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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!


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