeing to continue its sponsorship of the site. As we enter our 10th year in cyberspace we are continuing to expand the site, which is only possible with its continued support and patronage! Thank you.

 

Here's to the next ten years!!


25th July 2009

The Royal Theatrical Fund's Summer Fair

July 12th 2009 - St Paul's Churchyard, Covent Garden

A very sunny July day for the annual Garden Party, presented by both the Royal Theatrical Fund and the Grand Order Of Water Rats, at St.Paul�s Covent Garden- appropriately �The Actor�s Church� in the heart of the West End of London.

The fair raises money on behalf of both charities, and helps both to provide financial assistance to members of the entertainment profession and their dependants.

See www.trtf.com and www.gowr.net forurther info

The Royal Theatrical Fund was begun in 1839 by Charles Dickens, and The GOWR began when a group of Music Hall stars in 1880 bought a trotting pony called �Magpie�, and used the winnings to help other performers who were in need.

Today the head of the Grand Order is known as King Rat, and was present in the shape of Graham Cole, known to millions of viewers as Tony Stamp of �The Bill�. Graham was introduced by Keith Simmons, veteran of many pantomimes, who compered the event. The proceedings were opened shortly after mid-day by Sir Donald Sinden, president of The Royal Theatrical Fund, who tirelessly signed autographs and sold theatrical greetings cards all afternoon, bellowing his wares in the manner of a Shakespearean street trader!

The grounds of St.Paul�s were full to bursting with stalls. One of the hugely popular attractions for the public being the Autograph Tent. During the day the tent was home to many celebrities signing autograph books purchased for a fiver. Among the signers were John Nettles, Jess Conrad, Wyn Calvin- veteran panto dame of The British Empire, Panto villains Victor Spinetti and Rula Lenska, along with Gorden Kaye, June Whitfield, Michael Howe (who also entertained the crowds accompanied by his guitar),  Jimmy Perry and Jeffrey Holland and Judy Buxton.

Jeff and Judy have just finished their tour of �Allo Allo� with Vicki Michelle, and it was great to meet up and catch up with their news. Both Jeff and Judy will be spending their panto in Beanstalk land at Reddich, with Jeff a Dame Trott and Judy as a very organic vegetable fairy!

Paul Holman , prolific panto producer was at the party, along with Barrie Stacey, Keith ��Appy� Hopkins and Chris Emmett. Chris will once again be giving his Dame (and indeed will be writing the panto) at The Brick Lane Music Hall in Silvertown this year. Since I�m giving my Dame Dolly Doughnut just up the road in Ilford, we made a date to see each other�s pantomimes in the New Year.

Chris spent a lot of time helping fellow �News Huddlines� star Roy Hudd run his theatrical ephemera stall. Each year Roy and his wife Debbie Flitcroft donate a part of Roy�s huge theatrical mementos to the Water Rats and Theatrical Fund. When joined by June Whitfield at the stall we had the full cast of Roy�s hugely successful radio show!

Roy of course has been in Coronation Street, along with John Savident who was one of the celebrity �signers� in the marquee.

I had attended with Isobel Hurll (who will be appearing with me in �Snow White� as a very Wicked Queen) along with Andrew Ryan (appearing as Dame Trott in Nottingham this season with Nigel Havers and Paul Zerdin) and my neighbour Anna Karen- known forever as �Olive� from �On The Buses� and of course Peggy Mitchell�s sister Sal in EastEnders. Anna signed autographs in the sunshine while the rest of us took a look around the many stalls, enjoying the music from The Bill Geldard Big Band. It was lovely to bump into several old friends including Joy Graham and to meet up with past Queen Rat Joanne Hall. Joanne told me of her annual trips to pantomimes each year- this season she will visit Bournemouth, Sunderland, Manchester and Newcastle. She tells me she first appeared in panto in Newcastle in 1937. What a glorious business we work in, eh?

Jimmy Perry tirelessly sold �Dad�s Army� DVD�s and books from his stall during the afternoon, the Pimms flowed, the band played on, and the crowds thronged, all raising money for an extremely important charity. Everyone worked so hard this afternoon, and for an extremely good cause. We certainly had a great afternoon. Thank you one and all!

Barrie Stacey, Isobel Hurll, Keith 'Appy' Hopkins and Nigel

Keith Simmons

Donald Sinden

 

25th July 2009

LYNETTE MCMORROUGH'S BIRTHDAY

at the Pantomime Horse Races

Sunday 14th June 2009

With apologies from Simon for the late posting!!

A very jolly day spent in Whitstable  celebrating Pantomime Fairy Lynette McMorrough�s birthday. By co-incidence, or perhaps with a little fairy magic it was also the day of the Whitstable Pantomime Horse Races at Tankerton Slopes- an annual event organised by the Rotary Club in aid of local and national charities.

Lynette�s party was organised by husband and panto dame Nick Wilton (at home as always in a pinny) and daughter Emily McMorrough. Among the guests cheering on both Lynette and a field of panto ponies were a collection of Dames, Villains, Princes and Heroines in a very theatrical affair beside the seaside.

The guests included:

Georgie Wood , Lee Dean, Freddie Pyne, Angela Webb, Colin Ridgewell , Su Douglas, Louise English, Bruce James and Rebecca Lee Morgan with their three month old son Logan, Andrew Ryan, Nigel Ellacott, Brian Godfrey, Sarah Whitlock, Paul Morse, Lewis Rae, Paul De Fer, Peter Benedict, Paul & Penny Trussel, Gina Webb and Joan.

A great time was had by all- thanks to Nick & Emily for organising and catering for the masses. A Very Happy Birthday Lynette!

Andrew Ryan, Nick Wilton, Brian Godfrey

Angela Webb, Su Douglas, Nick,

Emily McMorrough, Georgie Wood

Brian, Sarah Whitlock, Andrew

Brian, Sarah, Emily, Nigel

Nigel, Nick, Brian

 


2nd July 2009 Updated 9th July 2009

MOLLIE SUGDEN

1922-2009

Here at IBY we are very saddened to hear of the death of Mollie Sugden. She passed away this afternoon at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, after a long illness. Her twin sons Robin and Simon were at her bedside.

Mollie was married to the late actor William Moore. They met while appearing in repertory at Swansea Grand Theatre in 1956 and married shortly after that. Bill Moore died nine years ago. Bill and Molly appeared in pantomime together as Baron and Fairy Godmother- I had the joy of seeing them both  in �Cinderella� at the King�s Theatre in Southsea while I was in �Cinderella� at the Mayflower in Southampton. Mollie was the epitome of flustered regalness as she bossed Cinderella about the stage to get her ready for the ball, and had a duet with husband Bill, who played a dotty and loveable Baron to Stephanie Lawrence�s Cinders.

Mollie was a rare breed of actress who could genuinely play Pantomime Dame- and she did this with huge success in the London Palladium production of �Dick Whittington� in 1979. She played Sarah The Cook to Jim Davidson�s Dick Whittington, alongside Victor Spinetti, Windsor Davies, Lionel Blair, Melvyn Hayes, Clive Dunn and Jacqueline Reddin and Derek Holt.

Mollie�s character in �Are You Being Served� was portrayed in full pantomime force- Mrs Slocombe was a panto dame in all but name! The frequent change of hair colour from cerise pink to vibrant mauve, the torrent of frills on her blouse, denoting her seniority over the junior Miss Brahms (played by the late Wendy Richard) and the novelty scenes played for full out pantomime fun , usually with John Inman, were the stuff that panto is made of. She appeared as a grotesque �Shirley Temple�, as a Greek Dancer, a yodelling Swiss Dancer and a ballroom dancer, only matched in outrageousness by John Inman. The fun of �Are You Being Served� continued briefly in 1992 when the cast reunited in �Grace and Favour�.

Nobody did Outrage like Mollie Sugden. Her face would contort with indignation and turn into seething rage when Mrs Slocombe was insulted, as she frequently was by the young Mr Lucas- played by Trevor Bannister. It is little wonder that Mollie�s character became the benchmark for many a pantomime Dame entering the business.

Mollie played someone�s Mum, or next door neighbour for most of her career. Born in Keighley. West Yorkshire, she attended Guildhall College, and went into repertory and touring theatre before making television her place of work. She was mother to Jimmy Clitheroe- not in his successful radio series, but on television in �Just Jimmy� and on stage, moving on to playing Mrs Crispin in �Hugh & I� with Hugh Lloyd and Terry Scott. She played Mother to John Alderton, Christopher Blake, Robin Nedwell, Terry Scott and, of course Nerys Hughes in the hugely successful comedy series �The Liver Birds�.

Mollie appeared from time to time in �Coronation Street� as the acid tongued rival to Annie Walker- from the Brewers association, and was to be seen dangling from a wire, or floating in space at any rate in �Come Back Mrs Noah�. She appeared in �Up Pompeii�, �Steptoe & Son�, �My Wife Next Door� and �Doctor In Charge� as well as countless stage tours in comedies such as Relatively Speaking� and �Find The Lady�, specially written for her.

Summer seasons and stage appearances, often with husband Bill, would take her all over the country, and to America where, as a result of �Are You Being Served� she had an enormous fan base. That in itself is a very Mrs Slocombe thought-� you have an enormous fan base, Betty�!�. In fact it was Mollie who pointed out that the writers of �Are You Being Served� could never remember her first name. She always believed it was Betty, but in some episodes it became Rachel- and at one point her maiden name had become Rachel Yiddle- but to the huge army of fans she was, and always will be Mrs Slocombe, forever bemoaning the loss of her pussy which would later turn up, trapped in her drawers.

For the many great years of sheer comic delight and joy, we thank you most sincerely Mollie. A generous and immensely kind lady and a superb actress, you will be very sadly missed.

Nigel Ellacott

1st July 2009

Link From BBC Website - Obituary and TV Montage

 

YouTube Tribute

 

Scenes from the Palladium Pantomime 'Dick Whittington' with Jim Davidson and Lionel Blair


1st June 2009 UPDATED 24th July 2009

DANNY LA RUE OBE

1927-2009

 

We recently, as part of our SPOTLIGHT series, catalogued the life and career of Danny in some detail and you can read all about his extraordinary career by following the link.


2nd June 2009

Pantomime in Scotland Exhibition

A new interactive exhibition celebrating pantomime in Scotland will open at Motherwell Theatre from Monday 23 November until Wednesday 2 December.  This free exhibition will be visiting three theatres in the west of Scotland this pantomime season and is suitable for audiences of all ages!

Drawing on work from a new research project, the exhibition covers all aspects of the past and present of Scottish pantomime � its stories, its stars, its humour, its magnificent sets and costumes and, above all, its special place in the hearts of audiences across Scotland.

In telling the story of Scottish pantomime, from its Victorian origins right up to the present day, the exhibition features pictures, photographs and playbills from a wide range of sources, including Glasgow University Library Scottish Theatre Archive and the collections of performers, producers and audience members themselves.

The exhibition includes rarely seen archive film footage from the National Library of Scotland: Scottish Screen Archive of pantomimes in theatres in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.  Stars featured include Scottish pantomime favourites Jack Anthony, Dave Willis, George West, Harry Gordon and Will Fyffe.

Visitors to the exhibition can also listen to sound recordings featuring the memories of audience members and performers of the past and present, not least Stanley Baxter remembering his part in the legendry pantomime, The Tintock Cup (1949).

As part of the exhibition, visitors will be invited to contribute their own memories and experiences of seeing and making professional and amateur pantomime in Scotland. This is a unique opportunity to capture memories of a golden age of Scottish pantomime and to document the many community pantomimes that take place across the whole of Scotland. 

Stanley Baxter, pantomime legend and national treasure, says �

Lewis Casson was absolutely right � pantomime is the national theatre of Scotland. This exhibition celebrating Scottish pantomime is to be warmly welcomed.  Pantomime was always very close to my heart and I loved it from a very early age. I saw Tommy Lorne when I was almost too young to remember it � almost, but not quite!  It was a joy to be involved in pantomime for so much of my career and I wish this exhibition all possible success.

One of the team behind the exhibition, Adrienne Scullion, James Arnott Chair of Drama of the University of Glasgow, says:

This exhibition is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate Scotland�s favourite kind of theatre.  From recording the memories of pantomime audiences and performers, we know that pantomime has a special place in the lives of Scottish audiences and that it has always had an important role in Scotland�s theatre industry. This exhibition is a great way for us to acknowledge the significance of pantomime in Scotland, and to recognise and value its contribution to Scotland�s cultural life. 

 After opening in Motherwell, the exhibition will tour to  the King�s Theatre, Glasgow from Saturday 5 December to Saturday 19 December and Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling From Monday 21 December to Thursday 14 January.

Website Details including details and extract from the Pantomimes on Film Section


3rd May 2009

Home for the Holidays - An Announcement From Nigel

After much deliberation, and having received several offers from Qdos, I have finally come to a decision about future plans.

After nearly three decades of working opposite Peter Robbins as �The Ugly Sisters� I think, for the time being, that I would not wish to form a new �double�- I have to admit that playing �Sister� with another actor would just not be the same. It never could be- that experience was a �once in a lifetime� , and now it is time to move on to the next one.

So- having had a long chat with several of my colleagues, and spoken at great length to Qdos, in particular to Michael Harrison, I have decided to fly solo. It is time to play Dame! I think I might just be old enough now, and hopefully I won�t find it too hard to learn to walk in the heels!

Everyone in the Qdos Family have been wonderfully supportive to me, as they always have been to both Peter & myself over the many years. When we first decided to launch our �Sisters� back in 1981, we did so at the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford. Each year since then I have written the pantomimes there, and designed the costumes. Peter used to describe the theatre as �My front room�, as I spend more time there than I do at home, and it is literally �around the corner�.

My brother Vivyan has been the General Manager and Artistic Director there since it opened in 1975, and after discussion with Michael at Qdos and Vivyan at the KMT, I am delighted to launch my Dame there, as I did my �Sister�.

This Christmas I will be appearing as Dame Dolly Dumpling in �Snow White� at the Kenneth More Theatre, Ilford. (Tickets on sale shortly. Watch this space!).

Being at home for Christmas, and having the facilities and the time to create my Debut Dame will make the world of difference. I look forward to my new role- and, to playing  Dame for Qdos next year- venue to be announced!

MICHAEL HARRISON SAID:

After talking at length to Nigel and with the blessing of Paul Elliott who was instrumental in the life of Nigel and Peter�s legendary partnership I am delighted that Nigel can move onto an exciting new chapter in his career and there is no better place for him to discover his Dame than at the KMT.

Paul and I agree that this is the best way for Nigel to spend the 2009/20010 Christmas season and look forward to welcoming �Dame Ellacott� back next year.

This year Nigel will also act as consultant on several Qdos projects.


25th April 2009

Kathy Staff - A Memorial Service

Friday 24th April 2009

A very lovely service held today at �The Actors Church�, St.Paul�s Covent Garden in memory of Kathy Staff who died in December of last year aged Eighty.

The church was packed with family and friends celebrating the life and career of one of this country�s best loved actresses- a lady who made the battleaxe Nora Batty in her wrinkled tights a national icon. She first appeared in 1973 and was in 243 episodes.

Nora Batty was not, of course the only character that Kathy was associated with in a long and varied career. She virtually monopolised the major �soaps� having appeared in Coronation Street, as Vera Hopkins, Crossroads, as Doris Luke, Emmerdale Farm as Winnie Purvis, and then the revived Crossroads, in addition to her appearances in �Open All Hours� as Mrs. Blewitt, with Ronnie Barker and Lynda Baron, and of course the long running �Last Of The Summer Wine� series.

Kathy�s family greeted everyone arriving at the church- her husband John and daughters Katherine and Susan for a service that was intended to be joyful and a celebration of life.

The service was conducted by St. Paul�s  Reverend Simon Grigg, and a magnificent choir, the Choir of St. John�s Wood Church  performed several items, with �God So Loved The World� from Stainer's Crucifixion among the most beautiful pieces. The Organist was Simon Gutteridge and Musical Director Michael Cayton.

Roy Barraclough began the service with a series of happy memories of his forty year friendship with Kathy. He related their first meeting when they both auditioned for a Yorkshire Television �Soap�, and were cast as Husband and Wife. He told how they would meet at the local North Of England station to travel up to the studios, meeting in the Buffet- �Like Brief Encounter, with Tripe..�, and of becoming a regular guest at John and Kathy�s home, resulting in Katherine and Susan calling Roy �Daddy Number Two! �Roy and Kathy had also been teamed up with Les Dawson in the comedy series �Sez Les�.

From the  world of �Crossroads�, when Doris Luke would keep an eye on the lives of Adam Chance and Meg  Richardson/Mortimer, fellow actors Tony Adams and Paul Henry paid a fond tribute to Kathy�s memory. Tony Adams related the legend of performing a touching scene with Jill Rossington while Kathy, as Doris was to lurk in the background. He told of a terrible noise drowning them out. The Director was summoned. According to Tony the Sound Effects team had acted on a typing error. The dreadful noise was a result of reading �Doris Luke Hoovers� when it should have read �Hovers�!

Paul Henry (Known to Crossroads fans as Benny) also told of Kathy�s warmth and generosity and kindness both on and off the set.

From Kathy�s home in Cheshire the Reverend Alison Cox, Vicar of St. Mark�s Church Dukinfield gave the address. As a devout Christian, Kathy gave much of her time and energy into attending services (Susan Staff was one of the first women to be ordained in 1994) and assisting St Marks as well as Churches in general.

From �The Last Of The Summer Wine�  Producer/Director Alan JW Bell recalled Kathy�s humour and professionalism when filming the highly successful series. He related a scene where Nora had to be collected by Compo (played by Bill Owen) not by car, but by motorised bedstead. The bed was �driven� from below, with Bill and Kathy riding on top. When Director and Cameraman also got on board to film reaction shots Kathy had asked to be told �Action!� by Alan. However the bed got up speed, crew started running away from the now racing bed plummeting downhill- the brakes had failed. As the bed was grabbed by several burly crew and ground to a halt, Bill gazed ahead in complete shock, and Kathy leant forward and calmly enquired �Have you said Action yet?�

�Summer Wine� writer Roy Clarke (He also wrote �Open All Hours�) described how when he first wrote the small part of Nora Batty, a neighbour into the first episode, he had no idea how she would  look, and was not expecting the role to be anything other than a small part with a few lines. He told how Kathy had created Nora Batty for him, and that she had achieved the almost impossible task of making an unlikeable character- the dreaded Battleaxe � into one that the public took to their hearts. She breathed the life into his character, and Kathy�s skill turned it into a very major part of the series.

The service, which included several hearty hymns and  readings concluded with The blessing given by Rev�d Simon Grigg, and the congregation of Kathy�s friends and work mates went out into the bright sunshine to continue swapping stories and tales of their association with the lovely lady that was Kathy Staff.

Peter Robbins and I had worked with Kathy in two pantomimes- along with Bill Owen from �The Last Of The Summer Wine�- since Kathy was in both �Crossroads� AND �Summer Wine� at the same time, we would have fanfares of the �Crossroads� theme for Kathy as Queen, and the theme of �Summer Wine� for Bill as Baron Compo. The wrinkled stockings of Nora Batty were there, of course, under Kathy�s Royal Robes. She was a witty lovely lady, and I treasure those chats we�d have in �Kath�s Caff�, beneath the stage at the Bournemouth Pavilion between shows. Every Saturday evening John would arrive and He and Kathy would set off for Cheshire, and the service at church the next morning. A warm and witty lady. Kathy it was a pleasure to know you.

The church was packed, so I can only recall those who I  met up with afterwards and saw leaving the service. I hope those not mentioned will forgive the omission. Apart from Kathy�s family mentioned above  the congregation included:

Roy Barraclough and Mark Llewellyn, Tony Adams, Jill Rossington, Lynette and Emily McMorrough, Sarah Whitlock, Paul Henry, Janet Hargreaves, Alan JW Bell, Roy Clark, Peter Sallis, Jean Fergusson, Sarah Thomas, Frank Thornton, June Whitfield, Lynda Barron, Freddie Lees, Anita Graham, Linda Reagan and Brian Murphy, Pamela Cundell, Audrey Leybourne, Mathew Kelly, Brian Cant and Cherry Britton, Lorraine Chase, Meg Johnson, Anna Karen, Andrew Ryan, Frederick Pyne, Sue Devaney and Mark Curry.


3rd April 2009

54 Not Out! The Patton Brothers

This year Jimmy and Brian Patton celebrate 54 consecutive pantomimes in a career that has encompassed Panto, Variety and Television for over Sixty Years. Jimmy has been in the business for sixty-three years, and this year Brian reaches his sixtieth year in showbusiness� an amazing achievement! In all those years they have never missed a performance- something that must surely qualify them for a world record!

This Christmas, 2009, The Pattons and their real life brothers, The �Chuckles� will be touring Britain�s major theatres together in �A Christmas Chuckle�.

For further details on the Patton Brothers and The Chuckle Brothers, see our related articles.


1st April 2009

Theatre Museum

The Victoria & Albert Museum - Theatre Galleries

The new Theatre Galleries have opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, and I�m happy to report that once again we have representation for the arts, even if it is in a much scaled down version of the original museum in Covent Garden.

The galleries contain a small collection of the vast theatrical collection that the V&A possesses. Obviously it would be impossible to display even a small percentage of this archive, and so there is a representation of items from the different areas of ballet, opera, musicals, drama and performance.

Pantomime is represented in a few examples- the costume display features Billy Dainty�s �Sarah The Cook� costumes (before and after the ship-wreck) designed by the late Paddy Dickie. Paddy, assisted by her Mother Mary created costumes for �her boys�- Terry Scott, Stanley Baxter  and Billy Dainty amongst others, often working to the designs of Terry Parsons. The twin Dame costumes on display here are from the Apollo Oxford pantomime of 1984-85. Paddy died in 2006 aged 58.

The collection of set designs includes one pantomime scene from 1903. The �City Of Coral� created by Henry Emden for the Drury Lane �Humpty Dumpty� with Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell. An amazing number of cut-cloths and borders give this set great depth, and it apparently made only a brief appearance at the end of the second act! There is also the make-up case belonging to Pantomime comedian Harry Randall , used in this Drury Lane production on display, along with photographs.

Panto Dame, the late Alan Vickers is represented by one of his headdresses from �Aladdin�, and an example of a �traditional� Pantomime Cow is displayed. Not from Pantomime, but on the same lines as the Panto Cow is the huge rhinoceros that greets you at the entrance to the gallery. It was designed to lumber across the stage (slowly) by two actors, with the tail and neck animated by a bicycle chain built into the structure!

Emile Littler, Pantomime King has his 1950�s board game �Show Business� in the collection (it was presented unused by Sir Emile himself) and like the trials of the �X Factor� today, the game involves the attempt to get from your Village Choir into the West End by means of a �Snakes & Ladders� type of game! Littler approached the manufacturers Chad Valley with the idea after the Second World War, and sold it at his theatres throughout the country.

Designers are represented- although not pantomime, the designer Cynthia Tingey has some examples of her work on display- designs for the opening production of Danny La Rue�s Nightclub in the 1960�s. Cynthia Tingey created many of the Palladium Pantomime costumes. There is one example of the Victorian designer �Wilhelm�- you might recall how, here at IBY we discovered his original designs for the Drury Lane and Crystal Palace pantomimes, and arranged for their subsequent sale to the V&A. The example in the V&A informed me that the designers true name was William John Charles Pitcher- so little wonder he shortened it to �Wilhelm�!.

Interesting to see that I have a double of a mask by the artist Jocelyn Herbert at the Kenneth More Theatre- I bought it at a sale twenty years ago, and now know that it was made for Harrison Birtwistle�s opera �The Mask Of Orpheus� from 1986. Mine has served very nicely as King Neptune in several productions of �Dick Whittington� at the Ilford Panto.

Panto Dame Jeffrey Longmore is depicted at the museum as Frank n Furter in the Oldham Coliseum�s �Rocky Horror Show�- there is a design for his costume dating from 1981.

I�m not sure whether Adam Ant�s costume from his video as �Prince Charming�, Elton John�s outfit or Mick Jaggers cat-suit are strictly theatre, but they are certainly not what you�d call �Street-Wear�! There is the �Transport Caf� frock designed for Dame Edna Everage, together with �her� Sydney Harbour Bridge� hat, worn by the Dame at Royal Ascot, next to Variety strong lady Joan Rhodes�s sequinned dresses and Dame Margot�s tutu.

Sadly there are very few pantomime posters on display- the old museum had more wall space I suppose. There might be more, but I only counted three panto related posters in total- one of Rolf Harris and Lesley Joseph at Bath (a Paul Elliott production), one of Aubrey Phillip�s touring �Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs� with Charles Hawtrey and Bryan Johnson- I was in that show for a while in the 1970�s!- and one Cinderella dating from 1895. I have filing cabinets and portfolios stuffed with more, should the V&A ever need to put a few more up!

All in all a very enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, but, in terms of a museum of the arts in Great Britain, it is extremely modest and very unassuming. Who knows, perhaps the displays will change regularly, or be extended? I do hope hope so. Call in, if you get the chance, and support the Arts!


4th February 2009

Connie Creighton BEM

Here at IBY we were very sad to hear of the death of Connie Creighton, aged 74.. Connie had been bravely battling dementia for the past six months, and sadly passed away last week at her home in Bournemouth, looked after to the end by her devoted partner John Seaton.

Connie was the brightest, bubbliest personality you could ever wish to meet or to work with. She presented �The Sooty Show� for over twenty-two years on stage, often with Mathew Corbett, or fronting the show herself, as well as making guest appearances on the television �Sooty� shows, and voicing the �Sooty� DVD�s.

In addition to her �Sooty� tours, often concluding with a season in London at the Mayfair Theatre, Connie was also the smiling face of Southport. As Southport�s Holiday Hostess she reigned supreme at the resort for a quarter of a century up until the mid 1990�s.

Connie often appeared there with Sooty, and annually hosted the �Search For A Star� competitions there, and was guest of honour each year for the �English Rose� Beauty Pageant.

If you care to look on the many website tributes to Connie you will find a great many from holiday makers and residents of Southport, as well as a huge number from those who remembered getting a Sooty Rosette from Connie when they were children, their first ever introduction to Theatre.

Connie�s work for charities was enormous and hugely time consuming, but she was a tireless fund raiser and active in a great many organisations. She was awarded the British Empire Medal for her work in this field.

It was at Southport, at the Floral Hall that Connie was first introduced to her (later to be) husband, John. The function was hosted by Connie and Les Dawson. Connie and John were together since 1976-together for thirty-two  years and married for fifteen. John worked with Connie on several of the �Sooty� tours, and has become a popular published author of fiction.

In the world of pantomime Connie was always the ideal Fairy Godmother. Her amazing rapport with children, and her total belief in her magical character made her a producer�s dream for casting Fairy roles. Connie was in one of the early pantomimes produced by Paul Elliott- at the Princess Theatre Torquay in �Cinderella� with Ted Rogers and Dawson Chance, in 1973.

On a personal note, Connie regularly presented the �Sooty� show each year at the Kenneth More Theatre. It was there that I first met Connie. The children totally believed in Sooty, and Connie held that trust sacred. She WAS Sooty- and in her hands he was as real as the children wanted him to be. She never once flagged at her post- her tireless energy zapping over the footlights, often doing two and quite often three shows on a Saturday on tour, then moving into the London venue for the annual Christmas Show. Connie was larger than life, and huge fun to know, and to be with. She was immensely proud of John�s literary career, and in love with life itself. This is a woman who, midway through Sooty at the Mayfair Theatre, returned to the dressing room to disturb a thief going through the rooms, and then pursued him through the labyrinths of corridors, onto the street, and only stopped when she remembered she had a cue coming up!

Connie- had lately carved out a busy career as a much sought after speaker at events. Every time you opened the �Encore� magazine there was a picture of her presenting an award, or photographed with her showbiz pals. Connie we will all miss you and the joy you brought to us all.

Connie Creighton�s funeral took place today, Monday 26th January at St. Mark�s Church in her hometown of Bournemouth.

NE - January 2009

FROM PAUL MORSE

Thought you might like to have an up-date, went to Connie's funeral today in Bournemouth, a nice full church greeted her, so even to the last she played to a full house. The service was very nice, readings from Ed Stewart and Antony Bygraves and of course at graveside was a Sooty wreath! It was a real thanks giving for such a wonderful woman.  John her husband did very well.


15th December 2008

Kathy Staff (1928 - 2008)

We are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Kathy Staff. Famous to many as Nora Batty in 29 Series of the BBC Comedy Last of the Summer Wine, she also appeared in Crossroads and Open All Hours. Kathy had been battling against illness for some time and died on the 13th December. All of us here at IBY send our condolences to Kathy's husband John during this difficult time.

 

Nigel and Peter appeared with Kathy in 1985 at the Pavilion Theatre Bournemouth alongside her Summer Wine co-star Bill Owen and Rolf Harris. Nigel recalls what a lovely lady she was and that Kathy was also a deeply religious lady, and when the very first Sunday performances were introduced into pantomime, she was exempted- she travelled each and every Saturday night to Chester to attend Church there. Indeed her daughter was ordained there. So- we had Queen Nora the First from Tuesday to Saturday, and then, on a Sunday Betty Benfield (Our Fairy Godmother) would take on the role in addition to her own, and the sight of Betty running like the clappers exiting as Fairy and entering as Queen was a sight to behold!

 

 

Further reading

BBC News

Press Association

Telegraph

Manchester Evening News

The Independent


30th October 2008

The Mayflower Open Day - Saturday 6th September 2008

with apologies for the length of time it's taken to post this story!

 

Southampton�s Mayflower Theatre celebrated 21 years with a fun packed open day. When Andrew Ryan and I arrived early to get ready there was already a queue at the front doors an hour before the doors opened at 10am. By the time we limped back to the dressing room (six hours of Dame Shoes takes its toll!) at 4pm, the theatre had played host to over two and a half thousand visitors!

Among the most popular attractions (apart from us Panto Dames of course!) was the opportunity to tour the building. There were long queues to look around the dressing rooms, with some of them exihibiting costumes from the English National Ballet, The Welsh National Opera, and  costumes and props from the forthcoming �Cinderella� which stars Chris Biggins, Stephanie Powers, Mathew Kelly and his son Mathew Rixson and Craig McLachlan.

The visitors were able to walk about on the stage and view the vast 2,300 seater auditorium, take part onstage in workshops by the Welsh National Opera and English National Ballet companies, work the follow spots, tour the fly gallery, and operate the prompt corner, as well as enjoy face-painting, circus clowns performing, and bump into the odd celebrity as they toured the building.

Su Pollard and Claire Sweeney were there to take part in a public press call, and to take part in a Q&A session- and joined Andrew & I for a photo call on stage. It was great to catch up with their news. Su and Clare are about to open their new show �Shout!� at the Mayflower before taking it on tour. It�s a feel-good �Sixties show with hits made famous by Lulu, Dusty Springfield, Cilla Black and every pop icon you can think of!

Caught up with their panto news- Su will be in Swansea this Christmas, giving her Wicked Baroness in �Cinderella� at The Grand Theatre, while Claire will be at the Regent Theatre, Stoke starring alongside Jonathan Wilkes in �Snow White�.

We also met up with producers Michael Rose and David Morgan Young who along with Chris Moreno and The Mayflower will be presenting this year�s pantomime. Peter Robbins (not here today as he�s finishing his� Hound Of The Baskervilles� tour) and I played panto here at the Mayflower twice, and at Bournemouth twice, and each time were delighted to join in with Michael Rose�s panto companies at Poole, for joint parties and charity events. Great to see them both again!

Dennis Hall, the Mayflower boss, and Robin Hancox looked after us all superbly, and it was an exhausting but very enjoyable day, made more enjoyable by the Mayflower staff who went out of their way to show off their theatre to the public. We were amazed that every part of this huge building was packed with activities and interest- the circle bar showed a film about the long history of the building, formerly opened as The Empire seventy-five years ago, playing host to the top variety names, then becoming The Gaumont in 1950, alternating shows, pop concerts and films, before finally becoming The Mayflower Theatre in 1987.


31st July 2008

Mimi Law (9th May 1917 - 27th June 2008)

We received the sad news that Mimi Law the comedienne passed away on Friday 27th June at Brindsworth House. Mimi was 91 years old, and had been a resident at Brindsworth  in recent times.

A very spry and energetic lady, I last saw Mimi at a memorial service at St. Paul�s Covent Garden in February, and not having seen her in a good few years was delighted to find her as lively and as enthusiastic as ever. She retained this to the last - not surprising for an entertainer who, along with her comedian husband, Billy Whittaker had worked all over the world as a highly successful and popular double act.

Billy was a much sought after pantomime Dame, and ranked alongside the likes of George Lacy, Clarkson Rose and  Nat Jackley, and Mimi often appeared alongside him in pantoland. Mimi�s brother was Jerry Jerome. As children they began their joint theatrical careers as the �Bisto Kids�. Jerry was later to become an impresario producing pantomimes and Summer shows, while Mimi teamed up with Billy playing the major variety and panto circuits.

In turn, Billy�s father was the music hall ventriloquist Coram who, with his astonishing �Automaton�- or �Dummy� became the highest paid speciality of this kind . The dummy, named Jerry was capable of being operated whilst standing next to his creator.

Mimi�s drive and energy was an example to us all, and I enjoyed touring with her in �Pinocchio� in her later years, and appearing with her in a few variety shows .

Mimi's funeral took place on the 17th July in Twickenham

Nigel Ellacott

Mimi Law was a rare breed of stage performer- she was funny-really funny- a true born comic.

She was born into a theatrical family and as a child, together with her brother Jerry Jerome (who became a theatrical producer, with pantos and summer seasons all over the country from the �50�s to the �80�s). were the original Bisto Kids.

She worked all her performing life in the theatre. First as a solo artiste, then as a double act with her husband Billy Whittaker.

Billy and Mimi worked all over the country and abroad in reviews and summer seasons from the 1940�s to the 1980�s. Originally Mimi was the �feed� to Billy, and performed in the shows as soubrette in production items, but gradually Billy realised Mimi�s comic potential as a wonderful character performer, and by the 1970�s the roles had been reversed, and Bill was the straight foil to Mimi�s comedy characters- the most popular being �Daisy Stinks� (Some days I do, some days I don�t!)

Panto saw them going different ways as Billy played �Mum� to stars such as Norman Wisdom and Ken Dodd, and Mimi usually directed and performed for her brother Jerry Jerome.

I first met Mimi in 1974 when we (Phillip and I) had the contract to put the girls into the show that summer that Bill and Mimi were doing at Ryde, I.O.W. She loved our ideas, music and costumes, and we became lifelong friends. From 1977 they worked almost entirely for and with us in summer shows, pantos, tours, plays and one nighters. They both considered themselves as part of our �little firm� (Charles Haley Productions).

Mimi was wonderful in our 1940�s show �There�ll Always Be An England� where her �New Recruit� sketch stopped the show, and her comedy solo spot (Top of the bill, before the finale) sitting on a high stool (I�m not gonna do nothin�- she would say), was also a winner.

She was excellent in production with a fine singing voice, playing the uke or banjo, and dancing, always looking immaculate and glamorous.

Bobby Crush - Mimi Law as Puss

Her panto characters of �Cuddles� and �Puss In Boots� were also memorable, and she performed every year in panto, mostly for Charles Haley Productions up until 1994 - her last panto at the Medina Theatre, Newport I.O.W where she and Bill had lived since 1974.

Mimi Law as Cuddles

Mimi always looked wonderful, and was full of energy and attack. She had to leave the Isle Of Wight last year and was living (not quietly!) in Brindsworth House at Twickenham. She was out gadding most days, and had been on an outing to Brighton with a friend the day before she died. She was a great performer, a real �old �Pro� and a dear friend, and she will be much missed. She came to Phillip�s memorial concert in February at St. Paul�s Covent Garden, and the CAA (Concert Artistes Association) and saw many old friends there.

We were astounded to find out that she had reached the wonderful age of 91- she looked about 65! Farewell Meemow- it was lovely to know you.

Jennifer Haley - Toad Hall

 

Patrick Newley Obituary from The Stage


31st July 2008

Alan Haynes (1918 - 2008)

 

The entertainer Alan Haynes passed away on 17th March 2008.

Alan was, during the 1950�s and  1960�s  along with his partner Danny La Rue, the top Ugly Sister duos in the country.

Alan had originally partnered the late  Terry Gardner in variety and clubs, and while Terry played Ugly Sister with his stage partner Barri Chat, Alan teamed up with the then unknown Danny La Rue to perform in clubs and establish themselves as Ugly Sisters in major pantomimes.

All in all Alan and Danny appeared in �Cinderella� as the sisters for a decade and a half before Danny�s commitments to his club in Hanover Square and his solo career took over, and Alan set up his own west End club in London.

Among the pantomimes they appeared in together were the 1964 �Cinderella� at the New Theatre Oxford with Des O� Connor and Yana- Alan then was billed before Danny, and the 1965  �Cinderella� at the Golders Green Hippodrome with Dickie Henderson and Yana.

After Danny�s huge success  with his club and West End show �Come Spy With Me�, Alan and Danny appeared at Golders Green once again in �Sleeping Beauty,� with Danny top of the bill, and Alan as the Queen Mother.

Patrick Newley Obituary from The Stage


17th May 2008 - Updated

Terry Duggan (15th April 1932 - 1st May 2008)

We were sorry to hear the news last week that Terry Duggan, the comedian and actor has died, following a hard fought battle against illness.

Terry was married to the actress Anna Karen, and like Anna appeared in many television, film and stage roles, including pantomimes.

He wrote the Shaw Theatre�s �Aladdin� in 1986 which starred Anna, along with Norman Beaton, Debbie Bishop and Martin Chamberlain, and over the years has been instrumental in providing material, gags and very sound comic advice to pantomime artistes.

Terry�s career as a stage and club comedian allowed him to hone his comic timing, and no-one could rival him when it came to his comedic speciality- �The Drunk Act�.

Terry�s routine as a drunk, returning home from a long night on the tiles was astonishing in its truthfulness and in the number of sight gags he could wring out of a battered suitcase of props. In fact, when I worked with Terry during a Music Hall at the Kenneth More Theatre, so convincing was his act that he almost didn�t get the opportunity to perform it!

He would enter from the auditorium, rolling and staggering, engaging in banter with the audience before eventually making his way up on to the stage. An over zealous usherette spotted this trouble maker as he stumbled into the auditorium, and, enlisting help, attempted to eject him from the theatre!

Terry�s film and television work included parts in some of the  popular series. It gave fans of �On The Buses� a thrill to spot Terry appearing in various roles, often opposite Anna playing �Olive�, from an early appearance in 1969 and 1970 to playing �Nobby� in the 1971 series.

His film work included the Terence Stamp and Carol White film �Poor Cow� in 1967, a year in which he also appeared in the prestigious �Wednesday Play� on television- �An Officer Of The Court� and in �Profile Of A Gentleman�. In 1969 he made an appearance in �Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)., and in the film �A Nice Girl Like Me�.

In 1970 he appeared in the Hammer Film �The Horror Of Frankenstein�, followed in 1971 with the film �Family Life� . He also found time to appear in variety and clubs, as well as panto appearances.

He appeared in BBC�s �Dixon Of Dock Green� in 1972 and again in 1974, and appeared with Anna again in the 1976 film�A Place To Hide�  followed by appearing with his wife in the 1977 film �What�s Up Nurse?�,� and the horror film �Schizo�.

Terry  arrived at Grace Brothers� store in 1977 to play a cameo in �Are You Being Served� opposite John Inman and Trevor Bannister, and  continued to appear in theatre throughout the eighties, along with appearances on television in �Poirot� and �A Class Act�, as well as �Murder By Decree�.

Terry was a member of the Grand Order Of Water Rats, and was a great support to Anna when, as a member of the Grand Order of Lady Ratlings� she was �Queen Ratling� for the year.

I am proud to have had Terry as a friend, and deeply indebted to him for all the �fine tuning� and practical advice he gave when it came to writing or performing in a routine or a �scena�- He could be relied on for the perfect joke or bit of comic business that was missing from a routine, and would go to great lengths to ensure every last piece of comic potential could be extracted from a gag or even a word.

Terry, it was a huge joy to have known you, and I know that there are a huge number of people in this business who would agree with me there.

Our sympathies to Anna.

Terry�s funeral will be held at Golders Green on Tuesday May 13th  at 11am.

Nigel Ellacott

Funeral Service

The funeral service for Terry Duggan was held today- Tuesday 13th May at the Golders Green Crematorium in North London at 11am.

 

The service was conducted by Canon Rodney Mathews, and as Terry was a �Past Trap Guard� for the Grand Order Of Water Rats, and Anna is a previous Queen Ratling of the Grand Order Of Lady Ratlings, there was a large attendance of fellow members of the GOWR at the service in addition to family members, friends and colleagues of Terry from the world of theatre, film and pantomime.

 

The Valediction of the Grand Order Of Water Rats was spoken by Keith Simmons, followed by hymns and prayers, and the song �The Mountains Of Mourne� sung by Isosceles. This was followed by a tribute from Roy Hudd, OBE.

 

Roy recalled first meeting Terry and Anna, and working on a film in the early days when Terry was employed as a stunt man in films. He recalled how Terry often played �The Tough Guy� roles in films and on television, and that he had begun his life in Hoxton, performing from the age of eight, and becoming an acrobat, which led him to stunt work, before becoming an actor and a comedian on the variety and club circuits.

 

Later in the service Sam Kane sang �The Wind Beneath My Wings� followed by the committal, accompanied by a piece of music called �In Paradisum� composed by Ben Robbins. Ben being the son of Michael Robbins who played Anna Karen�s long suffering husband �Arthur� in their series �On The Buses�.

 

The chapel was filled with Anna & Terry�s family and friends, including Gloria Gill Terry�s daughter,and Robyn Gill his Grand-daughter, and friends, colleagues and fellow Rats and Ratlings .

 

The world of show business was well represented, and among the large congregation were very many of Anna and Terry�s friends, only some of whom I�ve listed below- my apologies to those I have missed out, but with such a huge �Turn out� at the chapel, and later at the Queen�s Tavern in Primrose Hill (superb catering by Michelle- Anna & Terry�s long time friend, who proposed a toast to Terry�s memory ) means I wasn�t able to get everyone�s names. Some of those attending today include:

Barbara Windsor, Sophie Lawrence and Jon Conway, Roy Hudd, Keith Simmons, Barry Cryer and his wife Terry ,Penny Ramsey, Melvyn Hayes, Linda Lusardi and Sam Kane, Kate Williams and daughter Kelly, Philip Hedley CBE, Sue Douglas, Doreen Hermitage and Ivan, Michelle McCann, Marsha-Rae Ratcliff and John Ratcliff, Frederick Pyne, Sarah Whitlock, Bryan Burdon and his wife Andrea, Rosemarie, Julie Rogers and Michael Black, Chris Emmett, Vincent Hayes, Val Fontaine and Udo, Doreen Hermitage and Ivan, Maurice Thoroughgood and Pat Hayley, Vivyan Ellacott, Nigel Ellacott, Andrew Ryan, Barbara Hills, Stephen and Barbara Eke, Tane Larkin Te-Awe Awe, Philip Gould-Jones and Scott Howard, Costa, (Terry�s carer for some years), Len Howe and Audrey Maye, Billie and Rex Roper, Bobby and Moira Roberts, Sue Craig, John Adrian (secretary to the Trustees of the Water Rats, responsible for organising the Order of Service)

It was a truly beautiful service, and a fitting tribute to a very lovely man.


1st April 2008 - Updated

John Chilvers MBE (1920-2008)

It is with deep sadness we report the death of John Chilvers at the age of 88 � obituaries and full details of the funeral celebration are now contained in a dedicated page.


27th December 2007

Pat Kirkwood (1921 - 2007)

Here at IBY we were saddened to hear of the death of one of the finest Principal Boys of all time - Pat Kirkwood.

She became one of the top Principal Boys in pantomime during the late 1930's and 1940's. "Humpty Dumpty" at The London Coliseum in 1943 brought her to the attention of Film magnates in the USA and began a successful film career in Hollywood and in Great Britain.

Patricia Kirkwood died on Christmas Day at a nursing home in Yorkshire aged 86.

 

Obituary - BBC

News Item - BBC


 

23rd March 2007

Frank Seton 1918 - 2007

Frank Seton died on the twenty eighth of February aged 89.

 

In his many years as an actor in the theatre, television, film and pantomime Frank�s most  unexpected role was at the Tivoli Theatre Hull in 1954. Frank was understudy to Arthur Lucan �Old Mother Riley� in the Gaston and Andre touring pantomime �Old Mother Riley In Paris�.

 

In the company were Ellis Ashton, Jimmy Grant, Barry Gnome and Janet Karel. As Arthur Lucan was waiting for his entrance cue in the wings, he collapsed and died. The thirty six year old Frank Seton had the grim task of donning Mother Riley�s costume, and  continuing with the show. The audience were unaware of the dramatic scenes backstage.

 

The revue the following day, when the news of Lucan�s death were released said �Frank Seton took over the part of Old Mother Riley and acquitted himself so well that one comment from an old theatregoer was �A miracle�.

 

Frank himself told the local press  that �you can�t really take over a part like Old Mother Riley. It is entirely his own characterisation. You can�t just mimic him� Frank attended Arthur Lucan�s funeral representing British Actor�s Equity. The tour eventually ended, and Lucan�s estranged wife, Kitty McShane continued to tour �Old Mother Riley� with Roy Rolland.

 

Frank was trained at RADA, and began his career in repertory in Southampton. Shortly afterwards he joined the Old Vic Company in London in 1937. He opened in �Richard III� on 2nd November playing the role of Captain Brandon. The prestigious cast included Emlyn Williams, Angela Baddeley, Alec Clunes and Andrew Cruickshank. It was produced by Tyrone Guthrie.

 

The same year he appeared at the New Theatre London in �Macbeth� The play opened on Christmas Eve 1937.. The title role was played by Laurence Olivier, with Judith Anderson as Lady Macbeth. Michel Saint-Denis was the producer. At the Old Vic that same week Vivienne Leigh and Ralph Richardson opened in �A Midsummer Night�s Dream�.

 

Frank appeared in �Coriolanus� at the Old Vic the following year. The cast included Sybil Thorndike and Laurence Olivier .

 

Frank�s first pantomime was in �Robinson Crusoe� in Cambridge, 1938. He appeared regularly in pantomime, and  forty two years after his pantomime debut I had the great pleasure of working alongside Frank in �Puss In Boots� at St. Albans. Frank played King  Cornelius, and Hilary O�Neil  was making her pantomime debut as �Colin�.

 

I spent many happy times in rehearsals, and backstage between shows talking to Frank about the pantomimes he had known, and  his career which moved effortlessly between classical theatre and Music Hall.

 

That year (1980) Frank had just appeared alongside Brian Murphy in �Soldier�s Fortune� at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith.

 

 A year or so later we were casting for �Dick Whittington� at the Kenneth More Theatre, and  knew that Frank would make a perfect Alderman Fitzwarren. Happily for us he accepted, and  played the part for our 1982 season.

 

That summer Frank appeared at the Regent�s Park Open Air Theatre productions of �A Midsummer Night�s Dream� and �The Taming Of The Shrew�.

 

Over the years Frank Seton appeared in numerous television roles from� Dixon of Dock Green �, �No Hiding Place�, �A Tale Of Two Cities�, �Callan�, and several appearances in BBC�s �Dr.Who�. he played Falco in �The Chef�s Apprentice� in 1989.

 

A genuinely warm and witty man- a true gentleman, and an extremely talented and versatile artiste. It was a joy to have known you Frank.

 

Nigel Ellacott

17th March 2007


8th March 2007

John Inman 1935 - 2007

 

John Inman star of pantomime and television sadly passed away today aged 71 (Thursday 8th March ) at St. Mary�s hospital, Paddington after a long illness. John died shortly after 4am this morning. He had been ill for several years, and was unable to perform in pantomime in recent years.

John Inman was possibly the finest Pantomime Dame of the past few decades. His appearances whether at the London Palladium (as Nurse Wanda in �Babes In The Wood�) or at the Victoria Palace (as Mother Goose) or in the provinces were guaranteed to be sell-out runs. In his skilful hands the audiences were treated to the joy of pantomime led by a master of his trade.

His agent, Phil Dale said today �He was one of the best and finest pantomime dames working to capacity audiences throughout Britain�

Paul Elliott said this to IBY this morning:

I first worked with John Inman in 1960 when I was a stage manager. Through the years as I moved into the producing side of the theatre  I did many shows with him including seasons in Australia and Canada-.from "Pajama Tops " to "Why Not Stay For Breakfast"-.and of course many Pantomimes throughout the UK.

John was great fun to work with: a great pro who always knew how to deliver a funny line. I said to him once that every young actor should be made to come and see him work...it would teach them more about comedy and technique than 3 years in drama school!! He was a master of his craft

When I was writing my play "There's No Place Like A Home" I had finished the first Act and had written a leading part for John-I was quite pleased with it so sent him the first draft . He called me a few days later and said " Well love....I think you had better write Act 2 ...I think it's funny..." ...This I did and we talked about the play and it was  [and always will be ]  "John's part". He came to the reading at the Prince of Wales Theatre but unfortunately was never fit enough to do the play when we did it last year [with the wonderful Gorden Kaye playing 'John's part'

The play is being produced again this year and I have written in the title page "Dedicated to John Inman, a master of comedy and a lovely man"

John had been a stage and pantomime performer long before his rise to fame in �Are You Being Served�. For eight years he and his stage partner Barry Howard appeared as Ugly Sisters in panto across the country, and were acknowledged as the finest in the roles. They recreated a moment of their stage double act on an appearance for BBC Televisions �The Good Old Days� when they both appeared as buxom Principal Boys of the �Old School� in an hilarious spot.

Born in Blackpool (but raised in Preston) John began his stage career at the age of 13 playing the role of Tony in �Freda� on Blackpool�s South Pier. He received Five Pounds wages.

He made his West End Debut in �Ann Veronica� at the Cambridge Theatre , and toured (with Barry Howard) in �Salad Days�. Together with Barry he appeared in comedies such as �Boeing Boeing�, and continued his solo career with  a seventeen month run at The Windmill Theatre, at The Adelphi Theatre as Fancourt Babberley in �Charlie�s Aunt� and tours of �My Fat Friend� , �Bedside Manners�, �Pajama Tops� and Summer Seasons and of course, over forty pantomimes.

In 1972 John was asked by Jeremy Lloyd and David Croft to join the �Are You Being Served� team at the BBC. The part created for him became an overnight success, not just in this country but in America and Australia. In fact, when Australian Television recreated the series with an Australian cast years later, John was asked to recreate his role as Mr Humphries. His Catch-phrase �I�m Free� was to remain with him forever.

In 69 episodes between 1972 and 1985 John appeared as Wilberforce Claybourne Humphries in the men�s department of Grace Brothers store, alongside Molly Sugden, Wendy Richard, frank Thornton and Trevor Bannister. Many times the plot would  be convoluted to allow John to appear in a more outrageous outfit than the week before, and often allowing him the opportunity to appear in disguise as a fur clad lady customer or  ever more outlandish costumic creations.

During this period John also appeared in several TV sit-coms. He played Neville Surdiffe in �Odd Man Out� in 1977, and appeared with Rula Lenska in �Take A Letter Please Mr. Jones� as Graham Jones in 1981.

The Success of �Are You Being Served� led to its follow up �Grace and Favour� in 1992, with the staff of �Grace Brothers� inheriting a farm and Hotel in the countryside.

In 1976 John was awarded the title of �Funniest Man on Television� by the readers of a TV Magazine, and the BBC Personality Of The Year, he was the subject of �This Is Your Life� in  the same year. He made several appearances in �The Good Old Days� recreating the act of his hero, Frank Randle in an uncanny impersonation.

He appeared in six Royal Variety shows, and was a dedicated worker for various charitable organisations. He was King Rat of the Grand Order of Water Rats, and in 2002 became President of the Heritage Foundation.

Above all in the world of Pantomime John will be remembered for the Dame roles he made his own. As Mother Goose he was able to bring tears of laughter to his audiences one moment, and then, in the pathos scenes with his beloved Goose- Barbara Newman- he would make them weep as he pretended to reject �Priscilla�  to ease her departure from his farm. He excelled as Nurse Wanda in �Babes In The Wood�, and created an unforgettable  Widow Twankey in �Aladdin�.

John�s amazing costumes and wigs were more often than not created by himself. It was John and Barry who introduced Peter and me to the world of �hard� wigs- John had worked as a window dresser in his early years, and was one of the first to realise the potential in �Mannequin� type wigs. He created headdresses that got larger and taller- chandeliers, birdcages and ships, and would supply them to the �wig Factory� to be set into the wigs for finales and transformation scenes. Above all he carried with him a strong sense of tradition- a respect for �what has gone before� in pantomime, and his dame was at all times truly believable and honest.

Pantoland is truly going to miss John Inman. From Simon, Peter and myself our sincere condolences to John�s partner Ron, and to John�s family and friends.

Nigel Ellacott - 8th March 2007

Our many readers and contributors, many of them pantomime professionals with memories of John, have been adding memories to our message board. A few examples of messages left are below - feel free to add your memories of John on the message board and we will try and compile a fuller listing here at a later date.

Another star taken from us
To shine down from above
Our thoughts and Prayers
go to John with Love

Another Panto dressing room is empty
Another Great Dame has gone
Thanks for all the memories John
Thanks for all the fun

Some where in heaven in eyelashes
Tripping around with Glee
Telling Cherubims and Angels
in no uncertain terms I'M FREE

God Bless John

from Paul Brammer

So sad to see another great dame and a wonderful actor go to the big theatre in the sky. It was your dame that inspired me to be one, thank you for that may you rest now and always be free. from Michael

A Dear Dear friend, and a wonderful mentor to me. One of the kindest and most unselfish performers ever. God Bless. from Malcolm Lord
 


30th December 2005

 

Last night Nigel and Peter appeared 'live' from Newcastle! Linking up with the studio in London, they answered questions about the history of pantomime and how it's survived through the ages. Peter even managed to pull his dress up to demonstrate why ladies didn't play dames. About half an hour after the boys left, Nick Higham did a short article on pantomime using loads of graphics from the site and even featuring the front page in the background. Very informative and nice once again to prove that we are 'the' source of pantomime on the internet!!

 

15th November 2005

Is panto cool? Oh yes it is!

 

A great article from www.whatsonstage.com

In Sir Ian McKellen�s wake, the traditional Christmas pantomime is now cool & credible for top-notch actors, writers, directors & producers. Roger Foss explains why.

http://www.whatsonstage.com/dl/page.php?page=greenroom&story=E8821131726372

 


14th April 2004

Charles Wilhelm Costume Designs - A treasure trove!

The full story - so far!! UPDATED


17th December 2003

THE Pantomime Source on the Internet!!

Whilst we don't like to blow our own trumpet, it's nice sometimes to at least prove that we have a trumpet to blow!! We are constantly providing information, interviews and pictures to Television companies, newspapers, magazines and the like - today we were being featured in the BBC programme 'Working Lunch'. If you want to read the article, check out the link below - it also has a video report from the BBC reporter Rob Pittam 'The business of panto can be as tough as any industry'.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/working_lunch/3327277.stm


7th December 2003

BBC Legacies

The BBC has a new website for local history, BBC Legacies. The site covers the whole of the UK, with features for each region on a different theme every two months. This month the theme is "Local Legends", and for London the article is about the truth behind the legend of Dick Whittington.

Here is a link to the pages: http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/myths_legends/england/london/index.shtml


14th December 2002

Collect It Magazine - January 2003 Issue - Panto Feature!

Available from all good newsagents - priced �3!!


7th December 2002

Newspaper Articles featuring Pantomime and www.its-behind-you.com

The Sun 3rd December 2002

http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,5-2002560346,00.html


27th May 2002

Jack Stanley - Panto Pictures from a Scrapbook - Another Mystery!

Recently we acquired a collection of pantomime photographs, mostly dating from the mid 1930�s to the mid 1950�s.The origin of these are unknown, but they may possibly have been part of a scrapbook belonging to a Jack Stanley, pantomime artiste.

Please have a look at the article and if you know any further information - please contact us on info@its-behind-you.com


12th December 2001

Newspaper Articles featuring Pantomime and www.its-behind-you.com

The Guardian - 5th December 2001

http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/story/0,3604,612124,00.html

Oh no, it isn't. Oh yes, it is!

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,322-2001564225,00.html

Pantos bring a smile to glum theatreland

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,2-2001565400,00.html


11th January 2001

Read All About it ! More Pantomime Stories from the National Press

Reuters/Yahoo - http://uk.news.yahoo.com/010107/80/auvxd.html

The Times - http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,277-50809,00.html

 The Guardian - http://www.guardianunlimited.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4109972,00.html

The Independent - http://www.independent.co.uk/enjoyment/Theatre/Theatre/2000-12/panto101200.shtml


30th December 2000

CNN Europe - Article on Pantomime

Featuring an interview with Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins, plus many of the pictures from ITS BEHIND YOU DOT COM.

http://europe.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/12/22/british.pantomime/


ANSWER TO SPOT THE DAME

Eric Potts of course!

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