Panto Pictorials & House of Hammer

This brochure from 1951 shows some of the Pantomime Posters you could order, and have printed with your production details. Double Crown Posters, Hanging Cards (usually cardboard with a hanging loop for shop doors) and flyers, also called circulars or handbills.

Brightly coloured to attract the eye, these posters, and programme covers gave the essence of the panto story in one picture. Top left you can see Ananazar is harassing Aladdin as the Genie looks on. Jack steals away from a sleeping Giant, and Bo Peep (a subject no longer performed) attends her sheep- The Babes escape from the robbers seen in the background! All instant “hits” to tell the basic story, and tempt you to book your tickets!

The Company that produced these images for Theatres was G&M Organ. Previously Alf Cooke Ltd of Leeds produced posters from the 1920’s. George Organ produced his posters from 1928 in Bristol, supplying The Hippodrome and the Royal theatres with weekly bills and annual Pantomime print. They also had printing studios in Wrington in Somerset. The company name exist today.

George and his sister Marjorie set up their theatrical printers at Webbsbrook Printing works. These brochure went to theatres to enable them to overprint dates and names as required.

They are not only eye catching, and tell a key moment in the Fairy Story, but they give us a glimpse of pantomimes that no longer exist today. In 1951 there were the pantomime subjects on offer- and subjects like “Goody Two Shows”, “Sinbad” and even “Mother Goose” are no longer seen- Goldilocks is having a revival through Michael Harrison and the Qdos pantomimes at The Palladium and eventually all around the UK, but “Jack & Jill” is no longer performed, and “Puss In Boots” hardly ever.

Possibly the “Disney” effect is one reason why these titles fell by the wayside? The popularity of Disney’s films mean that the subjects they have screened are familiar and well loved , and the “big ” sellers are “Cinderella”, “Aladdin”, “Snow White” “Sleeping Beauty” and recently a revival in “Beauty and The Beast”, popular in the 1920’s and ’30’s.

In fact “Snow White” is the baby of the Panto family- it wasn’t performed as Panto or musical before Disney brought out the film, and presented a stage version in the UK in the late 1940’s.Here’s an example of a pantomime once popular and now no longer seen. It began to fade as this pictorial was published in the 1950’s.

Another reason the panto subjects have declined might be that their stories are simply not known. No longer taught in school or read at home. My Pantomime Roadshow has toured for many years around the UK. It is panto style show telling the history and traditions of Panto, and has a Q&A session at the end. These sessions are very interesting. Over the years we’ve witnessed the fact that pupils AND teachers don’t know the story of “Dick Whittington” for example. The plot- The rats- The three times Lord Mayor- even the Cat has all but been forgotten. So too has Goody Two Shoes, Puss In Boots- hardly anyone knows the story- and Mother Goose. Disney haven’t elevated these subjects, and children don’t hear of them at bedtime.

Home grown stories are starting to be forgotten. In the Roadshow I always ask the children to name me five BRITISH fairy stories or folk tales that have become Pantomimes. Not French, (Cinderella), not German (Snow White) not Arabian (Aladdin) but British. Robin Hood (and The Babes In The Wood is one) The other?

Peter Pan, Jack & The Beanstalk, Dick Whittington and Robinson Crusoe!

Just as the part of Principal Boy has changed from the female depiction to the male “Boy”- when these pictorials were published almost every Robin Hood, or Dick Whittington, or Prince Charming would have been played by a lady- usually a popular singer and West End theatre star- so the stories have changed. Pantomimes unfamiliar do not sell as well as the well known ones. The runs have become much shorter- even in recent times the Pantomimes I did in the late 70’s and ’80’s were eight or ten weeks. The normal runs today are around three to four weeks , with a few exceptions.

Also the Pantomime subjects that relied on “Nursery Rhymes” rather than Fairy Tales were always open to interpretation. The plot of “Goody Two Shoes” is perilously thin, and “Old King Cole” (above) can be adapted to fit the variety star of the day- If he was a fiddler (like the 50’s variety star – and Winston Churchill’s son-in-law, Vic Oliver, all the better! The Bo Peeps (my friend Freddie Lees told me of the tour with “Live sheep” that created chaos every night as they wandered around the stage and chewed the scenery!) The Jack & Jills all had wafer thin stories boosted with spectacle and variety acts, and gave much needed entertainment at Christmas.

A glimpse through this brochure is a look at the Pantomimes we love, and the pantomimes we will most likely never see again. The Victorian favourite “Bluebeard”, involving a murderous man, and “The White Cat”, or “Hop O’ My Thumb” are unlikely ever to be dusted off again!

Here’s an interesting poster I discovered in the Pantomime Pictorial Brochure- Displaying Summer season shows by one Will Hammer.

Will Hammer presented these Summer Season shows around the South of England. He owned theatres and cinemas.

The Hammer name, once the Cinema connection is in place means only one thing- Will was to found the British Film’s industry iconic “HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR”

Christopher Lee as Count Dracula

Will Hammer (1887-1957) was a comedian in variety. He took his stage name from Hammersmith, where he grew up. His real name was Will Hinds. He formed a double act briefly- “Hammer & Smith” and performed in concert parties and summer shows, while speculating in business deals.

He began to own cinemas and theatres, and produced shows, some alongside business partners like the popular bandleader Jack Payne. He owned the Westcliff theatre Clacton, Theatres in Bournemouth, Felixstowe, Broadstairs and moved the shows around from one venue to another. In 1934 he saw a gap in the film making market, and set up his own company alongside partner (Enrique) James Carreras. This went into liquidation a few years later, but their offices in Regent Street began filming in studios created inside often neglected Stately homes and mansions. Useful for locations into the bargain.

Studios in Marleybone in the 1940’s produced film versions of radio hit shows- The “Dick Barton” series was one- and by 1949 new offices were opened in Wardour Street London called “HAMMER HOUSE”.

The 1950’s popularity of “Gothic” horror films meant that Hammer Films could expand. Their “repertory” actors included Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee,, Oliver Reed, Barbara Shelley, Linda Hayden, Ralph Bates and Ingrid Pitt to name but a few. Bray Studios became one of Will Hammer’s studios and from 1955 it became a by word for British Film making.

Will’s hobby led him to own Cycling shops. It was his passion. Sadly in 1957 at the age of 70 he died in a cycling accident near his home in Leatherhead. At the time his studios were at capacity and his Aqua Show “Big Splash” at Blackpool was, under his supervision, about to open.

Interesting what a poster in a brochure can reveal!

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