Another Openin’- KMT PANTO an announcement from Anton Benson

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Anton Benson Productions- The Kenneth More Theatre Pantomime 2019/20

As the doors shut briefly on Ilford’s Kenneth More Theatre this week, there has been an announcement from Anton Benson Productions (https://www.antonbensonproductions.com/)  regarding the Pantomime at the Theatre.

For over forty four years there has been an annual family panto at the KMT. I’ve costumed about forty of them, and my brother Vivyan (Ellacott) has directed all of the pantos up to 2010.Steven Day Directed the Pantomimes from 2011 to 2018-19.

The Redbridge Theatre Company leaves the KMT this week, and Vision   https://visionrcl.org.uk/ will run the theatre from September 1st.

The Kenneth More will therefore continue with the Panto tradition which is great news- here’s the message from Anton Benson:

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We are thrilled to have been entrusted with the responsibility of continuing the long standing tradition of providing a family friendly high quality pantomime at the Kenneth More Theatre this Christmas.

The production will open on 14th December 2019 and run until 12th January 2020. In a change to Kenneth More panto tradition, it will feature star casting and we will be starting to announce headliners soon. Tickets will go on sale early September.

We look forward to welcoming customers old and new to an exciting new chapter of pantomime at Kenneth More Theatre

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Looking forward to seeing this “Sleeping Beauty” at the KMT in January when I’ve finished my Sleeping Beauty for Venue Cymru!

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Wave your little hand and whisper so long dearie!

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Moving on!

As a Pantomime Dame with own wardrobe, we are used to packing, unpacking, repacking and loading the costumes in and out of trucks. It is what we do before and after a Panto run. We don’t however usually pack everything we own into a very big van and whisper “so long dearie” after thirty six years!

 

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Before..

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After!

After what seems a lifetime of storing our Pantomime costumes, wigs and accessories at the Kenneth More Theatre, this summer we moved it all, in its entirely to a new home in rural Hertfordshire. A County away from Ilford in Essex.

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Andrew Ryan and I are used to sending a rail of costumes, two skips and a few wearable objects (a Can Of Beans, A Christmas Pudding.. A Deckchair- the list goes on!) to theatres around the UK for panto. We have never dispatched the entire contents of our Kenneth More Theatre Store in one session! Every costume was already bagged in its costume bag, and the wigs wrapped in plastic, but they were hanging on chrome industrial strength shop fittings.

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During the months of June and July we bought eight dress rails, which just took the costumes on our fixed rails, and six large cardboard “skips”. The Skips took wigs and accessories. Two more Wicker skips took the things you might use one day- Panto specific to Aladdin or Jack or Snow White, and another things you’ll probably NEVER use, but I am that hoarder! It takes me ten years to throw away Christmas Cards from dressings rooms- some dressing rooms now demolished!

We bought more dress covers for the costumes and eight Dress rail covers (for the rails not surprisingly) and set to work packing up our “stock In Trade”. To add to the complications, we needed a rail or two each with THIS season’s costumes on them, which gets added to, or depleted once the Panto script arrives! I know this year as Queen of North Wales, I will be wearing the “Glitzy” stuff- no “Workers” required. No pinny for Queen Myfanwy of Deganwy! I’ve set up two rails of furs, beaded wonderments, sequinned creations and ermined robes- and await the script to hopefully get as many costume changes in as I possibly can. My motto.. “Keep moving and they can’t hit you”.

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Winching down the skips to join the rails below

I started storing my “Sister” costumes here back in 1981. Over the years Peter Robbins and I built up a huge wardrobe, and then continued to get new made each year. Fortunately we didn’t hoard in those days, and recycled. Our old costumes are knocking about somewhere even now I hope! Andrew Ryan’s costumes and wigs joined, and the “corner” filled up to bursting point.

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I say we didn’t “hoard”- some things you NEVER throw away. This gorgeous Hound was made by a pal of Peter & mine- Sue Dacre. A superb master craftesman and Film and Theatre puppeteer. Sue made this chap and a Vulture (called “Vera”) for our very first time as “Ugly Sisters” here in 1981.Vera sat on my head in the hunting scene. Vera was glued with a glue we later found had “Gorn Orff”. To be brutal- She stank!  She was banished to the scene docks of four theatres before she finally went to Vulture Heaven. (Bournemouth I recall) and that is why there is no picture!

 

The above picture shows three skips that didn’t go on the van. Sadly the wicker skips had fallen apart, and the monogrammed one (ER- not the Queen.. Think about it? “Ellacott & Robbins”- got it?) I had to put in the recycling. After 38 years it had perished. It was a sad moment.

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The rails now at the ground floor dock doors.

The “corner” nearly empty

The last things to move were the “Pantomime Roadshow” costumes and scenery. I’ve been fortunate. In forty Years I’ve never had to have costumes and props in the house. I am still fortunate, as only the Panto Roadshow scenery and costumes are now at home. They await our Roadshows to Basingstoke and Llandudno this Autumn, and then they too will travel to leafy Hertfordshire.

Finally like the Marie Lloyd song we “Followed on with the Old Cock Linnet”, but we didn’t Dilly or Dally-we followed the loaded van, prayed the mountain of costumes and wigs and props would fit into their new home and “Open Sesame!” The new cave of wonders had room to spare! Here is a picture of one proud Pantomime Dame and the Costumes safely stored again!

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This reminds me of covered wagons on the trail! Here are the eight covered rails, and behind them stacked up are the eight skips. Danny La Rue’s bustle (as made by Terry Parsons ) has a new home, and Danny would love his new surroundings. Very “Dan”!

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Goodnight!

 

Empty chairs- The KMT Closure & Re-opening.

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The KMT Auditorium

The KMT opened on December 31st 1974. My brother, Vivyan Ellacott had moved from The Swansea Grand Theatre to Ilford to oversee the building and creation of the new theatre. He had been at Swansea from 1966 to 1968- then during rebuilding went to Wimbledon Theatre, and returned to Swansea Grand 1969 to 1973.

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Pantomime had been a huge tradition at Swansea, where they often ran up until early March, and Vivyan created and Directed them here from 1975 up until his retirement after the 2010/11 Pantomime. Steven Day carried on the tradition and Directed each panto from 2011 to last year’s “Aladdin” 2018-19.

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Aladdin 2018-2019

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Vivyan Ellacott has a website that lists (among many sections on Musicals and Theatres) every KMT Pantomime since the first “Dick Whittington” in 1975. Here’s the link

http://www.overthefootlights.co.uk/kmtpanto.html

Steven Day Directed Eight of the KMT Pantomimes. As a performer he had appeared in two previous pantos, and as Music Director he was involved in five previously. He too began his career here at the KMT.

The Theatre’s Pantomime for 2019-20 will be “Sleeping Beauty” produced by Anton Benson Productions for Vision- Redbridge Culture & Leisure who run the KMT as from September 1st 2019.

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The KMT has been a huge part of my life since I first became involved in the ’70’s. It was here I started to design the costumes for the pantomimes-along with Margaret Brice- this led to designing tours- one lengthy job being The”Rocky Horror Show” in UK and Europe, and once at The Casino De Paris! Two costumes from Margaret & I are currently on display at the V&A. A very proud moment for us both.

It was at the KMT I did my first “Sister” with Peter Robbins in 1981 (never dreaming it would continue for 28 years!). It was here I “invented” my first Dame in 2009 and received amazing support from everyone

.It was with great sadness I was told in May that the KMT as we knew it, would be closing. At that point the future was uncertain, but the company who ran KMT (Redbridge Theatre Company) would not be continuing in this building after August. This is my first Summer NOT costuming a pantomime since the ’70’s!

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As you may have read in the previous article, I had stored my own Panto creations here for over thirty five years, and Andrew Ryan’s fabulous Dame costumes were also stored. These we moved during the mid summer- and yes, it WAS Murder! Actually we did very well as I hope the article shows!

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Site of Messers Ryan & Ellacott’s Pantomime Wardrobe! Where’s the blue plaque?

Steven Day Manager of the KMT had the task of de-cluttering the theatre of forty odd years accumulation,  and also of selling the assets of the company to ensure it remained solvent for future presentations in the area. IBY regulars will have noticed Panto Costume Sales advertised on the message board.

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The entire stock of panto costumes were sold to various production companies, The Wigs were bought almost entirely to take on a new lease of life around the country,( All created by Bodyline) and those hundreds and hundreds of designs and untold hours of work by Margaret Brice, and makers like Mary-Ann Trigg, Meryl Herbert, Shirley Davis,Marie Webb, Frank Kershaw, Tony Wright, and further back Madam Kuldana and Frank and Tish Winter- the list is endless- They will all have new Panto homes!

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It is so sad to see a building you have virtually lived in slowly denuded. Even worse to see Empty Seats in the auditorium- but not for long. The building will spring into action and return to doing what it does best- Entertaining Ilford.

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I put together a collection of photographs during this Summer- The scenic cloths and furniture have now gone to a new Panto store and will be seen in various theatres each year- the spare Pantomime Roadshow sets I had (We’ve been doing this show over twenty years!) have gone to a school and to a Drama College.

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Although it is sad to see those empty spaces, it is heartening to think theatre has ALWAYS recycled. Before it was fashionable- Theatres always thrived by thrift!

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A big building with two large stores across the road, and a further store across in the Town Hall! Inside the building you can see the “Long Corridor” that housed Wigs and Accessories, and a view of the dressing room chaos!

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Stage Manager Dave Palmer on his final day.

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Jocelyn Herbert’s Mask for ENO

The mask (in a Tea Chest in one of the stores)  I had always known to be important, but decided to ask the V&A if they would like it- they have one already. This completes the set designed for English National Opera. Jocelyn Herbert was one of this countries most influential stage designers. She died in 2003. It is now safely stored at the V&A Museum.

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To celebrate the many companies, both amateur and professional that have performed at the KMT, and to honour the volunteers who kept the building running, Steven presented a one off farewell show. “A Night To Remember”. The Title.. well film buffs will get the reference. If you need a clue it was 1958. You’ll make the connection!

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Some familiar KMT faces there- and here are a few more who were in or at the show.

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A Doyen of Dames! Simon Bashford, Keith Hopkins, Nigel Ellacott, Marc Seymour and Andrew Ryan

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Nick Greenshields, currently playing Javert in the internation tour of Les Miserable and Pharic Scott, West End & Australia’s “Wicked” productions. Both local lads began careers here at Ilford’s KMT.

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Steven Day and Natalie Cleverly

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The Finale of A Night To Remember

 

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The auditorium (Sold out for the farewell show) will once again be welcoming patrons once the new caretakers of this building present their brochure for the Winter months. The building- empty or full- it isn’t just bricks and mortar.In fact it isn’t the most beautiful building of those ’70’s designers dreams.. but it is a place that makes dreams. Fairy tales- once upon a times- we’ve all enjoyed memories, of performing here or seeing a show here- and some of us working here. It is the people that make the building.

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Here’s to Pantomime number forty five- “Sleeping Beauty”. It is the first of a new breed here- not “In House” but produced from outside , as Anton Benson says..” continuing the long standing tradition” of the Kenneth More Theatre. Long may it continue.

Nigel Ellacott. August 2019 

JIMMY PATTON- “No Slacking”

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Here at IBY Simon and I were saddened to hear the news that Jimmy Patton, of The Patton Brothers fame has died aged 87.

Jimmy Elliott and his brother Brian were the longest comedy partnership in Showbusiness-well over fifty five years working together- with Jimmy starting in Pantomime in 1946, where he joined Britain’s “Dead End Kids” and performed in five Pantomimes before being joined by younger brother Brian. They teamed up in “Aladdin” at Wimbledon in 1956, and became the Patton Brothers double act in 1954.

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The were the sons of Variety Artiste Gene Patton, who worked with Ernie Lotinga and Bobby Thompson for many years. Their younger Brothers, Paul and Barry Elliott became the Harmon Brothers and later, of course The Chuckle Brothers.

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Jimmy and Brian joined their brothers in the TV series “Chucklevision” (The original home of the “Chucklehound” characters Paul and Barry created) which ran from 1987 to 2009.

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Jimmy, like Brian performed in over 54 pantomimes and never missed one season. They played the London Palladium frequently, both in Pantomime and in Variety- “Sunday Night At The London Palladium”, and appeared in countless TV Variety shows- The Vera Lynn Show, The Harry Secombe Show, The Good Old Days to name but a few, and enjoyed a lengthy variety season with Ronnie Corbett at The London Palladium.

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Our sincere condolences and love to Amy, and to Brian, Barry and to their family- The Patton name is continued in Pantomime to this day- a truly legendary legacy that has lost one of its brightest members. A huge loss to Pantoland.

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Here is a list of the Patton Brothers Pantomimes, as well as some excerpts from YouTube.

First The YouTube extracts:

 

You may also enjoy hearing Jimmy’s tales of ShowBiz in Hayden Parker’s recent Panto Podcast

https://pantopodcast.podbean.com/e/ep-20-jimmy-patton/

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THE PATTON BROTHERS PANTOMIMES

The first Pantomimes Jimmy did solo, as Brian was touring with Bill West & His Harmony Boys. They Were :

1949 The Dudley Hippodrome. Aladdin, followed by 1950 Wimbledon Theatre Aladdin, and in 1951 The Swansea Empire in Robinson Crusoe. 

 

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My thanks to Damian Patton for reminding me that Jimmy and Brian appeared in two further pantomimes- in 2015 At The Bolton Macron Arena in Jack and The Beanstalk- as Dame and as Henchman.

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2015 Bolton Macron Arena

Their last Pantomime was the following year 2016-17 at The Gladstone Theatre, Port Sunlight in “Aladdin” as The Chinese Policemen.

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Thanks for those wonderful Pantomimes Jimmy- For that amazing partnership with Brian and we will continue to remember- No Slacking!

 

 

PRESS LAUNCH LLANDUDNO!

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KeiranPowell, Sherrie Hewson, Nigel Ellacott and Jonathan Kiley

Tuesday 25th June 2019 VENUE CYMRU

A very jolly day launching Qdos’s “Sleeping Beauty” at Venue Cymru in Llandudno! we travelled up the night before, walked along the promenade in bright hot sunshine (We won’t get that in December!) had a great meal at Osborne House and talked all things Pantomime !

The Press Launch day not so sunny, and in fact, Sherrie emerged from the Hotel to walk the few hundred yards to the Theatre, took one look at the sky and improvised as the heavens opened. This is the result!

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The glamour of Show Biz when it rains!

So great to be back here in Venue Cymru- my fourth time in Panto here, and my third with Sherrie- we were previously together in Wolverhampton and in Hull. Sherrie was here very recently in the “Benidorm Live” tour which packed them in to the vast auditorium here in Llandudno.

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Our view at Christmas- only then it will be full! Oh Yes It Will!

Jonathan Kiley, Executive Producer for Qdos introduced us to an audience made up of group bookers, The Press and Radio and Television from the region, and in honour of Sherrie, it took place in a “Loose Women” style chat show format.

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I’m looking very regal and po faced here! Think my bar stool was a bit high!

Jonathan introduced us all, and in my case mentioned I was wearing an historic gown- in fact it was created by designer Terry Parsons for the late, great Danny La Rue. One of my favourite gowns, I rarely get the chance to wear it (Jack’s Mother couldn’t climb a Beanstalk in it, and Snow White’s Nurse would find the train a bit restricting!) but it is Fit for The Queen in “Sleeping Beauty!I bought it at an auction at Brick Lane Music Hall, and it comes with a very large steel constructed “Bustle” that has a life of its own!

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Yes- a quick change of frock. There will be around fourteen more at Panto time!

Keiran Powell and his Dinosaur Dave joined in the fun, he joins us in Llandudno as Muddles, The Court Jester. Last year Keiran was in Panto at High Wycombe, and spendsa lot of his working life aboard glamorous cruise liners with his array of Dave’s friends.He’s now been to 101 countries- he must be exhausted!

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Sherrie was introduced by Jonathan as our much loved Actress and Television personaity- she has the most amazing back catalogue of Soaps from Emmerdale, Crosroads and of course, Coronation Street as Maureen Holdsworth- The Water Bed scene with Reg Holsworth, Mavis and Derek remains an iconic piece of television!

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Sherrie has been associated with “Loose Women” for fourteen years, and our format today saw all of us in a chat format. In fact it became a Banter banquet- there was a lot of ad lib and laughter going on from the first moment- Sherrie and I have been mates for a good while, and Keiran has joined the club. It is going to be a fun run this season!

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The audience asked us questions, and Sherrie told them about her RADA days, her first film with Richard Chamberlain and a host of stars- “Slipper And The Rose”, leading to “Carry On” films, long running series such as “Love For Lydia”, “In Loving Memory”,through “Lovejoy”, another film “Hanover Street” with Harrison Ford through “The Russ Abbot Show”, Summer Seasons, Theatre productions, a lengthy television run with “Benidorm” and recently playing Mrs Slocombe in the BBC remake of “Are You Being Served”. It is quite a career we’re talking about!

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After The “Loose Women” style chat show we met the bookers and then (after a swift change of frock) we had photographs, and radio and television interviews in the Deganwy Room, which of course I now own, as I am indeed Queen Myfanwy of Deganwy, and my reign, like the rain in Spain (well.. in Benidorm!) fell mainly on Llandudno seafront. We abandoned outside photos and stayed snacking on a beautiful buffet while engaging the press. Da iown!

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The theatre staff looked after us all brilliantly, and special thanks to Richard Jones in Marketing and especially to Sarah Ecob, General Manager of Venue Cymru.

I know from experience what a great time we will have here for Panto- This year will be my 45th Pantomime! (I know, I was Two when I appeared as my first Dame….) and my 37th for Qdos/E&B . Sherrie will certainly know the joys of Llandudno- She is in fact moving here in the Autumn to live near her Daughter Keeley, and Son-In-Law Simon, and her THREE Grand children! So that’s an exclusive!

We both look forward to Showing Keiran around this the Queen Of Resorts we love, and can’t wait for rehearsals to begin. Diolch yn fawr iown Venue Cymru. You did us proud!

 

BIRMINGHAM 120th ANNIVERSARY!

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Saturday 29th June 2019

Off to The Hippodrome Birmingham as guests of Qdos tonight to celebrate a staggering 120 Years of Entertainment in Birmingham on this site.

The Draysey Brothers opened The Tower Of Varieties and Circus on the Thorpe Street site in 1899, and to this day a building has been here providing entertainment in the heart of the City.

I know a fair bit about “The Tower” as it was called- Thanks to Peter Tod the former Chief Exec of The “Hippo”. When the Hippodrome closed for major rebuilding in the late 1990’s, Peter was concerned that the link with schools might be lessened during a lengthy closure. He hot upon the idea of sending out our “Pantomime Roadshow” team, but with a theme- The History of The Tower and as it later became, The Hippodrome.

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We toured the schools of Birmingham and Dudley for several weeks with this show “Tower” and returned before the re-opening to promote the Panto. Then, as the Building re-opened Peter Robbins and I attented the “Silver Gala” here, and even took residence in the new dressing room block to meet the press on the first day of opening backstage! Many happy memories. Tonight with our mates from Qdos including Chris Biggins, Andrew Ryan, Jonathan Kiley and Jill Jordan (AKA Doreen Tipton)we joined Compere Matt Slack and Artistic Director/Chief Exec Fiona Allan to celebrate 120 years onstage.

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The Qdos Table! What a glorious night- celebrating with cabaret that included an even more glorious Knight- Beverley Knight, who closed an evening of non stop entertainment- and amazing food!

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Oh what a Knight to remember- A Standing Ovation for Beverley Knight.

The food and wine flowed, and cabaret from Amy Manford and Scott Davies- a stunning “Phantom Of The Opera” medley performed in the dress circle, while we, theaudience sat at tables on stage. Laura Pick was on top form Defying Gravity- another standing ovation, and Alexia McIntosh introduced a number from “Six”, which comes to the Hippodrome this year,currently in The West End.

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Alexia McIntosh

Before the audience walked the red carpet- and were greeted with Laurent-Perrier (and not the water type!) we watched a performance outside in what will someday be Hippodrome Square by Motionhouse, performing “Wild”.

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Motionhouse- Hippodrome Associate.

The Evening was hosted by Panto Stalwart Matt Slack, and included segments from The Cast Of West Side Story, The Hippodrome’s First home-grown youth production- here in August. This section, together with ZYC Brum   (ZooNation Youth Company) were joyous and moving. To see the joy on the faces of these young performers giving a full out performance on the Hippodrome Stage- it was quite something to behold.

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Jill Jordan, Nigel Ellacott and David Tristram.

The artist-led company Sonia Sabri Company performed during the evening, and auctioneer Nick Davies was in fine form, reminding the corporate tables the importance of splashing the cash to fund some of the Hippodrome’s worthy projects that extend beyond the building itself.

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featuring the glamorous d DJ Blanche and a busy cocktail bar open till the wee small hours.

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On behalf of all of us on Table 20- Thank you so much Nick Thomas, Qdos and all at The Birmingham Hippodrome for inviting us to join these amazing celebrations. Here’s to the next 120 years! Hip Hip Hippodrome!

 

KEITH SIMMONS 50 YEARS IN PANTOMIME

SPOTLIGHT ON…….KEITH SIMMONS

 

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Keith Simmons – Fifty years in Pantomime And still going strong “Oh yes! He is!”

2019 will be a great milestone for Panto veteran Keith Simmons. His appearance in Aladdin at The Lowther Pavilion, Lytham St. Anne’s marks his 50th Pantomime.
As one half of Simmons and Simmons Keith, and his son Ben, are writing and directing the show, their third time Topping the Bill at this venue.
Keith’s first Panto, Puss in Boots, was at the Theatre Royal, Bath in 1968 (he says he was a mere child then – and not old enough to sign his own contracts – which his father had to do!!) and it was where his love affair with this genre of entertainment began. The show opened on Boxing Day and ran until 22nd February, after 89 performances.

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The Simmons Brothers (Keith and Alan) were primarily a vocal act then (having had a record released on the Pye label – two of Keith’s songs – ‘Take Me Where The Sun Shines’ and ‘LeAnne’ – produced by Tony Hatch with Jimmy Page – later of Led Zeppelin – on guitar) so they played The Singing Villagers and had their own spot in the show.

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Top of the bill was comedian Jimmy Mac, a real stalwart of Bath Pantos who also gave them the chance to play comedy in sketches like The Awkward Squad and The Lemon Table. Written, produced and directed by Frank G. Maddox – the Christmas offering was always ‘The Maddox Pantomime – The Best in the West.’

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Since those early days Keith has written more than one hundred Panto Scripts and has directed some twenty-six productions. (He now writes and directs with his son Ben).

Keith says “Those first five years of Panto saw us in Bath four times and Swansea once. And, within those five productions just some of the artistes we worked with were Jimmy Mac, Ronnie Collis, Billy Burden, Derek Roy, Danny O’Dea, Barry Hopkins, Dave Swann, Cindy Williams, Roy Lester, Paula Lee, Peter Dare, Sonny Farrar, Roslyn Dunbar, Patrick Ward (Nephew of Dorothy Ward), Jennifer Burch, Duggie Chapman, Des King, The Three Biasini, Jean Barrington, Gwenfron Hughes, The Trio Vitalites, Elona Thomas, George McClaren, Colin Cresswell, Cheyanne King, Richard Colson, Mike Fields and Clifford Henry.

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It was in Swansea in 1970 that we first met up with Alan and Brenda Stockwell of Pavlov’s Puppets and we have remained the greatest of friends ever since.
Then we missed a year – gigging up and down the country at Christmas instead. My wife, Fran, was with Alan Stockwell in the Norman Wisdom Christmas Show for Pavlov’s Puppets at the Central Hall Chatham and found out that only having to travel 15 miles to the gig was a lot easier.

We were signed for The Woodville Halls in Gravesend in 1974 with George Bolton, Roy Lance, Roy Lester and Paula Lee, Amanda Davenport (whose father, David, regularly played an immortal in the Palladium Pantos), Liz Bagley and Nigel Graeme. Roy and Paula were husband and wife and their two school-age daughters Claudi (now Mrs Charlie Cairoli!) and Shelli (who maintains the family tradition with her Magic Act) assisted Paula in her magical presentation. Paula’s father had worked as Cingalee and toured with Laurel and Hardy – as indeed had Paula – as one of The Lonsdale sisters

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Alan had now met and was engaged to, my future sister-in-law Julia Burnett, who was one of the dancers in our Panto. This year Fran was at Lewisham Concert Hall, for Pavlov’s again (this time with Chris Covington) in Aladdin with Billy Dainty, Valentine Dyall & Pat Stark – so we could all get home after our shows. It was the only year we’ve ever all been near enough to the venue to stay at home during Pantomime. Roy, Paula and the girls came to our house on Christmas day for food, drink & party games rather than travel back to their place in Blackpool.
We then followed that with two years at The Adam Smith Centre, Kirkcaldy in Aladdin and then Dick Whittington. The shows featured Ken Joy, Adam Daye, Derek Holt, Lex Daye, Janet Edis and Campbell Godley. I remember meeting David Jason in the Bar several times because he was dating the young lady playing Aladdin. Most nights we’d go into the Station Hotel next door for an after-show drink. The manager was a great guy called Jimmy McCleod. Whenever we walked in, he’d sing ‘The Simmons Brothers are rubbish’! I think it was a term of endearment.
The Adam Smith Centre was the only place where at every interval there was a knock on the dressing room door and they would deliver cups of coffee – thanks to the guy who ran the place, Chris Potter. Chris told us he’d originally booked us because of our advert in Showcall (which used to be published by The Stage).
In 1977 we were at the New Theatre Hull, in Babes in the Wood – in my eyes The Robbers is the best double act part in Panto. Sadly, it doesn’t get done much these days. The star was Nat Jackley along with Bobby Bennett, Yvonne Marsh and Pavlov’s Puppets.

KS50 - N Fran, Keith and Ben. Babes in the Wood. New Theatre Hull - 1977-78

Fran was working Pavlov’s act again in this show with Nick Woodward. The two of them worked for Alan and Brenda who were doing Panto elsewhere. Fran and I now had our baby son Ben. My mum looked after him while Fran was on stage. Ben’s presence in the dressing room caused something of a local media storm. He took part in his first press photoshoot at just eight weeks old – so he was bound to finish up in the business!
My brother Alan and Julia were now married and Julia was again dancing in this production. She subsequently performed, as a dancer and in various other roles, in many more future shows. Playing Little John was Tommy Cooper’s son, Tom Henty. The panto was produced by Richard Condon. We were directed by Ben Warris (of Jewell and Warris fame). We’d dreamed up a gag for when we climbed through the window into the nursery. It looked like we had stockings over our faces but when we got onto the set it was actually a pair of tights – so we couldn’t separate. It got a huge laugh. The following year we were told a lot of others were doing it!

KS50 - D Poster Babes in the wood - Norwich Theatre Royal 1978-79
1978 it was Babes in the Wood again, this time in Norwich, again for Richard Condon but now Richard Briers played Dame. Yvonne Marsh was Robin Hood and others included Glynn Bailey, Carol Sagar, Noel Crowder and Stuart Sherwin. Fran and Nick worked Pavlov’s act again. Richard Briers only did Panto twice and both times I was in it – because we were together again at the Ashcroft Croydon in 1982. Suzanne Danielle was Robin Hood, Arthur English played Friar Tuck and Peter Goodwright was Will Scarlett. There was also a great character called Leo McGuire, who was the husband of actress Maxine Audley and he was one of the Merry Men. Leo had played the office Romeo in BBC TV’s series ‘Compact’.

KS50 C - Babes in the Wood Norwich Theatre Royal 1978-79

Impresario Duncan Weldon came into our dressing room and said ‘Well boys, this is definitely the Panto for you – that was brilliant’ – and we never appeared in that subject again!!
1979 saw us without Panto once more – the only other year it happened. Dick Condon had told us that Albert Knight had seen us in Norwich and wanted us for the Palladium. Sadly, instead of Panto that year the famous old theatre staged The King and I with Yul Brynner!!!

KS50 07 Poster - Sunderland Empire - 1979-80
So we were actually contracted to appear at Sunderland Empire in Dick Whittington with Basil Brush, Bert Weedon, Tom Mennard and Anthea Askey, Glyn Bailey and Carol Sagar. We were on the posters but won our heat on LWT’s ‘Search For A Star’ and the final was taking place when we should have been in Sunderland. Our agent, Dave Forrester, had many words with David Bell at London Weekend and the final outcome was to withdraw us from a ten week Pantomime in favour of one night’s television. As it happened we came third in the final of Search for a Star and work over the next few weeks was spasmodic to say the least.

KS50 08 Dick Whittington Birmingham 1980-81

In 1980 The Simmons Brothers were with the great Ken Dodd in Dick Whittington at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham. Wyn Calvin was Blodwyn the Cook, dear old Billy Whittaker played Alderman Fitzwarren and Jeff Holland was King Rat. The lovely Anne Jones played the Fairy and much later became Lady Dodd. Everyone asks me what time we used to come down. Amazingly, every evening performance finished at one minute to ten! Ken became a great friend. We did two summer seasons with him, so many one nighters – and his Radio Two series ‘Ken Dodd’s Palace of Laughter’.

KS50 09 Dick Whittington - Birmingham - 1980-81 (1)
1981 saw us at the Theatre on the Green in Richmond, Surrey in Aladdin. That was Arthur Askey’s last Panto. Sadly he was taken ill and left halfway through the run. The show also starred the marvellous Les Dawson, Bernard Bresslaw, Christopher Timothy and Rula Lenska. In fact, we were the only ones in it I hadn’t heard of!

KS50 - 10 - Replacement with correct label - Bernard Bresslaw with Keith

KS50 - E -Poster Babes in the Wood - Ashcroft Theatre - Croydon 1982-83
Then came five Mother Gooses. One with the superb John Inman (Bill Maynard, Susan Maugham and Dawson Chance too) in Birmingham and then four with the equally superb Danny La Rue at Plymouth, Birmingham, Bath and Bromley. It also gave us the chance to work, in the Birmingham production, with Lionel Jeffries. What a lovely guy. He’d come to our dressing room most nights and tell us great tales of his film escapades. I remember Billy Boyle featured in one of those seasons as did Leon Greene, Lisa Maxwell, Joe Church and Isla St. Clair and playing the Demon of Discontent in all four of Danny’s Pantos was Bob Aldous

cof KS50 11 Danny La Rue Lionel Jeffries - Mother Goose - Alex -Birmngham 1985-86

In those five Mother Goose Pantos we worked with the two great exponents of Goosing (if you’ll pardon the expression!) Kay Lyell and Barbara Newman. In the Bath show too was Jenny Logan who had been the ‘Shake and Vac’ girl in the T.V. advert.

KS50 - i Bob Aldous and David Ellen Mother Goose - Bath 1986-87
Two more Aladdins followed. One back at the Ashcroft Croydon with Lorraine Chase, Jeff Holland, Edmund Hockridge and Gillian Taylforth. And the other was Manchester Palace with Paul Nicholas, Paul Shane, Sylvester McCoy, Peter Blake and Eartha Kitt. This was the only Panto Eartha ever appeared in. She was the Genie and she really was a great company member and a lovely lady.

KS50 13 Eartha Kitt with Keith

The next three years were Cinderellas with Des O’Connor. In two of them our Fairy Godmother was the smashing Peggy Mount.

KS50 - H Peggy Mount - Cinderella Birmingham 1991-92

In the first one, in Plymouth at the Theatre Royal, Baron Hardup was Eric Sykes, who gave me a video of his film ‘The Plank’ and actually wrote on it ‘you’ve taught me a lot’’ – still a treasured possession from a brilliant comic and writer.

KS50 14 Eric Sykes - Cinderella - Plymouth -1990-91

The second year at The Hippodrome Birmingham the Baron was Ian Smith (Harold Bishop from ‘Neighbours’ and also script editor on Australia’s ‘Prisoner Cell Block H’) and the third year in Woking my brother Alan played Baron and I was a lone Brokers Man!

KS50 - 0 Keith with Ian Smith - Cinderella Birmingham - 1991-92

It was during this show that there was a knock on our dressing room door and in came John Fisher from Thames Television. We knew John and had done some TV things for him but now he said the immortal words – ‘Boys – I think the time is right for your own television series’. I remember excitedly phoning Fran afterwards to tell her the great news. At last something big was going to happen. Alan and I wrote out a plan for The Simmons Brothers Laughter Party and, when the Panto was over, went to Teddington and had lunch with John and outlined our idea. Four weeks later Thames lost the franchise and our series was never mentioned again!!!

During those three Pantos we also worked with Nyree Dawn Porter, Jodie Wilson ( who became Mrs. O’ConnorAlyson and Rebecca Marsh (daughters of the great actor Reginald Marsh) and Brian Godfrey & David Morton as Ugly Sisters.

KS50 15 Des O'Connor Poster - Birmingham Hippodrome - 1991-92

In 1993 Producer Paul Elliott (who is, as far as I’m concerned, The King of Pantomime) really did pull out all the stops. We were signed to appear in Dick Whittington as Captain and Mate and I was contracted to write it too. It starred Lesley Joseph, John Nettles, Vince Hill, Jeff Holland, Wayne Sleep, Rosemarie Ford, Gladiator Wolf and Ross King (who was one of the presenters on BBC’s Pebble Mill At One at the time).

KS50 - P Keith with Ross King - Dick Whittington - Birmingham Hippodrome 1993-94

KS50 16 Dick Whittington Poster - Mayflower Theatre, Southampton 1994-95
Katie Budd played Alice Fitzwarren and we also had the Ben Karim Troupe. Imagine giving that lot a fair crack of the whip when writing it. I managed it though and the second year took over directing from Carole Todd. It was for this panto that I dreamed up the missing trumpet gag in the haunted bedroom. Much copied ever since.

We stayed with that production for seven years and played Birmingham, Southampton, Woking, Plymouth, Wimbledon, Nottingham and Newcastle. There were obviously some cast changes during those years. Windsor Davies, Robert Duncan, Bill Pertwee, Maria Rice-Mundy, Kriss Akabusi, Kevin Finch and Nicholas Parsons were some who came in at different times.

Whilst we were in Newcastle, I also directed Darlington which starred Ray Meagher from ‘Home and Away’, Stu Francis and brilliant Ugly Sisters Nigel Ellacott & Peter Robbins. I travelled back after they’d opened to have a look at it; went out for a meal with the cast and then got the train back to Newcastle. I woke up in Berwick upon Tweed! Panic! Fran, back at home in Kent, sorted out a hotel for me and I got back to the Theatre Royal in time for our matinee!

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We did one year in Swansea again with Tim Vincent, Andrew Lynford, Vicki Michelle, Ria Jones and Barry Howard in Aladdin. I wrote and directed it and had to find a way of using Cyril the Swan, the mascot of Swansea Football Club!

KS50 - K Poster Swansea Aladdin Weston Super Mare 1999-2000

2002 saw the final Panto for the Simmons Brothers. It was at The Hippodrome, Birmingham, in Dick Whittington with Brian Conley. By now I was writing several Pantos each year for Paul Elliott (the most was eight in one go!) and I was directing others too. I was also writing for Brian Conley’s television shows. These were good years!!
I wrote Pantos for The Chuckle Brothers; Mr Blobby; Michael Elphick; Frank Bruno; Jeremy Beadle; Paul Daniels & Debbie McGee; June Whitfield; Britt Ekland; May McFetteridge; June Brown and John Altman; Sooty; and Zippy, George & Bungle! Paul Elliott also asked me to write one for Dudley Moore which was to take place at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton. Unfortunately, Dudley was too ill to play it and was replaced by Brian Conley. I believe it became the first million-pound panto at that venue.

I remember one I wrote for the Birmingham Hippodrome was visited by Princess Anne and as the writer I was invited to meet her in the interval. We chatted and then I told her I thought she would make a great Principal Boy and I would be willing to write it for her. She gave me a wry smile and moved on!
When I wrote the Dick Whittington for Conley, I had the idea of the whole cast building a wall whilst singing the Stephen Sondheim song ‘Putting it Together’. When the wall was finished it had a picture of Brian on it (as Dick Whittington) and he burst through it as if having appeared by magic.

KS50 G Brian Conley with Keith Birmingham Hippodrom - 2001-02

I had missed the first week of rehearsal due to directing in Aberdeen (His Majesty’s Theatre – Cinderella with Jansen Spencer from Neighbours, Billy Riddoch, Stu Francis and Nigel Ellacott and Peter Robbins) so by the time I arrived most of the cast knew what they were doing. I didn’t – and I hadn’t realised how difficult the song was to learn! I had the lyrics in the pit to get through the first few shows!
My brother Alan had been offered a full-time job by Rainbow, the costume character company, to be their Events Manager and so I was now on my own. I was still doing a lot of writing for TV and panto and my first lone Pantomime as a performer was Peter Pan in Plymouth. I was reunited with the great John Nettles who played Captain Hook and worked for the first time with Michaela Strachan as Peter.

KS50 17 Peter Pan Poster - Mayflower Theatre, Southampton 2003-2004
The next year Paul Elliott sent me to Newcastle for another bout of the J.M. Barrie classic – this time with Tim Healy as Hook – another lovely guy. This show was directed by the excellent Alan Cohen who included his own rock fight with the audience. A brilliant piece of Panto business.

My third year as a solo artist was another Peter Pan, this time in Southampton at the Mayflower. Paul Nicholas was Hook and Geoffrey Hughes was Smee and I played Starkey and the lovely Sarah-Jane Honeywell was Pan. Geoff and I got on so well – I loved that guy and it was an absolute tragedy to lose him after he’d moved to the Isle of Wight and had a wonderful house built there.

My first Pantomime with Ben was in 2005. Some years before, he’d completed his Classics Degree (Latin & Ancient Greek) at Leeds University and followed that with a year’s Postgraduate Diploma at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. He’d already done Pantos on his own. His first as The Boy Babe in Babes in The Wood for Kevin Wood at The Orchard Theatre, Dartford – when he was eight (Ben was eight – not Kevin!) appearing alongside Roy Barraclough, Peter Duncan and Paul Darrow.

KS50 - F - Ben with Ken Goodwin - to go in 2006 area!!

KS50 - Q Peter Duncan with Katherine and Ben - Babes in the Wood Orchard Theatre 1986-87

He also performed in Luton playing Buttons, Rotherham in Beauty and the Beast and Merton in Robin Hood and the Silver Arrow and toured with a summer production of Aladdin around Haven Holiday Centres for Qdos.
The comedy partnership of ‘Simmons and Simmons’ (a name which took us ages to think up!) was now established. We were Captain & Mate in Dick Whittington at The Hawth Theatre, Crawley with Dave Benson Phillips. Ben played Captain and we found a younger man bossing an older one around gave us some extra possibilities for laughs and the kids loved it.

The following year we were offered the chance to go to Derby by Paul Holman of PHA and that started a great relationship which has seen us through Panto over the last fifteen years. Five years at the Assembly Rooms, Derby with, amongst others; Gary Wilmot, Lee Brennan, Lisa Scott-Lee, Johnny Shentall, Sue Holderness, Sylvester McCoy,
Jeffrey Holland, Judy Buxton, Ian Good, and two years with a great mate Neil Morrissey.

KS50 18 Peter Pan Poster - Derby - 2006-07

KS50 19 Poster - Cinderella - Derby Assembly Rooms - 2009-10
Then came three years at the Playhouse, Weston-super-Mare with John Challis, Paul Arden-Griffith, Luke Roberts and Jason Sutton in Aladdin; Lorraine Chase; Same Difference, Adam Daye and Terry Gleed in Sleeping Beauty and George Sampson, Jolyon Dixon and Terry Gleed again in Jack and the Beanstalk.

KS50 - J - Poster Aladdin Weston Super Mare 2011-12

During this time, we still kept involved with Derby – both writing and directing. We also wrote and directed Worthing Cinderella with Amanda Barrie, John Lyons and Darrock & Howe. The following year it was back to Derby which we wrote and directed. Peter Pan starred the tremendous Larry Lamb, George Sampson and Mike McClean – and Ben travelled to Weston to get Sleeping Beauty underway while I finished off at Derby. It was a system which worked very well.

The following year we did the same thing, writing and directing Jack and the Beanstalk with Cheryl Fergison, Mike McClean, Marcus Collins and Don McClean at Derby before hot-footing it to Weston to direct and appear in Jack and the Beanstalk with George Sampson.

In 2014 we thought we would be returning to Derby to appear but a fire closed the place down and Paul Holman managed to squeeze us into Worthing in Jack Frost with Marcus Collins, Michael G.White, Sarah Whitlock and the brilliant Richard David-Caine. We got into it so late we weren’t even on the posters but I was re-united with director Alan Cohen who, one day in rehearsals, said the immortal words – ‘the show’s a bit short – can you give me a couple more comedy routines’! You bet we could!

KS50 20 SaS - Cinderella - Worthing Pavilion - 2015-16
In 2015 we returned to Worthing as writers, directors and performers in Cinderella with Strictly Come Dancing’s Camilla Dallerup, Dancing on Ice’s Matt Evers, Boy Band A1’s Mark Read and Dean Horner & Oliver Gray as Uglies. Also in the show was Cara Dudgeon as Cinders. Camilla made a great Fairy Godmother and we wrote the Ballroom Scene as a Strictly Come Dancing spoof with Dean and Oliver as Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly, complete with judges – Ben as Bruno Tonioli, James Dangerfield as Craig Revel Horwood and me as Len Goodman. Glad to say it got a lot of laughs. We had a lot of laughs in the dressing room too which we shared with Matt and Mark.

2016 took us to the lovely Pomegranate Theatre in Chesterfield. Another Aladdin with Atomic Kittens’ Liz McClarnon and Boyband 911’s Lee Brennan. James Dangerfield was Wishee, Greg Ashton as Gladys Twankey plus Joe Connors and Michael Garland.

KS50 21 Aladdin, Chesterfield 2016-17

A jinx hit this show. Just before rehearsals started, Joe Connors pulled out because of a bereavement and Michael Garland was booked to replace him playing Abanazar. During rehearsals Christopher Howard, who was playing The Emperor, fell badly and damaged his back and had to leave the production. Aaron Spendelow, the Genie, became the Emperor and Gregory Cox, one of our dancers, took over the Genie role. Luckily Joe Connors was then able to return so he became the Emperor, so everyone returned to their proper roles. Then Lee Brennan damaged his leg badly and Gregory Cox then became Aladdin for several shows until Lee was able to return and finished up doing each performance on crutches.

All these understudies did brilliantly. But if all that wasn’t enough, the great Andy Onion, sound man at The Pomegranate, gashed his head open during the dress rehearsal and had to be rushed to hospital – but he was okay. As I said he’s a sound man!!!

Ben and I had re-written Abbot and Costello’s ‘Who’s on First Base’ (We’d done it in Weston’s Aladdin with Terry Gleed) to suit the Policemen and Wishee. The number of times I got it wrong was worrying to say the least. In Chesterfield James Dangerfield had to put up with my struggling! How Bud and Lou did so many different versions of it is beyond me. But no matter how many times I veered off what we had actually written – it still got big, big laughs!

After Chesterfield we landed in Lytham St. Annes and The Lowther Pavilion – a place I’ve fallen in love with. I love the area, the theatre and the people. We did Dick Whittington in 2017. This was the first Panto I’d ever done where we finished the same year we started! How times have changed. We were Captain and Mate, Danny Rogers (Ted’s son) was Simple Simon, Matthew Wellman played Dick, Will Nightingale was Dame, Simon Turner gave us his Alderman and the delightful Millie Hansford was Alice Fitzwarren. We also had a superb King Rat in Charles Sandford and an excellent Musical Director in Simon Goldring.

It was also fabulous to meet up with Kitty Harris who was with the ensemble from the wonderful Langley Dance School. I’d done three summer seasons with her Dad, the late Keith Harris, many years ago. Glad to say Dick Whittington was a resounding success and we followed it up in 2018 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Once again Millie Hansford was with us. Ben took on the role of Herman the Henchman and I was Muddles which made me Greg Ashton’s son!! (He was an hilarious Dame again).

KS50 22 Poster Snow White - Lowther - 2018

We had a great bunch of children as the dwarfs and the lovely Janine Pardo was the wicked Queen and Tristan Ward played The Prince and Simon Goldring was back in the pit. Another firstrate season which has led to my fiftieth Pantomime being back in Lytham St Anne’s”.

To commemorate this landmark Keith and Ben are releasing a Christmas single of their own song called ‘Pantomime’. It will be available to buy as a download late September or early October and a percentage of the profit will be going to Dementia Revolution who are desperately in need of funds to advance research to find a cure.

The Song ‘Pantomime’ will be available for download from: Spotify/Apple Music/Deezer/You Tube/Amazon/GooglePlay/iTunes etc. in October 2019.

“It really has been amazing” says Keith. “Those first two Pantos were in Bath for Frank Maddox. All the plot was in rhyming couplets and things were pretty strict backstage. I once saw Nellie Maddox (Frank’s Mother and wardrobe supervisor) slap a girl dancer round the face for sitting down in her costume! Mind you I still tend to stay standing up once I’ve got mine on!”
“I always tried to get a ‘cod dry’ into my scripts and now, writing with Ben, we still slip one in. I remember in Dick Whittington, at the Birmingham Hippodrome, Alan and I did the Haunted Bedroom scene with Jeff Holland and Ross King. I’d written that Ross and I would, at one point, lose control and have a laughing fit. Ross was the best I ever saw at doing it. So much so that the DSM put in the show report that “Mr Simmons and Mr King constantly seem to totally lose it”. I had to point out the direction in the script!”
“It’s been an incredible time reaching this landmark and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic people. I’ve done thirty-two Pantomimes with my brother Alan and this year will be my fifteenth with Ben; ten with Jeff Holland and eight with John Nettles. I’m really looking forward to this year’s Aladdin. It will be my ninth time with this subject but, for the first time I’m not one of the Boys in Blue. Ben is the Police Force and I’m Wishee Washee. It’s going to be very funny and if our record can be a hit too that will really be the icing on the Christmas Cake!”

KS50 - L - King Rat 2002.jpg

During those fifty years of Panto Keith has also found time to be King Rat, of the Grand Order of Water Rats, twice – in 2002 and 2011. He has also been a Councillor, a Trustee and Preceptor (the Father of the Order). He received their King Rats Award twice, Rat of the Year twice, and the Badge of Merit plus Bar – their highest honour. In 2014, for their 125th Birthday Celebrations, he organised an evening at Buckingham Palace in the presence of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Companion Rat HRH Prince Philip.
This was an event which saw ninety-seven Rats and their partners descend on The Palace and Keith spent his time escorting the Queen around and introducing her to all his Brother Rats. Everyone agreed it was an amazing night.

KS50 - M - with Danny - to go in the last section about the Water Rats

He was also Chairman of Acting For Others for eight years. This was part of the Combined Theatrical Charities which holds annual bucket collections at all the West End theatres – and theatres throughout the Provinces, to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

For the last thirty years he has also been a member of the Executive Committee of the Entertainment Artistes Benevolent Fund – now the Royal Variety Charity – which maintains Brinsworth House in Twickenham – a wonderful home for performers.
He ran the London Marathon in 2004 and single-handedly raised £5000 for The Rats & The Outward Bound Trust. Since being initiated into the Order (he was proposed by Danny La Rue and seconded by Joe Church) in 1987 he has organised, staged and presented over forty charity shows and functions for them.

He organised lunches to celebrate Bryn Williams, Danny La Rue, Sir John Mills and Sir Norman Wisdom and, with the help of Roz and Sharon at the CTC he organised, hosted and presented a Luncheon for Lord Richard Attenborough to celebrate his time as President of the Combined Theatrical Charities.

“Don’t get me started – this is just the tip of the iceberg. As you can imagine, the stories and anecdotes from all those stars, performers, actors, musicians, agents, managements, technicians and front & back of house staff I’ve worked with over the years, are countless, almost limitless – but I’ll leave that for the book”.

“I suppose” says Keith “reaching fifty Pantomimes is quite an achievement but, and I hope I’m not pushing my luck, you ain’t seen nothing yet”!
For information on downloading Keith & Ben’s Christmas Song “Pantomime” go to website: http://www.simmonsandsimmons.org.uk

The Song ‘Pantomime’ will be available for download from: Spotify/Apple Music/Deezer/You Tube/Amazon/GooglePlay/iTunes etc. in October 2019.

To book for Aladdin at The Lowther, Lytham St. Anne’s – go to: http://www.lowtherpavilion.co.uk
For a more in depth look at Keith’s Panto History – go to: http://www.simmonsandsimmons.org.u