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The Wycombe Swan Press Launch

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Wednesday 13th September 2017

Ten years to the very day, I returned to High Wycombe for Press Day at the Swan Theatre! I know this because Facebook brought it to my attention with the very poignant picture below.

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Peter Robbins, Brian Conley Nigel Ellacott 2007

The last time I played Wycombe was “Cinderella”, as Ugly Sister, and here I am as Dame Trott with my mates from last year, Simon, Ashleigh, and Sully , joining my old mate of twenty years Chris Jarvis in “Jack & The Beanstalk”!

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Sadly earlier this year the much loved Pudsey died. A beautiful boy, he was joined last year at Northampton with Sully (or Sullivan, to give him his proper name) and we had a great show- you can read last year’s blog if you haven’t already!). I had the great joy of going to Crufts this March to watch Puds in his retirement lap of honour in the Big Arena, and see Sully go on to win in agility- he’s now represented the UK in the same skills in France this Summer.

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Ashleigh & Sully

It is not often I am gobsmacked as I enter a dressing room, but Wycombe Swan acheived that! I’d sent my costumes up overnight by courier. I arrived early to unpack only to walk in to the dressing room to discover this!

It may look like a lot of tights and Dame’s bits- but there it was- all unpacked, all beautifully laid out! How lovely- a huge Thank You to the fabulous folk who looked after us! Gloves next to rings, make up out, everything ready to go! We could open tomorrow!

we even have our very own personalised mugs- that’s a first for me! I went to show Ashleigh who had just arrived only to discover Sully had his own dog bowl from the theatre! Here he is looking very delighted!

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Adrian LeSurf from Qdos and Mike Green from The Swan looked after us all during the day- The show is produced by Jonathan Kiley. We had photographs and press interviews, along with a live stream from the launch, and a lot of fun along the way!

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Great to see Simon and Ashleigh and with Penny Butler again, and to catch up with Chris, and to find a few minutes to explore the building that has so many memories from a decade ago.

CBeebie’s Chris Jarvis & Blue’s Simon Webbe

we were told that we’d be playing a game today to camera- Bean Boozled. Sounded fine until all was revealed. In pairs we spin a wheel to reveal a choice of magic beans- Jelly Beans. Both the same colour. One nice, one not nice. The winner was the one who didn’t end of spitting out the offending bean. Perfect for a Wednesday up Wycombe.

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Choices could be “Lime or Grass Cuttings”, or Apricot of Tinned Dog Food”, or “Apple or Smelly Socks”. Smelly socks was the worst. Believe me! Ashleigh won, with Dame Trott second! Sorry Guys, it was a ladies winning combo! Here’s Chris and I in our episode of Beanboozled!

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We had a great day, were all looked after just magnificently, and did a fair amount of press before heading back home. Looking forward to a second year with Simon and Ashleigh, and to my first with Chris, and to meeting the rest of the “Jack & The Beanstalk” gang in rehearsals which start on November 27th. Before that I’m off with Andrew Ryan and Grant Alvarez once again with the Autumn tour of The Pantomime Roadshow- visiting East London, Redbridge, Newham, Weymouth, Basingstoke and Llandudno.

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Oh and the small matter of completing the costumes for this year’s Kenneth More Theatre’s “Peter Pan”- fittings throughout October! I’ve designed some pretty fun costumes for resident Dame Marc Seymour once again!

Until November, Goodbye Wycombe- and Thanks to Adrian & Mike and all the staff for a great welcome!

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Some Facebook videos from the launch

Beanboozle Challenge – Ashleigh and Simon

Ashleigh and Sully

Simon practicing his climbing

Nigel and Chris having a natter

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The Nottingham Press Launch

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Wednesday 13th September 2017

Panto Press day today in Nottingham for the Qdos “Beauty & The Beast” launch. The Group bookers invited to attend a reception at the Theatre Royal with producer Jonathan Kiley unveiling the most recent addition to the repertoire, welcomed by Jonathan Saville.

Beauty and The Beast has not been done as a pantomime that often, and with the recent interest in the Disney Live Action film, and popularity of the earlier cartoon, this “Tale as Old As Time”- well, 350 years or so, is getting a very welcome airing at Nottingham.

Also getting an airing today were Sherrie Hewson’s Knickers!

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Not so much a Panto Unveiling but a Panty unveiling! 

Miss Hewson felt the need to share her vibrant knickers with the group bookers much to the amusement of all and sundry, including Jonathan Kiley (left) and the cast! It’s obviously a Benidorm friendly greeting I imagine!

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Sherrie stars as Mrs Potty the Housekeeper, alongside Ben Richards- Ben has made appearances in many TV productions from The Bill to Footballers Wives and Hollyoaks, with West End appearances including “Priscilla” and “The Bodyguard”.

Sherrie needs no introduction- I’ve had the fun of being in two recent pantomimes with her, and this year her Grand Dame is Andrew Ryan, who also directs!

From Loose Women, a reboot of “Are You Being Served” and of course over ten years of “Benidorm”, Sherrie has appeared in almost every “soap” from “Corrie” through to “Emmerdale”, to”Crossroads” and back again!

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Ben Nickless & Andrew Ryan

Both Andrew and Ben are firm favourites at The Theatre Royal. Andrew frequently appears in the Summer Rep seasons for the Theatre Royal’s “Thriller Seasons”, and this will be his fourth panto there. It is also Ben’s Fourth. Both Andrew and Ben worked together with Lesley Joseph and Sam Attwater in “Snow White” at the Theatre Royal three years ago.

Last year Ben was in Plymouth Theatre Royal with Lesley Joseph, and Andrew was at The Hippodrome Birmingham with John Barrowman and The Krankies.

This year will be Andrew’s Thirty-First Pantomime Season, and his Twenty-Seventh as Dame!

The Launch at Newstead Abbey and The Theatre Royal, Nottingham

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The Press day involved the cast doing interviews for Notts TV and ITV, and interviews with BBc Radio and the newspapers. A TV trailer was filmed at Newstead Abbey standing in for the Beast’s Castle, and a trailer for the very popular “Relaxed Performances” that will be held at the Theatre on Wednesday 10th January 2018.

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Facebook Launch Video

AUDREY MAYE

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Audrey Maye, held in the highest esteem by all who were lucky enough to work with her, and her late husband Len Howe, passed away today.

She and Len played pantomimes and Summer Seasons together both in this country and in the 1950’s they played Australia and New Zealand amongst other long seasons.She and Len married in 1949.

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Their act was a joyful mixture of patter, singing, mime, and dance, with Len’s “drunk Act” always in great demand.

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Observing a professional Stage Drunk was in Audrey’s blood!  Her Mother, the actress May Warden appeared in the 1963 classic short  “Dinner For One” with Freddie Frinton. It is still, to this day shown every New Year’s Eve throughout Germany, where it is revered as a cult classic comedy.Audrey appeared in a documentary film, alongside Len discussing “Dinner For One” with Freddie Frinton’s widow, Nora in 2003.

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Audrey performed “Dinner For One” opposite Freddie Frinton before her Mother. Presented by Robert Luff in 1954/55 at The Jersey Opera House for Edward Kent’s “Starlight Rendevous”.

Freddie wanted Audrey to tour with him in this Sketch, but her double act with Len and family commitments meant she was unable to join him. She suggested her Mother, who appeared in the sketch at Blackpool Opera House and on tour before it was filmed.

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Audrey’s Father was the Actor and Director Sylvester Stuart, and She and Len created a theatrical dynasty that continues in their sons and grand-daughter in plays, musicals and in Pantomime.

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In 1973 Audrey was made Queen Ratling in the Grand Order Of Lady Ratlings, and became a Dame of that order. She and Len received the Lifetime Achievement award from the British Music Hall Society.

Len Howe passed away in October 2013.

Audrey helped to run “Roswyn House”, owned by the Grand Order Of Lady Ratlings. Sharon Maxim wrote to tell us:

So many people worked with Audrey and she was loved by all who knew her. Such a generosity of spirit and wonderful sense of humour. We in the Lady Ratlings honoured her with our highest award, a Dameship, but her pride and joy was the house given to the Ratlings by Sir Billy Butlin in 1965 which Audrey helped to run for over 50 years, such was her dedication. Those of us that worked alongside her at Roswyn can’t even begin to imagine the place without her, Thank you for this lovely tribute to her, her parents, Len and all the Howe boys and family. The Roswyn Gals at http://www.roswynhouse.co.uk

Here is a message from the website of roswyn house:

We were all shocked and saddened on 3rd Sept to hear the news that our wonderful
Dame PQ Audrey Maye had finally passed away after a long illness.
She was ‘ROSWYN’ and she loved this house and the fact that it had been so generously given to the Ratlings back in 1965 by Sir Billy Butlin. She fought hard over the years to help keep it going and would proudly show any new members round and let them know that:
‘It was a safe haven for any Ratling to live in if they ever needed to’
She had been a member of the GOLR for over 60 years and had appeared in many of the Ratlings’ cabarets, and in 2009 received the highest honour given by the members of the GOLR, she became a Dame of our Order – it was so very well deserved and she loved being ‘our Dame’.
Back in 2015, Audrey said that Roswyn was the Jewel in the Crown of the GOLR, and she was right, but we say that our Audrey is it’s heart and the heart of the GOLR, and she always will be.
She was the most loving, kind and truthful human being with an incredible generosity of spirit,
a wonderful sense of humour and a zest for life.
She will be missed more than words can say, but she will ALWAYS be remembered in the
Lady Ratings and especially at Roswyn.
In 2018, we intend to hold a special event at Roswyn in her memory, a day full
of love and laughter which sums up Audrey completely.
God Bless our Aud, forever in our hearts. Love From Your Roswyn Gals xxxx

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Paul Holman wrote to IBY today with these memories:

Just to say dear Audrey passed away this afternoon.

So many pantomimes. One of the first was with Bunny Baron at Theatre Royal Norwich in Mrs Russell’s ( I think) Red Riding Hood.
Then directed many for Bunny Baron and her and husband Len Howe were ugly sisters in the first pantomime at Fulcrum Slough starring Ian Lavender as Buttons.
Audrey also directed several pantomimes at Lewisham. I saw her play dame at Hastings followed by several seasons at Weston.
Audrey directed and appeared in pantomimes for PHA (Paul Holman Associates) including Jack & The Beanstalk at Hereford , as funny fairy and The witch in Wizard of Oz at Sutton.

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Audrey, Len and Simon at Lowestoft “Aladdin” courtesy of the Lowestoft Journal.
Her husband Len who died a few years ago was a celebrated panto dame and comedian. With him she performed a double act which played in India and Australia and all over this country. Topping in Isummer shows, Lowestoft Llandudno Scarborough Felixstowe and Plymouth Folkestone and Bridlington

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Simon Howe with Brother Michael in “Peter Pan”

Her three sons all played in pantomime Michael, David and Simon who is dame for us.
Her grand daughter Mollie played fairy for PHA last Christmas in Lowestoft one of Audrey’s favourite towns.

An Absolutely Fabulous Day!

 

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L to R: Dean Caston, Debbie Hudd, Adam Borzone, Jan Hunt, Roy Hudd, Dame June Whitfield, Wyn Calvin, Edward Thomas

A Crackerjack of a day! The British Music Hall Society’s Summer Tea with Jan Hunt and Dame June Whitfield!

Finally, after so many years we can finally say welcome Dame June! In her own words when she received the OBE she called it “Old But Energetic”, and upon receiving the CBE she named it “Caught Before Expiry”- she is now musing what to call the DBE she will be collecting from Buckingham Palace later this year. I’d say “Dutifully Brilliantly Earned!”

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The event- talks by both doyens of comedy and pantomime, and an afternoon tea at the Royal Lancaster Hotel were organised by the BMHS, and it was a sold out full house affair!

Not only was there one Dame in the room but I counted a further six- Pantomime Dames that is- Roy Hudd OBE (President of the BHMS), Wyn Calvin MBE (Vice President of BHMS) along with Adam Borzone (Chairman), Simon Bashford, Andrew Ryan and my good self!

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Half of the Dames in the room! Andrew Ryan, Simon Bashford and yours truly!

Jan Hunt was the first speaker, in conversation with Dean Caston, and she spoke about her days as a juvenile in Panto, performing as a double act “Jan & Kelly” in the UK and Australia, and about her West End Musicals, including “Showboat”, Plays like “A Bedful of Foreigners” and “Run For Your Wife”, as well as a year in “The Mousetrap”.

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Jan told tales of terrible digs and dreadful gigs as well as the truimphs of BBC’s “Crackerjack”, and her career in Music Hall, both as performer and producer. Jan told us about The Players Theatre, appearances on BBC’s “The Good Old Days” and her love of Music Hall.

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Crackerjack with Peter Glaze & Don Mclean

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In Music Hall Mode

She spoke about her recent productions, bring “Sit Coms” onto the stage with succesful tours of “Dinner Ladies”, “Rising Damp” and the hugely successful “Birds Of A Feather” tours .

She told Dean about her panto career, something I am very proud to have been involved in for about six or so pantomimes with Jan as my Prince Charming from Aberdeen to Wimbledon!

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Two pictures from my scrapbook. Early Pantos with Jan and Fern Britton top, and us all at Croydon, alongside June Brown, Windsor Davies, the late Ed Stewpot Stewart,Andrew O’Connor, Amanda Bairstow and Cheryl Taylor with Peter & me.

Jan concluded her talk with a number dear to her heart- “How’d you like to Spoon With Me”? which she sang in “Showboat at the Adelphi alongside Cleo Lane, and sings to this day in her Music Halls, accompanying herself on the spoons! We all got to join in!

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Accompanying her on piano was Laurence Payne, who led Roy and Wyn in aMusic Hall Sing-A-Long before Roy Introduced the Absolutely Fabulous June Whitfield.

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Photograph Jenny Goodall courtesy of The Daily Mail

Afternoon tea, and more piano from Laurence Payne, and trhe rest of the afternoon in the company of a lady who is our longest serving comedy actress- Seven Decades of laughter, perfectly timed and delivered.

Roy Hudd once said that June has supported and fed so many of the top comedians that she is “The Comics’ Tart!” Her Comedy sparring partners have included Terry Scott, Frankie Howerd, Tony Hancock, Jimmy Edwards and Ronnie Barker to name just a few!

When I first worked with June in Pantomime we left our doors open in Wimbledon so we could pop in and chat, drink tea, and allow access to June’s dog “Rabbit”, who had originally belonged to Jimmy Edwards. Now I leave my door open to allow access to Sullivan, who will be joining our Panto company this year.

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June’s distinctive “Ohhh Ron” catchphrase from “The Glums” is apparently included in The Queen’s repertoire of impressions. Perhaps June will hear this for herself when she collects her DBE this year!

The above “Love From Judy” was an early West End success for June, who had not long left the RADA. The second name on the cast list didn’t do too badly either- little Barbara Deeks “carried On” until she became landlady of The Queen Vic!

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Wimbledon “Cinderella”- incidentally Jan Hunt took over certain performances as Fairy Godmother from June when we did this panto, as June was still filming “Absolutely Fabulous”, so I got to work with both ladies in one show!

June was in conversation with Edward Thomas, and talked about her life in radio, television and films. She recalled The “Terry & June” years, the tours abroad and the “Carry On Films”- four of them.

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In Pantomime she began with Wilfrid Pickles at The Alhambra Bradford, having worked with him in a play in the West End. I have the programme in the IBY collection.

June is on the top right, with Pickles in the centre.

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June recalled her times in the “Coward Family” when she appreared in “Ace Of Clubs” for “The Master”, Noel Coward, and in other reviews, and recalled the great cabaret seasons at the Cafe Royal . She and Roy had a discussion mid way through her talk- recalling her “audition” for the News Huddlines while appearing in Panto with Roy. She did one Thatcher impression during the kitchen scene and never looked back!

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The time flew, and decades of Dame June were still unexplored. This is the second time I’ve enjoyed a June Whitfield talk- the first time was at the Film Museum in South London. I also enjoyed “between shows “chats in panto when we both went through the book “Funny Way To Be A Hero” by John Fisher. June has worked with almost all the comedians in it!

A really great way to spend an afternoon with two fabulous theatrical ladies and a room packed with people who above all Strive to keep Music Hall Alive!

If anyone is interested in finding out more about the BMHS and their programme of events, look at http://www.britishmusichallsociety.com

 

 

Pirates Of The Pavilion

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Summer Panto sails into the Pavilion Theatre Weymouth once again this year.

Wednesday 26th July to Tuesday 29th August 2017

Pirates Of The Pavilion plays July through August on Mondays and Tuesdays, twice daily, written and presented by Lee Redwood and Made To Measure Productions- the company that presented last season’s “Jack & The Beanstalk” at The Pavilion.

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The show features Liam Mellor, Lee Redwood, Charlotte Allen, and Robert Squire, with stunning effects provided by THE TWINS FX.

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Charlotte Allen and Liam Mellor

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Tickes can be found at The Pavilion Theatre Box Office- The Esplanade, Weymouth, Dorset, DT4 8ED : Box Office: 01305 783225

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Weymouth’s  favourite Dame- Lee Redwood as Demonia The Sea Witch

 

An Ancient Curiosity!

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Reminded this week of an old gag- Old Mother Riley asking Daughter Kitty where she has been. Kitty replies “I went to a museum, Mother, to see an ancient curiosity”

“An Ancient Curiosity? An Ancient Curiosity? Why didn’t you come home and see your Mother?”

Well, we finally made it into a museum this week- Peter Robbins and I – when Catherine Haill, and Assistant Curator Alex Clayton came to take us away! The museum in question is The Victoria & Albert Museum, Department of Theatre and Performance, and hopefully one day we will get an airing, and make a display of ourselves!

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Catherine Haill & Nigel, with Peter & Nigel photobombing!

The story started many years ago when Catherine asked Peter and I if we would consider donating a costume or two to the museum. Catherine especially liked our ballgowns. We were being filmed by the V&A for their pantomime archive at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

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The Ballroom wigs- created by Kevin Powling and Geraldine Westley : “Wigart”.

At the time we were unable to hand over our Ballroom frocks, as there were many ballroom stairs to descend and slippers to be retrieved. This year I decided it would be the time to gift these two costumes and wigs, along with crinolines and plumes. I thought it would be nice for a little bit of Robbins & Ellacott to be kept somewhere for posterity- I can almost here Peter saying “You’re not keeping ME in any old Posterior!

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Our final panto together at Nottingham Theatre Royal. (2009) With the lovely Dawson Chance.

These gorgeous costumes were made by Margaret Brice for Peter & I to my designs. Margaret was resident maker at the Kenneth More Theatre for over twenty-one years, and before that was at Berman & Nathans creating costumes for film and TV.

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Margaret Brice’s costume for Nigel. Circa 2000

Margaret already has some of her workmanship at the V&A. She worked on the Cecil Beaton “My Fair Lady” among many projects stored in their archive.

It was lovely to see Catherine again, along with Alex, and also a sad day in some ways. The ballroom wig has been with me (the wig part replaced several times) since about 1983. It started off life as a flower pot turned into a Champagne bucket! Kevin cleverly sorted out the “firing mechanism” that made every ballroom “Go with a bang!”

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Peter at Nottingham 2008-09

The costumes have historical connections- The plumes and appliques on mine started life at The Folies Bergere in the ’50’s, were sold to Holiday On Ice International and then to me. The crinolines date back to The Royal Opera House in the 1940’s. I’ve looked after these bits of costume for many years, and now the V&A is going to look after them for a very long time into the future. I hope there will be panto still going in that far off future of flying cars and day trips to the Moon!

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My Ballroom, showing the appliques from The Folies Bergere.

Sad to see them go, but very happy and proud that a little bit of Peter & I get to stay together- and who knows, they may well spark a bit of attention now and again if they go on display! We all love a bit of attention!

“You know what dear? I’m SO beautiful, I look just like an Oil Painting”

“I’ve thought that too dear”

“Really?”

“yes. You’re old,and cracked, and ought to be hung. In a museum!”

Farewell frocks. We’ve had a ball!

 

 

JOHN SPILLERS a tribute from David Lee

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Lisa, John and Kay

David Lee writes:

Can it be that we shall no longer experience the fun, smiles and laughter my dearest friend always generated whenever one was in his company? As I am sure it will be the same for all who knew this genial and fun-loving Gentleman of the Theatre, it is with deepest sadness that I came to the realisation yesterday of his passing.

I first met John when I auditioned for a summer season in the days when there were no holiday villages, centres or entertainment resorts, they were called Holiday Camps! I’d answered an advert in The Stage for Brown Coats for Morecambe Bay Holiday Camp and Entertainment Manager Johnny Spillers Esq. For any artist who has ever auditioned for John they’ll know this can be quite an experience! He had me singing song after song for about thirty minutes until I said, “Have I got the job?” “Course you have”, came the immediate response, “I just can’t believe someone so young knows so many (Expletive!) old songs”. Little did we know in 1970 that our friendship would last almost fifty years, he truly was like the older brother I never had.

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As with many Panto Producers John was a performer first and producing came later. He learnt most of his trade in what he affectionately referred to as the ‘Rubber-Dubs’ (Working Men’s Clubs) cabaret and of course holiday camps, starting out in Kent and later Morecambe and Golden Sands in Great Yarmouth. His pantomime debut was playing Friar Tuck opposite Hit Parade Legend Craig Douglas who was starring as Robin Hood in Peterborough for the late great Jerry Jerome. That’s when he fell in love with the genre.

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For those who never saw John perform, well you really did miss out. He was a superb comedian but more than this he was a master at working an audience, always very funny, a fantastic ad libber and impressionist. Only John could get a standing ovation for calling the Bingo! Yes I did say calling the bingo, for he turned what is a chore for most holiday camp entertainers into an entertainment experience! It might have been a holiday camp but he presented five variety shows in the camp’s theatre each week with star guests on Sundays who were invariably appearing in Blackpool for the summer. There was also a straight play and a farce! I learnt more about the business, it’s rules, traditions, policies and comedy timing in three months for John that season than if I’d had a scholarship to a top theatre school for three years.

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John persuaded the recently departed Impresario Duggie Chapman to book me for Southport with him and Tommy Trafford as Uglies. They were great days no-one got rehearsal pay then by the way! The cast camaraderie was fabulous, after the show the entire company would go to a bar and the entertainment continued with sing-alongs and the telling of wonderful theatrical stories of the greats of the past like Miller, Randle, Formby and Clitheroe etc. We then went on to appear in two more pantomimes together as Chinese Policemen in Southport and Bury St Edmunds.

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By the late 1970’s John had decided to make a career change and was Entertainment Manager for the Maidstone Borough Council running the 388 seat Hazlitt Theatre when he asked me if I’d be interested in being his Assistant? I held the position for three years and over that time Pantoni Productions was created when he and I produced the Hazlitt’s six-week pantomime. I left to run Pantoni commercially and John stayed until retiring, then becoming a commercial pantomime producer himself, and as they say… the rest is history. Spillers Pantomimes is a true family-run business, his lovely wife Kay and family always the most precious aspects of his life have been an integral part of the successes of the company he was so proud to head. Spillers Pantomimes continues to provide excellent ‘Family’ entertainment for countless hundreds of thousands of people continuing I’m sure John’s legacy and his diligence in setting many a young theatrical hopeful on the road to a successful career.

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One reads the cliché’s so often; he was a legend, a gentleman, a true showman, a very funny man etc, and although all that is true, if I may I’d close with the immortal words of the one and only Max Miller – “There’ll never be another!”

R.I.P. Sergeant Ping – Love You Mate – PC Pong (aka David Lee)

 

Facebook has had some tributes to Johnny Spillers: Here is one from Father and Son, Rusty Goffe and Ben Gambrill:

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