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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

It's that time of year again. Oh no it isn't, oh yes it is!

I have a pantomime dame amongst my ancestors! My maternal grandfather Herbert Colley (I never met him, as he died when my mum was only 10) earned his living treading the boards. His stage name was Ken Barton and in his varied career he often played comedy parts.

According to the Exeter & Plymouth Gazette in 1919, "Ken Barton dressed as a constable evoked much merriment in his comedy episode."

Pantomime was also a large part of his repertoire, including production. Below is a letter he wrote to The Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal, dated December 1917, complaining that the newspaper had wrongly attributed the production of Babes in the Wood, on at The Grand Theatre, Derby, to Tom Vernon, instead of to him!

(image courtesy of The British National Archives)

Talented singer

My gran - Winifred Griffiths - also appeared in pantomime. She was a talented soprano and began her career as an opera singer. But variety entertainment paid better so she left the more sophisticated world of opera and began touring repertory theatres, which is where she met my grandfather.

The couple did many pantos together over the years and I always enjoy browsing the British Newspaper Archive website looking for reviews of their performances. Here's one from 1931 in Preston. "Winifred Griffiths, as the squire's daughter, is a decided asset to the musical side." Ken also gets a mention as the dame, one of a group who "contrive either to make merry or carry on the story".

Treasured newspaper cutting

The best piece of pantomime family history I have is the actual newspaper cutting my gran saved from her appearance in Babes in the Wood at the hippodrome in Birkenhead in 1927. She played Maid Marian, though due to the untypical "Robin Hood" style of costume, I've never been sure which performer is her! What do you think?


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