PETER BYRNE 1928-2018

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Peter Byrne died this week at Denville Hall,at the age of ninety,  where he has been a resident for the past five years. Peter was born in East Ham in 1928, and trained at The Italia Conti school in Clapham.

His Father had been a musician, and at one time was a member of Jack Hylton’s Band.

He started his career with The famous Will Hay Company- “although by that time unfortunately he’d finished making films by then”- and appeared at the age of sixteen in the Royal Command Performance in sketches with Nervo & Knox and The Crazy Gang. He recalled “The next day there were photographs of us in all the papers, with The King, The Queen and Churchill watching us!”

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Peter became one of the most famous faces on television when he joined Jack Warner in the BBC Television series “Dixon Of Dock Green” as PC Andy Crawford. This was in 1955 and he remained with it for 430 episodes, over twenty years until 1976.

Peter had previously appeared in the forerunner to “Dixon” not in the film of that name, but in the stage version in the West End with Warren Mitchell.

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When I was growing up Saturday night was “Dixon” night on BBC TV. It began with a blue lamp and the familiar face of Jack Warner bidding us “Evenin’ All” as a new episode took place- twenty six years of BBC Drama, with Peter Byrne as “The Housewive’s Choice” as the matinee idol looking Andy Crawford. My Mother was a huge fan. When I appeared in pantomime with Peter my parents made the long trip from Swansea to Stevenage to see me. It was more for my Mother to meet Andy Crawford. It was a the highlight of my career in her eyes. I was working with her hero!

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Peter was a leading figure in the world of Pantomime. For a while he was director of productions( 1965-66) for the Bournemouth Theatre Company, situated opposite the Pavilion Theatre, alongside his friend Paul Elliott, a fellow actor he had met on the set of “Dixon”.

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Not long afterwards Paul persuaded Peter to join him in setting up a pantomime company. It was called E&B.The name stood for Elliott & Byrne.

Peter assisted Paul in running the company, performing in pantomimes and directing pantomimes. Soon they began to increase the number of venues, and Peter began to realise that he truly preferred being onstage and directing to being a part of the business side of this blossoming Pantomime Dynasty. Peter continued to work for E&B, the name remained, but he bowed out of management. Paul went on to expand E&B until it presented thirty pantomimes each year- the story of this will be revealed when Paul Elliott publishes his book this Autumn.

Peter Robbins and I were so fortunate to have Peter Byrne as our Director and as our “Daddy”- Baron Hardup when we did our very first E&B Panto “Cinderella” at Stevenage. The one where my Mother travelled many hours to see, and never forgot meeting Peter.

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Peter directed and starred in that very first E&B panto in 1983 at The Gordon Craig in Stevenage..Peter (Byrne) would remind us, every time we met over the years of how  that we tried to bribehim- our director-by taking him to tea at The Ritz , to see if we could do a boudoir scene we had been performing the previous two years. It must have been a good tea- we got a boudoir scene, and a further twenty nine odd years of scenes that followed!

 

Peter was a very fast director. He soon got the show blocked and rehearsed and on- but he never left the wings. After an exit as Baron he would remain watching from the wings for every show- he loved every part of the stage experience. It really was his life.

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He appeared and directed many pantos- both in the UK and for Paul Elliott in Vancouver and in Victoria BC.

He gave an interview at Bradford Alhambra for The Telegraph & Argus when he was Directing and appearing in panto. It was gloriously tongue in cheek.

“Oh yes, I’ve done all the classical roles.. Abanazar.. King Rat.. you name it!”

As Director he held the talents of Ronnie Corbett, Jimmy Cricket and Ted Rogers as the finest in Pantoland.

On stage Peter appeared in countless National Tours and was frequently in The West End. He appeared in “The Blue Lamp” onstage, as well as Boeing Boeing, The Unexpected Guest, Deadly Nightcap,Caste,  There’s A Girl In My Soup, Double Edge, Witness For The Prosecution, Move Over Mrs Markham and At The St Martin’s Theatre in The Mousetrap.

I once met him in St Martin’s Lane and we chatted about the play he had just re-joined. I said I thought he wasn’t going to do it again. “Ah yes, “ he said, “But we need an extension on the house!”. In truth wild horses wouldn’t have dragged him away from live theatre. It was everything to him.

Peter Byrne appeared in film, from Reach For The Sky (1956) to Watch Your Stern, Raising The Wind, The Iron Maiden and Carry On Cabby (1963) He was continuously working.

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Television appearances, apart from “Dixon” included Holby City, Doctors, Blakes 7, Bluebirds and playing Derek, The Gentleman Caller in Nellie Boswell’s life in “Bread” for three years.

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He was in Paul Elliott’s “Run For Your Wife” in The West End, and when Paul wrote a comedy “There’s No Place Like A Home” set in the mythical “STollberg Hall”, Peter joined a cast of celebrities and “old Pro” performers that changed as the play toured. He appeared alongside the likes of Gorden Kaye, Brian Godfrey,Barry Howard, Sue Hodge, Jan Hunt,  Joan Savage, Don McLean, Ken Morley, Geoffrey Davies and Brian Cant. Even the voice of Jeffrey Archer was heard in this madcap comedy set in an actors retirement home.

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Peter entered Denville Hall several years ago. He kept in touch with his close friends and family, and saw a lot of both Paul and Linda Elliott. I relished running into Peter- at The Mousetrap, or a great evening catching up at The Mill Sonning, and one very glorious afternoon at Paul’s Birthday Party.

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All afternoon I sat on the sofa with Peter and was regaled with his stories and anecdotes about life in the film and TV studios. Stories of taking short cuts thru the studios crossing through the set of “Wicked Lady” in Gainsborough Studios, stories of Margaret Lockwood, James Mason, Patricia Roc, and the film stars of the 1940’s and 1950’s that he met and worked with. Sheer joy. What a wonderful afternoon that was! Sadly, it was the last time I saw Peter Byrne. THAT is how I will remember him. A true man of the Theatre. A joy. Bless you Peter Byrne, and love and thoughts to family and his many friends.

 

 

 

 

 

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Qdos- Snow White at The Palladium!

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Qdos presents a stellar cast in “SNOW WHITE” at The London Palladium this December.

Dawn French makes her Pantomime Debut as the very Wicked Queen, alongside Julian Clary as The Spirit Of The Mirror, Nigel Havers as The Understudy, Paul Zerdin as Muddles along with his side-kick Sam, and Gary Wilmot as Dame Crumble! Vincent & Flavia will be bringing some magic along to the proceedings- what a great cast! Can’t wait to see it!

The past two years of Qdos Pantomime at The Palladium have been huge sucesses, with Qdos winning The Olivier Award for “Dick Whittington” recently. This coming Pantomime will be the apple in The Palladium’s eye as it takes its place in the home of London Panto!

Molly Limpet’s Dame & Sisters Exhibition

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I had a message this week to invite me to a day of Panto Dame and Ugly Sister costumes on display- The collection of Molly Limpet’s Costume Emporium in Sheffield.

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The date is Saturday June 23rd, and although a Ticket Event (Cindrella obviously won’t be going!) it is free. The Exhibition is from the 800 or so costumes that Molly Limpet’s has in stock, and will also involve Dame Costumes for sale, and a Dame’s “Marketplace”.

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It sounds great fun, sadly I can’t be there as I will be taking a Pantomime Class at the London NODA  Summer School that day. If you’d like more information here’s the link to the website page:

http://www.mollylimpets.com/pantomime/dames-exhibit

The Great British Pantomime Awards 2018

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The 2018 Great British Pantomime Awards were held at The New Wimbledon Theatre,on Sunday 15th April. A  very rare opportunity for us Panto folk to gather, and to have fun and celebrate Pantomime. For far too long Pantomime has been regarded as a poor relation to other art forms, and this is despite the enormous popularity of these shows, and the revenue it brings in to theatres throughout the UK.

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The GBPA was founded by Daniel Dawson and Sam Munday-Webb. A good while back Daniel began visiting as many pantomimes as he could in a season, and sent me information on them for this IBY website. This turned into detailed blogs, and eventually grew to become a website of its own. Of this year’s event Sam said: “Pantomime has never been in a better place, and we are here to embrace that and improve its position and its acknowledgement further”

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Daniel Dawson & Sam Munday-Webb

The ceremony was hosted by Christopher Biggins. A master of ceremonies and a veteran Panto Dame- Chris was instrumental in linking and running the entire show. He will be appearing in Panto this year at The Alhambra Bradford. Chris was the perfect MC for an evening where the audience is more than likely to join in and respond! He handled it with his usual superb flair and humour. His retirement from panto has been held off until another year, so Bradford & Billy Pearce will see a lot of him this season!

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Biggins at the Beanstalk Podium.

Very rarely do we get to meet other pantomime performers- sometimes we finish early enough to go and see a few pantomimes, but this very close knit community of artistes turns into one huge extended family when we are gathered! The atmosphere at Wimbledon this evening was one of Goodwill, Fun and family. Yes the Awards are great to have recognition, but it really was the least cut-throat of ceremonies. We were all revelling in the warmth and goodwill of the entire night. it started on the way in, with photos and fun! Here are a few! Too many to name everyone, so here are just a few-but I’ve tried to make a list of just those I met a little later on!

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Me- Nigel Ellacott joining Susie McKenna and Andrew Ryan

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The Twins & Paul Hendy & Emily Wood

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the Grumbleweeds and Paul Chuckle. Andrew Fettes & Verona Chard

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Graham Cole & Mark “The Beast” Labbett

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Roy & Debbie Hudd, Anita Harris, Gary & Yvonne Hind and Eric & Hannah Potts

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Graham Hoadley & Jack Land Noble.  Lee Redwood & The Weymouth Panto Company

The show began with a number from Olivia Birchenough as Panto Fairy with the sixteen strong Ensemble.Great to have a seven piece band too- and as with all these “one Off” events, all praise to the technical, musical and physical people concerned- you really can’t rehearse a show like this -and this show ran beautifully.

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The Ensemble. Twist & Pulse in action.

During the evening there were performances from Twist & Pulse, Ronan Parke, Kieran & Sarah, Doreen Tipton, La Voix and Gary Wilmot. Gary reprised his incredible “Tube” song, an amazing feat of memory, penned by himself as performed at the London Palladium “Dick Whittington” Pantomime.

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Gary Wilmot, La Voix and Wendy Peters

It was an evening of presenters, nominees and happy Panto people!

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Richard Ede, Nigel, Andrew Ryan & Ben Roddy and with Damian Williams

Here’s a selection of Nominations:

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Ben Stock, Biggins & Peter Duncan.

The Winners In Full:

The Lifetime Achievement award was given jointly to Nick Thomas of Qdos and to veteran performer and recent Dame- Roy Hudd.

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Roy Hudd and Debbie Flitcroft

Roy paid tribute to Pantomime, and to his recent historic productions- the first pantomimes to be staged at his beloved Wilton’s Music Hall in The East End. He played Sarah The Cook and Mother Goose there, Directed by his wife, Debbie Flitcroft. Roy started as a Butlin’s Redcoat, and years later after starring at the Palace Theatre, He returned as Midnight Cabaret at Butlins. I was his support act! A truly amazing man and keeper of the Music Hall Keys of the UK.

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Nick Thomas seen here with a few of his puppet collections of historical and legendary figures. From Thunderbirds to The Diddy Men, he has collected these and an enormous archive of Variety and Pantomime posters. He received his award for his contribution to Pantomime.

Qdos scooped 14 Awards in total during the evening.

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Doreen Tipton presenting. Nigel Ellacott & Andrew Ryan Presenting.

Here are the Awards:

Best Ensemble: Hexagon Reading, Peter Pan.

Best Speciality Act: The Timbuktu Tumblers. Peter Pan, Newcastle Theatre Royal.

Best Song Sheet: Matt Slack. Cinderella, Birmingham Hippodrome.

Best Fairy: Elaine C Smith. Sleeping Beauty . Glasgow Kings Theatre.

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Best Female Baddie. Elaine Paige Queen Rat. London Palladium.

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Best Comic. Danny Adams. Peter Pan. Newcastle Theatre Royal.

Best Male Lead: Charlie Stemp : Palladium Dick Whittington.

(Charlie is currently appearing in “Hello Dolly” on Broadway.)

Best Double Act: The Chuckle Brothers. Snow White. Mayflower Southampton.

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Best Director: Chris Nelson. Snow White  Aylesbury.

Best Male Baddie. Lawrence Boothman: Robin Hood. Loughborough Town Hall.

Best Supporting Male: Richard David Caine. Snow White. Worthing Pavilion.

Best Leading Female: Faith Omole. Jack & The Beanstalk. Lyric Hammersmith.

Ben Roddy: Best Dame.Peter Pan. Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

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Best Ugly Sisters: Ben Stock & Neal Wright. Cinderella. Milton Keynes.

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Best Script: Alan McHugh & David McGillvray. Dick Whittington. London Palladium.

Best Choreography: Twist & Pulse. Jack & The Beanstalk Stevenage Gordon Craig.

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Best Lighting: Ben Cracknell: Cinderella. Birmingham Hippodrome.

Best Costume Design: Paul Shriek, Customs House, South Shields.

Best Musical Supervision: Robert Hyman & Trish Cook. Rapunzel. Stratford East Th Royal.

Best Special Effects: Twins FX. The Flying London Bus. Palladium Dick Whittington.

Best Staging/Set: Morgan Brind. Beauty & The Beast. Derby Arena.

Best Newcomer: Al Murray, Jack & The Beanstalk, Wimbledon

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Overall prizes went to Salisbury Playhouse Jack & The Beanstalk (Under 750 seats category)

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The Sheffield Lyceum’s “Mother Goose” (750-1,000 seat category)

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Panto Of The Year: The London Palladium “Dick Whittington” (1,500 seats & Above).

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Sam Munday Webb wrote:

A special moment last night was talking to Nigel Ellacott, where I spoke about an email I sent him circa 2005 about how I was going to start something called the “Great British Pantomime Awards”.

 Simon Jackson Lyall was responsible for the technical sound production side of the Awards Event, with Chris Firth Stage Manager, Jason Salvin on lights and Gareth Stevens called the show. The Musicians were led by Dan Boardman, with Terence Penk, Jamie Wilkins, Steve Gilbertson, Drew Cowburn, Greg Nicholas and Sam Sankey.

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It took a while but the seed was planted: Many years later, what a truly marvellous thing has been created, thanks to everyone for all their overwhelming support, trust and passion”

 A great fun event, and one we know will return next year. It was great catching up with mates in Pantoland stretching back over the years, and meeting some new. From my days starting out in Panto my oldest chums would be the legendary Jan Hunt, Principal Boy & Pantomime Fairy, (we go back to the early 1980’s) and to the wonderful Susie Mckenna- Principal Boy and the Doyen of Hackney Pantomimes, my mate Vicki Michelle, and  Laura Taylor now with Imagine Theatre, and the lady who looked after my Pantomime Roadshow in The Cadbury Days of E&B Productions!

A clutch of Dames to chat with, from Damian Williams, Ben Roddy, Andrew Ryan, Richard Ede, Biggins of course, Graham Hoadley & Jack Land Noble,David Robbins,  Lee Redwood, Phillip Meeks, David Phipps-Davis, Roy Hudd, Ben Stock & Neal Wright, Leon Craig,and many many more I never got to touch base with in the throng!

Here’s a small list from memory of those I met up with during the evening. Yes- I did get about!

Suzi McKenna, Chris Jarvis, Damian Williams, Ben Roddy

David Robbins, David Lloyd Jones, Martin Dodd, Elaine C Smith

Peter Duncan., Graham hodley and Jack Land Noble, Philip Meaks

Jamie Morris and Tarot Joseph, Barrie Burnett, Sarah Whitlock

Leon Mellor, Gary Wilmot, Graham Cole, Roy Hudd and Debbie

Chris Biggins, Lee Redwood, Leon Craig, Ben miller, Joe Purdy

Laura Taylor, Gary &Yvonne Hind, The Twins, Gary & Paul,

Vicki Michelle, Jan Hunt, Anita Harris & Mike, Paul Chuckle

Grumbleweeds- James & Robin, Al Murray-The Pub Landlord

Richard Ede, Chris Jordan and Natasha Grey

Paul Henry & Emily Wood, Wendy Peters, Anthony England

Ben Stock & Neal Wright, David Phipps Davis.

Sadly there were those who were not with us to celebrate. The GBPA had an “In Memorium” section, and some dear friends and colleagues were shown on screen, including

Bruce Forsyth   Duggie Chapman

Carole lee Scott   Roy Barraclough

Bella Emberg Bill Maynard

And Ashleigh Butler’s beautiful dog, Pudsey.

A great Night, and again, thanks to all those who organised and planned and executed a Swell Party!

 

Qdos Wins Olivier Panto Award

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This year’s Olivier award for Best Entertainment & Family production went to the Qdos London Palladium pantomime, “Dick Whittington”.

 

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The Ensemble with Gary Wilmot, Charlie Stemp and Emma Williams in “Dick Whittington” 2017-2018 Pantomime

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Nick Thomas, Chairman of Qdos and Michael Harrison, Managing Director of Pantomimes received the award at the Royal Albert Hall on Sunday evening. Michael Harrison said “Winning the Olivier Award signalled recognition from the West End theatre industry that Pantomime could be “Something special”.

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Nick Thomas & Michael Harrison

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Nick Thomas added it was important to celebrate the genre vecause pantomime is normally a child’s first experience of theatre.

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Two years ago Qdos revived the Palladium tradition for being the home of West End Pantomime. Prior to their first panto- “Cinderella” the last panto to be seen at this venue was “Babes In The Wood” with John Inman and  Barbara Windsor leading the company.

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This panto, Dick Whittington brought back Julian Clary, Paul Zerdin and Nigel Havers, adding the West End Queen of Musicals, Elaine Paige as Queen Rat, Gary Wilmot as Sarah The Cook and the stars of “Half A Sixpence” Charlie Stemp and Emma Williams as Dick and Alice.

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Huge congratulations to the production team, The creatives encompassing costume design and execution, musical arrangements and composition, lighting, effects, sound, direction, choreography, casting, and of course the cast of this fabulous panto at the London Palladium.

This award for Pantomime has proved it is not the poor relation of The Arts, and that it is a vital and ever evolving art form unique to the British Isles! Hoorah for Panto!

Here on the IBY site we have articles on the history of those Palladium Pantomimes of the past- In Articles: The Palladium Pantomimes,

http://www.its-behind-you.com/palladium.html

And our recent Spotlight on Gary Wilmot.https://ibygreenroom.wordpress.com/2017/11/24/spotlight-on-gary-wilmot/

 

Paul Elliott & Duncan C Weldon -Olivier Special Award

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The Olivier Award for Special Recognition 2018 was awarded to Paul Elliott and Duncan C Weldon, and to “Uncle” Bob west and Meg Johnson.

These four influential and highly respected theatre figures were presented with their awards on Friday 9th March.

Paul Elliott, “King Of Pantomime” – he produced over 487 during his career, founded E&B Productions, which I had the great pleasure of becoming involved with in 1982, when Peter Robbins and I joined the E&B Family for what was to be twenty eight years of Pantomimes as The Ugly Sisters. I have an enormous debt of gratitude to offer him.

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Paul Elliott with Nigel Ellacott, Brian Conley, Michelle Potter, and Peter  Robbins.

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Paul & Linda Elliott. Paul was receiving his Master Of Arts.

Paul has produced Plays and Musicals both in the West End, On Broadway and on International tours, and produced Three Olivier and one Tony Award winning shows.

Paul is about to release his book “Keeping My Balls Up In The Air”, and celebrates Sixty Years in Show Business in June of this year.

Paul and Duncan C Weldon have worked together in Pantomime, and in Plays and Musicals for almost Sixty Years. They have both had an enormous influence in the shape of Pantomimes and London Theatre over these decades.

Duncan C Weldon has brought some of the world’s most prestigious actors to the most prestigious theatres in the world. He has presented 63 plays at The Theatre Royal Haymarket alone!  Triumph Theatre Productions is known worldwide.

“Uncle” Bob West as he is known through The West End of London worked for Cameron Mackintosh for decades. He was a prolific Company Manager and a very lovely man. Bob was best mates with my mate Freddie Lees, and it has always been a joy to meet up with him, and to revel in his encyclopedic knowledge of West End Theatre.Many West End stars today owe their success to Bob West.

Meg Johnson receives her special award for services to theatre since 1958. She has worked in almost every theatre in London’s West End. She has always been there at opening nights over sixty years, and provided jobs to untold numbers of young people who she believed in.

All in all, four VERY special Awards.

 

 

Pantomania & More Easter Pantos!

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Mr Millerman Presents “Pantomania!” It celebrates 50 years of Telford, and features Phil Butler, Philip Meeks, Ian Billings along with Ben Cupit and Katie Ann Dolling as “Queen Rat”. Enquires to The Oakengates Theatre, Telford.

The Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford is presenting “Wind In The Willows” WITW Flyer Front WITW Flyer Back

The production can be seen from Wednesday 11th- Saturday 14th April, with Marc Seymour as Mr Toad, and features Mathew Burcombe and Steven Day in Alan Bennett’s version of the Tales On The Riverbank by Kenneth Graham.

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Marc has played Dame at the KMT for several years, and was most recently Mrs Starkey in “Peter Pan” at the theatre.

The Kenneth More Theatre has KD Theatre Productions “Wizard Of Oz” visiting for two days on Tuesday3rd and Wednesday 4th April. Performances are 7pm on Tueday and 11am and 3pm on Wednesday. This production is on a UK tour.

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the other tour dates forKD Productions “Wizard Of Oz” are: The Maltings,Ely April 1st-4th and the tour includes visits to Maidstone,( 6th April) Chesham, (7th April) Camberley, (8th April) Bedford, (9th April) Peterborough, (10th April) Grays (12th April) and Redhill.(15th April).

KDTheatre productions and Scott Ritchie productions are presenting a UK Easter tour of Wind in The Willows- Here is a list of tour dates:

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The Wind In The Willows

The Civic Theatre, Chelmsford Friday 30th – Saturday 31st March 2018

The Woodville Theatre, Gravesend Monday 2nd April 2018

The Maltings, Ely Friday 6th -Monday 9th April 2018

Beccles Public Hall, Beccles

Tuesday 10th April 2018

The Apex, Bury St Edmunds Wednesday 11th April 2018

The Arts Centre, Haverhill

Friday 13th April 2018

Blackfriars Theatre, Boston

Saturday 14th April 2018

The Princess Theatre, Hunstanton

Sunday 15th April 2018

Red Riding Hood

PUMPKIN PANTOS are producing Red Riding Hood at the Phoenix Theatre & Arts Centre in Bordon on Friday and Saturday 6th & 7th April.

Here’s a link to their promo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-j0Hy4sxxk

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If you go down to the woods today….. At The Phoemix Arts.

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The Theatre Royal St Helens has opened its Easter Pantomime “Cinderella”presented by Regal Entertainments, which runs until Sunday 15th April.

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Image by David Munn Photography.

Lee Latchford Evans plays Prince Charming, with Mark Newell and Si Foster as Ugly Sisters. Cinderella is played by Georgina Parkinson, with Lewis Devine as Buttons and Andrew Geater as Dandini.