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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

It's panto time!

It’s panto time! Oh no, it’s not! Oh yes, it is! Well... sort of. I read that there are a number of socially distanced pantomimes being performed this year, which is something for panto fans to enjoy, at least.


I was reminded of my own pantomime memories recently when the death of Des O’Connor was announced. We saw him in panto in Birmingham a couple of times in the 1960s, playing Buttons in Cinderella. I remember him regularly getting the giggles - always guaranteed to make me laugh!


For my grandparents, who earned their living on the stage, pantomimes would have been an important part of their year. My grandfather, Herbert Colley, aka Ken Barton (below left), regularly played the pantomime dame and although my Gran, Winifred Griffiths, had started her career as an opera singer, she’d soon released she could earn more in the world of the repertory theatre.



Once the summer season ended, finding a role in a pantomime was key, as the advert below demonstrates, from The Stage, in1927.



Here she is below with the act she mentions in the above announcement - Jack Audley's Varieties. This photograph was taken in 1923, the first year she performed with them, and the year she went freelance after leaving the Carl Rosa Opera Company.


Winifred is second from the left

I have several pantomime photos of my gran, including this one below left. "Fairy Queen in panto", it says on the back in my gran’s handwriting.


The most impressive picture I have is a newspaper cutting my gran had kept (below right), of a performance of Babes in the Wood, in Birkenhead, in 1927.




This photo on the right may also be from a panto. It has no date or information on the back but it could be her in the role of Principal Boy (as was common in those days). Babes in the Wood, perhaps? Robin Hood?


I scour the British Newspaper Archives now and again in the hope of finding another gem like the Birkenhead photograph, as I use newspaper reviews from across the country to build a timeline - and "location line" - of her theatre career.


It must have been a very hectic life, moving from town to town and living in digs for the duration of a production.


I wonder if she minded? If only I'd asked her while I had the chance!


 


9 Comments


David Charles Manners
David Charles Manners
Jan 21

Hello Wendy, I'm interested in your grandfather 'Herbert Colley' as he was playing the Ugly Sister in Agnes Siddons' 'Cinderella' , 1899-1900. He and Grace Paulton, pianist, were advertising the fact in The Stage (Feb 1900). By any small chance, might you have come across pictures related to this production or company?

The family of Agnes Siddons (real name Agnes Palmer nee Blake) are part of my own history and I am keen to trace their photos, none of which I have yet found.

With many thanks for your fascinating blog,

David

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David Charles Manners
David Charles Manners
Jan 21
Replying to

Thanks for this, Wendy. All very interesting. I'd be delighted to hear if you should come across any pictures related to the theatre company of Agnes or Ernest Siddons.

All my best for your own research,

David

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Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Dec 14, 2020

Ah yes, Heidi, it will be a shame to miss out on those Christmas traditions this year, like seeing the primary school (elementary school to you!) nativity which always make me chuckle. As a former teacher, I remember the stress of putting on such a performance with a class of excitable six-year-olds. It’s a lot easier to see the funny side of all the little glitches when watching someone else’s production! 😂

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Heidi Beckley
Heidi Beckley
Dec 13, 2020

Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun! It's definitely British. ;-) To us, pantomime is a skit that is only acted out without speaking. This seems much more fun and entertaining! I hope that you are able to see a socially distant one as I'm sure that the season won't be the same without it. I'm bummed as I'm sure that our annual visit to my sister's church for their Christmas Eve pageant won't be happening this year. My niece was in it for a bunch of years starting when she was about 4 or 5 as a little angel and until she old enough to be Mary, which was, of course, so much fun to watch. …

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Wendy Percival
Wendy Percival
Dec 13, 2020

Yes, I know what you mean, Heidi. It’s a shame how we take our older relatives for granted when we’re younger. Most of us only realise too late how much fascinating history they could have told us if only we’d been more aware. Panto is short for pantomime - a theatrical genre (peculiarly British, it would seem!) which tells a story based on a traditional fairy tale such as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin, etc. There’s generally a romantic element, a villain which the audience can hiss and boo at, a “dame” (played by a man in drag), some form of magic, sometimes a horse or similar (one person playing the back and one at the front in a…

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Heidi Beckley
Heidi Beckley
Dec 12, 2020

Hi, Wendy - Please excuse my ignorance (possibly because I'm from the States), but what exactly is panto? Wonderful pictures and I'm sure fun for you to see your grandparents in a different light. ;-) And I agree - when we're young, we don't often think to ask about the past. It wasn't until my father passed away that besides that great loss, I realized that I had also lost a lot of his and his family's history - that is when I got interested in genealogy.

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