Sunday 20 December 2015

Carrying On in Panto

The Carry On films are often thought of as the pantomimes of the cinema. They involve weird and wonderful characters, locations and costumes. They feature outlandish performances from superb comedy actors. They appeal to children and adults on different levels. 

It is therefore not surprising that so many of the Carry On actors regularly appeared in pantomimes during their long and varied theatrical careers. As we are well into panto season, I thought I would do a quick run down of the many Carry On stars who have appeared in panto over the years.

Let's start off with my own favourite, the glorious Joan Sims. Although the latter half of Joan's glittering career would see her steer clear of live theatre, preferring the film studio or television set, Joan actually started her professional life with a panto. In the early 1950s she appeared opposite Stanley Baxter in The Happy Ha'penny, a traditional festive pantomime at Glasgow's legendary Citizen's Theatre. Joan would also end her stage career with a role in panto. In 1984/85 she took on the role of Fairy Sweetcorn in Jack and The Beenstalk at Richmond Theatre. Her co-stars included fellow Carry On actors Kenneth Connor and Suzanne Danielle.

You might not think he'd be a natural at it, but Kenneth Williams has also appeared in pantomime. Away back in 1958, Kenneth co-starred in Cinderella at the London Coliseum alongside Tommy Steele, Jimmy Edwards, Yana and his regular Round The Horne and Carry On colleague Betty Marsden. Tommy would return to the world of pantomime with the lead role in the Palladium's 1969 offering Dick Whittington, which co-starred regular Carry On faces Kenneth Connor and Alan Curtis. 

In 1973, comedy legend and Carry On guest star Frankie Howerd appeared alongside original Carry On girl Dora Bryan in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Palladium. What a cast! The pair had worked together some years before this on the film The Great St Trinian's Train Robbery. 

The most famous Carry On blonde of them all, the gorgeous unstoppable Barbara Windsor has a strong pedigree in Christmas pantos dating all the way back to 1950 when she appeared as one of the Aida Foster "Babes" in Sleeping Beauty at the Golders Green Hippodrome in North London. She went on to play Dandini in Cinderella at Norwich in 1971,  appearing again in Cinderella the following year in Liverpool (co-starring Bill Maynard), and then headlining in Dick Whittington at Richmond in 1975 in a cast featuring Jack Douglas, Una Stubbs and Jon Pertwee.

Barbara would also team up with Terry Scott for Aladdin at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham in 1977-78. Many other panto appearances followed during the 1980s although fans would have to wait until 2010 for another Barbara Windsor panto. Following her departure from EastEnders, Babs made a triumphant return to the stage with a starring role in the Bristol Hippodrome's version of Dick Whittington. 

Barbara also appeared in an alternative "adult" panto many years before, at the legendary Winston's Nightclub in London's West End. One of her young co-stars was future Corrie queen and panto legend Amanda Barrie. Amanda is another panto pro with many roles under her belt including Jack and the Beanstalk (2006); and most famously as the Fairy Godmother in four different versions of Cinderella between 2007 and 2011. 

Charles Hawtrey infamously grew to rely on pantomime seasons for regular work following his exit from the Carry On films in 1972. For several years in the mid-1970s he appeared in pantomime productions in regional theatres such as Snow White at Rhyl in 1970 and again at Nottingham in 1974. He would make his final pantomime and indeed final stage appearance in the winter of 1979.

1966 saw Carry On male juvenile lead and all round entertainer Jim Dale lead the cast in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon. Fellow Carry On Cowboy co-star Bernard Bresslaw also took the lead in a classic panto at the London Palladium some years before in 1958. Bresslaw appeared in Sleeping Beauty alongside fellow comedy heroes in Charlie Drake and Bruce Forsyth. Bernard claimed Sleeping Beauty was his favourite stage role. 

Hattie Jacques was a legendary presence in many a pantomime at the famous Players Theatre in London. During the late 1940s and 1950s Hattie was highly prolific in the old Victorian music hall. She was acclaimed for her role as Fairy Godmother and made appearances in many pantos including Babes in the Wood, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.    Another Players Theatre alumni, Patsy Rowlands, went on to co-star with the legendary Danny La Rue in Mother Goose at the Theatre Royal Plymouth in 1984. Patsy replaced an ill Peggy Mount a short notice.

Another legendary pantomime featuring a host of familiar Carry On faces was Cinderella at the London Palladium in 1966-67. Starring Cliff Richard as Buttons, the panto featured terrific support from Terry Scott as an ugly sister, Jack Douglas as Baron Hardup and Peter Gilmore as The Prince. 

Carry On leading man Sid James also starred in a magnificent panto at the London Palladium in 1965. He joined regular co-star Kenneth Connor as the pair of robbers in Babes in the Wood in a show that also featured Arthur Askey, Roy Kinnear and Frank Ifield. 

On a sad note, the wonderful, much loved Peter Butterworth took his final bow in pantomime in January 1979. After a performance in Coventry, he returned to his hotel and suffered a massive heart attack. He died at the absurdly early  age of just 59. A great talent gone.

Of course, Carry On stars are still appearing in pantomime in 2015. As I've already blogged the lovely Sherrie Hewson is appearing in Leicester this year while the gorgeous Anita Harris is in Portsmouth.

I hope you have enjoyed this trip down memory lane. If you are going to a panto this year, I hope you have a great time! 

You can follow me on Twitter @CarryOnJoan  

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