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Betty’s Blog: Memories of Ken Gibson Panto Dame

February 26, 2014

Wednesday- 26th February,

Arrived at Brick Lane today for a Lunchtime show. Rusty had some sad news- Ken Gibson, Panto Dame passed away today at Brindsworth House, the Performers rest home. Ken I remember as the Dame who played “Snow White” with Dana for several years when Albermarle had this pantomime out and about.

With the help of the “Stage” archive I’ve tried to put together a little piece on Kenny, and I’m sure that IBY regulars will be able to add to this- please send your emails with any corrections or memories of this wonderful warm Scottish Dame.

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Last year a short film was commissioned-  Variety of Memories was a 30-minute documentary presented by Roy Hudd that was given access to retired entertainers’ home Brinsworth House in Twickenham and included interviews with residents including Kenny Gibson, and  Teddy Johnson and his wife, Pearl Carr.  Daniel Hutchings directed the documentary, which was screened on September 18 at the Cornerhouse in Manchester, and later  at Wilton’s Music Hall. It was shown there as part of the 50th anniversary of the British Music Hall Society, which took place on September 20 to 22..

Ken Gibson began his love affair with theatre as a “Lime Boy” at the Ritz Theatre, Irvine in Ayeshire in his native Scotland. The term may now be forgotten, but to be “In the limelight” is still used, and Ken was the lad who handled the lime that was used in place of today’s “Follow Spot”.

Later he moved on to appearing in sketches at the Ritz, supporting visiting Scots comics like George Mack, Billy Rusk, Dennison & Niblock and Johnny Victory. He was on the bill with “The Four Ramblers”, one of the members being Val Doonican.

Kenny came from a theatrical family. His Mother worked with Wilson, Kepple & Betty, and they moved to London. He claimed his Dame character owed a lot to his Mother.

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Talking to a newspaper in 1996 he said: “My Mum was a larger- than-life character – so am I once I’m in costume. “I have been playing dames for 22 years, but my act is constantly changing. “I get ideas for mannerisms by watching women talk on buses and in shops.”

In his native Scotland he worked the last of the “Music Halls” and Variety houses that remained, including the Gaiety Leith, The Palladium in Edinburgh, the Palace Dundee and the Tivoli in Aberdeen.

He found work as a comic actor in the South and joined a very successful Summer Season in 1968. He appeared on Bournemouth Pier in “My Favourite Family” as Archie with Richard Hearne (“Mr Pastry” starring) and Barry Howard.  Freddie Frinton was the original lead, but suffered a heart attack early on and was replaced by Richard Hearne .Ken Platt later took over the role.

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In 1969 Bernard Delfont toured this comedy with Sid James taking the lead on tour. Ken remained with the show.Barry Howard left and  John Inman joined the cast. IThe following year in 1970 the same cast appeared at Great Yarmouth “Windmill”, the show was now called “Wedding Fever”.

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From the time he worked in London and the South Ken appeared regularly in cabaret and as a comedy female Impersonator in clubs and theatres around the UK. Every week his call sheet had him in Nottingham, or Glasgow or Southampton appearing in pubs, clubs and on the popular “Drag” circuit of the 1970’s. He often worked with Billy Wells, Tommy Osbourne, Phil Starr and Nicky Young in the club circuit.

Ken appeared in pantomimes often in the late 1960’s and played his first Dame around 1974. He played Dame with Roy Castle in Blackpool, with Johnny Hackett at Stockton-On-Tees, and several other Dame roles.

In 1976 he played Horesham in  Cinderella as Ugly Sister with Michael Mills for Albermarle’s Basil Critchley,  And the same panto at Southborough Victoria Halls the following year.(1977)

In 1978 Ken rejoined “Cinderella” for Albermarle as Ugly Sister with Nicky Douglas for Basil Critchley at Maidstone – its first professional pantomime . The manager of the theatre was John Spillers. He Played Widow Twankey there in “Aladdin”  afterwards.and in 1982 played Mother Goose at the Hazlitt Theatre Maidstone This was to be the first of many pantomime appearances at this venue.

In 1989 Ken appeared at Liverpool for Albermarle’s “Snow White” with Dana. Ken played Dame Doughnut. The Panto transferred the following year to the Theatre Royal Nottingham, with Dana,  Bobby Bennett and Su Douglas as The Wicked Queen.

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Ken Gibson in “Snow White”- It ran until February 23rd.

Ken continued to play cabaret and pantomime. In 1992 he was in  Snow White at The Palace Manchester with Dana and Jimmy Cricket., and in 1993 Snow White with Dana & Andrew O’Connor at The Bristol Hippodrome.

In 1993 Ken made an appearance at the original BrickLaneMusic Hall. Vincent Hayes recalls that the  show was called “We’re No Ladies”, and featured Ken, Phil Starr, Tommy Osbourne, Dockyard Doris and Nicky Young. A show guaranteed to bring the house down! The Stage Newspaper reported on this homage to the 1040’s ENSA style “Camp” show for the troops!”

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In 1994 Ken Gibson appeared at Swindon in  Dick Whittington with Jimmy Cricket,  Gordon & Bunny Jay, Damian Williams, as King Rat. Ken played the cook,  Bertha Bagwash!

At the Derngate, Northampton in  2001 Ken once again appeared in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The “Stage” newspaper reported:

Last year’s box office record could well be smashed again with this latest professional panto from Jim Davidson’s production stable. Another classy show is promised with a cast headed by former EastEnders star Anita Dobson as the Wicked Queen. The title role is played by Danielle Nicholls, the popular children’s ITV children’s presenter and co-host of Channel Five’s Night Fever.

The team of seven real dwarfs is led by Kenny Baker, star of such films as Amadeus, The Elephant Man, Time Bandits and Mona Lisa but best known as the robot R2D2 in the cult Star Wars film series.

Dame Donut is played by panto veteran Kenny Gibson, whose TV credits include EastEnders, The Bill, Casualty and Poirot. Wise-cracking comic Barnaby plays Muddles, with West End and film star Tim Churchill as Prince Danilo and David Redgrave as Jason.

Ken Gibson, a much repected and well loved artiste.

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Our recent Outing to “Amalfi

Back at the Brick Lane it was business as usual. Yesterday and today were full houses, and today we had a Matinee Tea show. Andrew has now come down with the nasty cold virus, but you wouldn’t have known – onstage. Offstage he looked in need of a warm duvet and a supply of lemsip. He went to see “The Full Monty ” opening last night- perhaps he got carried away and caught a chill while throwing his clothes off in the foyer? More likely he got it from Vincent!

A lot of fun today in the show- we had a visit from the lovely Bobby Cook, percussionist extraordinaire. So good to see him looking well, and hope to see him in to watch the show next week.

I took delivery of a pair of Dame Boots yesterday, created as before by Bambos. He’s not been able to supply these for about two years, and is now back into production. Here they are- Gold Dame Boots for those Dames who require them. Details I’ll put on the IBY message board along with the price, which is very reasonable! Stock up now- I am! I’m putting a few pairs away for the future in my bottom drawers!

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The New Bambos Boots. And yes-no tights on the model. It was late!

I was waiting for my cue this afternoon, in the Green Room. A shadowy blurry figure came through the Kitchen pass door., I squinted.. I peered.. It was Natalie. THAT was when I realised she shouldn’t be blurry- I’d not put my contact lenses in! With all my make up and eyelashes, it is essential the lenses go in FIRST, then the make-up! Too late. Fortunately I managed to get them in first time without having to redo the face!

Lovely sunny but breezy walk back to the Docklands railway – the evenings are getting lighter later- tomorrow is a Lunchtime show.

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3 Comments
  1. Melissa Dormer (was Currie) permalink

    So sad to hear of Kenny’s passing. I was his DSM in the 2001 show at the Derngate menioned above; and then CSM the following year when it went to the Sunderland Emipre. He was a double act with Barnaby for many years and they were a truly perfect complementary pairing. That 2001 panto was my favourite all time show in 21 years of theatre. The cast and crew clicked so completely and we all had the most wonderful, happy time. Kenny was a sweet soul and would be happy being remembered as ‘a pro’. God Bless Kenny Kenny. x

    • shirley gibson permalink

      just found out about george(kenny)who is my husbands cousin have been trying to contact him for quite a while he used to stay wiyh bert’s mum when he came to Irvine but when she passed away he came to us the last time he spoke to bert he told him he was coming up for a wee holiday we kept trying to phone and left messages then the line went dead we contacted the police and that’s how we found he had died could you put us in touch with any one who can give us some more information as to what happened to him we have informed the rest of our family up here it would be very much appreciated thank you from shirley gibson

  2. Barnaby permalink

    So sad, have only just found out about Kenny, I tried to contact him several times but we lost contact. He was an absolute joy to work with and an unselfish performer I learned so much from him. He was the best dame I have ever worked with we just seemed to gel from day one. We had a great deal together he covered my small bald spot on my head with some hairspray he found and my side of the deal was to make him poached eggs on toast at the digs, while he kept me transfixed relating stories from his career as only the older pro’s can, don’t get any better than that… will miss you mate bless you and thanks…. Barnaby x

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