Ken Gibson passed away at Brindsworth House, the performers retirement home on 25th February 2014.
Ken was a popular comic actor and Pantomime Dame.
Last year a short film was commissioned- Variety of Memories was a 30-minute documentary presented by Roy Hudd that was given access to retired entertainers’ home Brinsworth House in Twickenham and included interviews with residents including Kenny Gibson, and Teddy Johnson and his wife, Pearl Carr.
Daniel Hutchings directed the documentary, which was screened on September 18 at the Cornerhouse in Manchester, and later at Wilton’s Music Hall. It was shown there as part of the 50th anniversary of the British Music Hall Society, which took place on September 20 to 22..
Ken Gibson began his love affair with theatre as a “Lime Boy” at the Ritz Theatre, Irvine in Ayeshire in his native Scotland. The term may now be forgotten, but to be “In the limelight” is still used, and Ken was the lad who handled the lime that was used in place of today’s “Follow Spot”.
Later he moved on to appearing in sketches at the Ritz, supporting visiting Scots comics like George Mack, Billy Rusk, Dennison & Niblock and Johnny Victory.
He was on the bill with “The Four Ramblers”, one of the members being Val Doonican.
Kenny came from a theatrical family. His Mother worked with Wilson, Kepple & Betty, and they moved to London. He claimed his Dame character owed a lot to his Mother.
Talking to a newspaper in 1996 he said: “My Mum was a larger- than-life character – so am I once I’m in costume. “I have been playing dames for 22 years, but my act is constantly changing. “I get ideas for mannerisms by watching women talk on buses and in shops.”
In his native Scotland he worked the last of the “Music Halls” and Variety houses that remained, including the Gaiety Leith, The Palladium in Edinburgh, the Palace Dundee and the Tivoli in Aberdeen.
He found work as a comic actor in the South and joined a very successful Summer Season in 1968. He appeared on Bournemouth Pier in “My Favourite Family” as Archie with Richard Hearne (“Mr Pastry” starring) and Barry Howard.
Freddie Frinton was the original lead, but suffered a heart attack early on and was replaced by Richard Hearne. Ken Platt later took over the role.
In 1969 Bernard Delfont toured this comedy with Sid James taking the lead on tour. Ken remained with the show. Barry Howard left and John Inman joined the cast. The following year in 1970 the same cast appeared at Great Yarmouth “Windmill”, the show was now called “Wedding Fever”.
From the time he worked in London and the South Ken appeared regularly in cabaret and as a comedy female Impersonator in clubs and theatres around the UK. Every week his call sheet had him in Nottingham, or Glasgow or Southampton appearing in pubs, clubs and on the popular “Drag” circuit of the 1970’s.
He often worked with Billy Wells, Tommy Osbourne, Phil Starr and Nicky Young in the club circuit.
Ken appeared in pantomimes often in the late 1960’s and played his first Dame around 1974. He played Dame with Roy Castle in Blackpool, with Johnny Hackett at Stockton-On-Tees, and several other Dame roles.
In 1976 he played Horsham in Cinderella as Ugly Sister with Michael Mills for Albermarle’s Basil Critchley, And the same panto at Southborough Victoria Halls the following year.(1977)
In 1978 Ken rejoined “Cinderella” for Albermarle as Ugly Sister with Nicky Douglas for Basil Critchley at Maidstone – its first professional pantomime . The manager of the theatre was John Spillers.
He Played Widow Twankey there in “Aladdin” afterwards.and in 1982 played Mother Goose at the Hazlitt Theatre Maidstone This was to be the first of many pantomime appearances at this venue.
In 1989 Ken appeared at Liverpool for Albermarle’s “Snow White” with Dana. Ken played Dame Doughnut. The Panto transferred the following year to the Theatre Royal Nottingham, with Dana, Bobby Bennett and Su Douglas as The Wicked Queen.
Ken continued to play cabaret and pantomime. In 1992 he was in Snow White at The Palace Manchester with Dana and Jimmy Cricket., and in 1993 Snow White with Dana & Andrew O’Connor at The Bristol Hippodrome.
In 1993 Ken made an appearance at the original Brick Lane Music Hall. Vincent Hayes recalls that the show was called “We’re No Ladies”, and featured Ken, Phil Starr, Tommy Osbourne, Dockyard Doris and Nicky Young. A show guaranteed to bring the house down!
The Stage Newspaper reported this Homage to ENSA: It seemed to capture the atmosphere of a 1940’s Camp Entertainment to a “T”!
In 1994 Ken Gibson appeared at Swindon in Dick Whittington with Jimmy Cricket, Gordon & Bunny Jay, Damian Williams, as King Rat. Ken played the cook, Bertha Bagwash!
At the Derngate, Northampton in 2001 Ken once again appeared in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The “Stage” newspaper reported:
Last year’s box office record could well be smashed again with this latest professional panto from Jim Davidson’s production stable. Another classy show is promised with a cast headed by former EastEnders star Anita Dobson as the Wicked Queen. The title role is played by Danielle Nicholls, the popular children’s ITV children’s presenter and co-host of Channel Five’s Night Fever.
The team of seven real dwarfs is led by Kenny Baker, star of such films as Amadeus, The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Mona Lisa but best known as the robot R2D2 in the cult Star Wars film series.
Dame Donut is played by panto veteran Kenny Gibson, whose TV credits include EastEnders, The Bill, Casualty and Poirot. Wise-cracking comic Barnaby plays Muddles, with West End and film star Tim Churchill as Prince Danilo and David Redgrave as Jason.
He was a much loved performer and Pantomime Dame.
This is a most enjoyable article that captures Kenny’s far ranging career and his involvement in show business. There was so much to Kenny that a hundred articles would not do him justice!!! I knew Kenny as his neighbour when I came to live in Preston House on the Old Kent Road in 1984. Kenny was already a long-term resident and we became friends and had lots of coffee and teatime chats about so many things. We remained friends after he moved down the road to Caroline Gardens. Then in 2010 I moved to New York. We lost contact and in the summer of 2012 I phoned the Concert Artists Association who told me he was in Brinsworth House. I phoned him up several times and we had lovely but short chats. Then after Hurricane Sandy, which devastated my home, and its aftermath I lost contact with so many people. This morning I was thinking so strongly of Kenny that I phoned Brinsworth House only to learn he had died earlier this year. I saw Kenny in Aladdin at Stirling among other things. Thank you for this article which has awakened many happy memories.