Tea Time Tidbit for the week of December 9, 2019
It’s pantomime season in the U.K. If you’re not familiar with panto, as it’s affectionately known, it’s a family oriented show, usually full of hidden jokes and innuendo for the adults. The youthful hero of the show, known as the Principle Boy, is traditionally played by a girl, while the funniest person in the show is the Pantomime Dame, played by a male actor who sports big make-up, big hair and exaggerated physical features.
One of the most popular pantomime performers was John Inman, who plays Mr. Humphries in Are You Being Served? He appeared in over 40 pantomimes during the course of his career, the most notable of which were his Pantomime Dame characters. This was especially true in Inman’s later years.
Inman wasn’t the only Are You Being Served? actor to give up his Christmas holiday to appear in panto – all of the cast members did the same. As did the cast of Last of the Summer Wine. Kathy Staff, who played Nora Batty, for instance, appeared in 11 pantomimes from 1981 to 1997 and Juliette Kaplan, who played Pearl, only missed one panto performance from 1991 to 2008.
The British Players present
Being in a panto over the holidays might not bring an actor an Olivier Award, but it’s one of the most lucrative jobs a performer can get. Some celebrities can expect to earn six figure salaries for a three-week stint. Vicar of Dibley actress Dawn French reportedly earned close to $300,000 for her appearance as the Wicked Queen in Snow White last year.
Soap opera and reality television stars are especially in demand on the panto circuit – even those who no longer appear in the series that made them a household name. EastEnders cast member Sid Owen who played Ricky Butcher, for instance, left the series in 2012 and has only had one acting role since, but last year he left his home in France for a few weeks to live in the coastal town of Lowestoft where he headlined as Captain Hook in Peter Pan.
Another EastEnders actor, Steve McFadden, who plays Phil Mitchell, has been performing in panto for years and is currently one of the highest paid panto stars. My own particular favorite EastEnders actress is June Brown, who plays Dot Cotton and many years ago I had the good fortune to see her perform in panto as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella. She was as entertaining off stage as on and after the show she kindly "knighted" my father with her magic wand!
The Fairy Godmother mantle has been taken up this year by Call the Midwife star Laura Main, who plays Shelagh Turner. She’ll be appearing in Cinderella at His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen Scotland through January 5th. Ms. Main will be appearing a little closer to home, right here on MPT, on Christmas Day evening, when we bring you the Call the Midwife Holiday Special, which airs at 9pm.
The Call the Midwife Holiday Special
If you want to experience a traditional British Pantomime, the British Players are presenting Alice in Wonderland at Kensington Town Hall through January 4th. For information visit www.britishplayers.org or call 240-447-9863.
To contact Heather:
Address: Afternoon Tea
Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Blvd.
Owings Mills, MD 21117