Dick Whittington seems to be having a bit of a revival recently, having dropped in popularity over the past decade.
Here is a Dick Whittington I wish I had seen. Back in the 1950′s the prestigious Bristol Old Vic had seasons of plays and each year finished with a pantomime. Everyone in the Rep Company appeared in the annual Pantomime. Two pantomimes from the Bristol Old Vic must surely have the most prestigious cast list in Pantoland. The “Dick Whittington” from 1955 had international film stars and household television names of the future disguised as Dames, Principal Boys and Cats!
These established classical actors and actresses excelled in Shakespeare, Shaw and Checkov here at the Old Vic, and some were established Royal Shakespeare Players and film stars from the 1930’s- but here in pantoland they combined to make up the most impressive Panto Bills of the era.
The Poshest Dick Whittington!
The Theatre Royal Bristol possibly produced the poshest pantomimes in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s! Here is their “Dick Whittington” from 1956 which ran into February. To be fair the Bristol Old Vic was a very prestigious Rep, and the actors were already at the top of their repertory profession- but stardom in some cases was yet to follow “Cross Cast” through the season, they appeared in plays which could range from Shakespeare to Ibsen or Checkov, and the panto also utilised the pupils of the Old Vic School.
This cast is quite something!
Sally and Britannia was played by Phyllida Law– later to become Emma Thompson’s Mum, and married to Eric “The Magic Roundabout” Thompson. She has appeared on stage and in films including “Peter’s Friends”, “Cage Aux Folles” in the West End, “Anna Karenina”, “Much Ado”, “Dr Who”.. the list is endless.
Peter O’Toole, who died last December, played Alderman and doubled as Mate in this “Dick Whittington”. This of course was before his International film career started three years after this show. Already a highly acclaimed Shakespearian actor here at the Bristol Old Vic he went on to star in “Lawrence Of Arabia, “, “Goodbye Mr Chips”, “The Ruling Classes”, and “The Lion In Winter” among many films. The most nominated actor by the Oscars, he married Sian Phillips and holds the reputation for one of Hollywood’s greatest hell raisers!
Eric Porter who played the Dame- Cicely Suet became famous on Television screens as Soames Forsyte in “The Forsyte Saga” watched by millions of viewers each week in the mid 1960’s. He won a Bafta for this role. He appeared in major Shakespearian productions on stage and screen, often with Derek Jacobi, and played Moriarty in the Granada Television series Sherlock Holmes.
Eric Porter- with Nyree Dawn Porter and Kenneth More in “The Forsyte Saga”
Edward Hardwicke who played Simon and a Warden in this pantomime was born the son of Hollywood Actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke. He was well known as Dr Watson in the Granada Series of “Sherlock Holmes”and began his career in films as a child actor with Spencer Tracey in Hollywood. A member of Olivier’s National Theatre he starred in films such as “Day Of The Jackal” , “Shadowlands”, “Love Actually” and dozens more.
Alan Dobie who played the Cat has enjoyed a 50 year career of over 117 productions. On television he starred as Inspector Cribb in his own series, and “The Plane Makers” for a year on our screens. Films include “War & Peace” and “The Charge Of The Light Brigade”, and starring roles at the Old Vic and the Royal Court. He was married to Rachel Roberts at this time- Rachel was to become a major film star and live in Hollywood .
John Cairney who played Marmaduke and doubled as Sultan of Morocco has appeared in several major films including “Cleopatra” in 1963, “Jason & The Argonauts” and “A Night To Remember”, as well as a career in theatre and television that continued through into the 1990’s.
Betty Huntley-Wright played Dick Whittington. She had already appeared in several films in the 1930’s before her Rep season here. She had played Principal Boy in 1934, 1939 and 1942. She later went on to play cameo roles in “Carry On Loving” in 1970 as well as Steptoe & Son and “FawltyTowers”!
Lally Bowers played Fairy Snowflake and worked for every major Rep theatre in Britain including The Royal Shakespeare Company and appeared in sit coms during the 1970’s including “A Fine Romance”.
Derek Godfrey, stalwart of the Royal Shakespeare Company appeared in the film “The Ruling Class” before creating a niche in television through the 1960’s and ‘70’s- The Pallisers, Churchill’s People and Nicholas Nickelby
All in all a star studded bill in the making!
The Poshest Sleeping Beauty!
The 1956-1957 “Sleeping Beauty” pantomime at the Bristol Old Vic saw Phyllida Law appearing alongside Eric Thompson. They were Queen of Pantomania and Groom respectively . I’m sure Emma and Sophie Thompson are pleased about that! Their parents married that year!
Eric became iconic as the narrator of BBC’s “Magic Roundabout” between 1965 and 1977. Phyllida appeared in countless productions, Sophie was killed off in Eastenders, and Emma reigns in Hollywood! A good panto all round really!
As in the previous year the Shakespearean stars destined for Hollywood and Stardom on small and large screens were Peter O’Toole and Alan Dobie , this time joined by an actress respected in every medium she worked in- Rachel Roberts. She played Principal Boy “Prince Florizel” in this pantomime.
Rachel Roberts was the star of “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” which won her a British Academy Award three years after this panto, and “This Sporting Life”in 1963 earning another award and an Oscar nomination.
Her films included the Australian “Picnic at Hanging Rock” as Governess, “O Lucky Man!”,”Murder On The Orient Express”, and when living in Hollywood she received Best Supporting Actress Bafta for “Yanks” in 1979.
She was already married to Alan Dobie who played Fairy Bluebottle in this pantomime, they married the previous year, and after their divorce she married Rex Harrison. Sadly Rachel Roberts died in Hollywood in 1980.
The Dame, Miss Clutterbuck was played by Irish Shakespearean Actor- Joseph O’Conor. Aged forty here at the Old Vic he had just appeared in prestigious Bernard Shaw plays, and had already played Hamlet topposite Sir Donald Wolfit.
Known to millions as Old Jolyon in Television’s “The Forsyte Saga” series, he made several major films including “The Black Windmill”, and playing Mr Brownlow in the 1968 Film “Oliver!”. He also appeared in “The Dark Crystal”.
Michael Meacham as King Of Pantomania appeared in the film “Lancelot & Guinevere” and literally hundreds of television appearances for over twenty five years.
Wendy Williams as Princess appeared in television dramas throughout her career- these included “The Pallisers”, “Poldark”, “Angels”, “Dr.Who”, “Z Cars”, and “Tenko”.