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Saturday 31st January

February 2, 2015

End of the BLMH week here- ending with an evening show. Very busy and packed auditorium too- a large group from Colchester United in to see the show, so a lot of football references and gags obviously!

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We are all arriving like an expedition to the North Pole, it is SO cold outside! By the time I arrived the coaches were parked and the diners were tucking in to their three courses.

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Rusty as Cupid!

I brought a visitor backstage to say “hello” this week- A Staffordshire Bull Terrier friend of mine called “Coda”-he’d been for a blustery walk on the nearby Thames Barrier Park and called in to see the Brick Lane folk! Here’s Rusty with him- Rusty himself has a puppy that he walks everyday before coming in to work, and Andrew’s gorgeous dog Jamie has visited recently.

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I tend to do all my changes just at the foot of the stage- The stage itself is up a few steps from backstage areas, and have got into the bad habit of doing them against the door – so sometimes I can be surprised when the door nudges me- it would usually be Lucy or Martin or one of the front of house passing through.

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This week I got a bigger surprise. I’m standing there in flesh coloured bodysuit, wig, boots and shiny silver pants about to clamber into lady Gaga in the interval when the door nudged me. A dear sweet old lady, replete with walking stick entered. She stared at my “topless” appearance, there was a pause..She blinked a few times. “Excuse me. this IS the ladies isn’t it?”. Bless! I told her she could be in the show if she liked, and Zara showed her back to the front of house!

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Backstage all is a mixture of peace and flurry as the  cues come and go- one minute it is deserted then all the girls will race to number two, all hands go to the deck, they quick change and fly back on to the stage. I have six changes, which is delightful after the 14 costumes I’m used to at Christmas, but we all change very swiftly during the show.

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The show was very jolly tonight and I think the parties from Colchester, The London Hospital, Rutland, Yorkshire- that’s a long trip-  and from Basildon  all enjoyed themselves. we are still tweaking the show, with Vincent tightening scenes and keeping the pace up, and the schoolroom and the “If I were Not In School Today” scene that follows it really went down a storm. As does the lovely almost “soul”  number that opens Act Two with Robin Hood (Lottie) leading it- they give that a huge round of applause each time too.

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Robin Hood and Maid Marion- Here we have a rare vision, a female Principal Boy in fishnets, short tunic and boots- just as it used to be- and that brings me around to part two of the “Robin Hood” and “Babes In The Wood” historical snippets of information!

Drury Lane presented “Babes In The Wood” several times in the Victorian and Edwardian Era, and what Drury Lane did one year, the rest of the country tried to emulate the next. The Star of these pantomimes was Dan Leno, at that time the highest paid comic in the Country.

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Dan Leno appeared as Boy Babe in “Babes In The Wood” at Drury Lane in 1897. In fact he started his career at Drury Lane in the same pantomime in 1888. In this early production he played the wicked Baroness. The pantomime’s full title was “Babes in the Wood and Robin Hood and his Merry Men and Harlequin who killed Cock Robin!”

In this version the “Babes” were played as comics by Herbert Campbell and  Harry Nicholls. Hariette Vernon was a strapping Robin Hood. The Babes grew up during the second act, and were “leading an exciting and fashionable life about town!”

Leno was paid £28 a week for his first Drury Lane appearance, and, on the strength of his Baroness, was booked for the next three years.

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In the 1907 version at Drury Lane the two robbers handed over the babes to The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe, who intended to poison them with mushrooms. Managing to escape they met a family of Giants, were later imprisoned by rabbits, released by ferrets, and still managed to reach “Lollypop Land” where they became King and Queen!

In 1916 at the same theatre the babes escaped from the wood, and opened up their own Music Hall. The Baron and Baroness in this pantomime opened up a hairdressing salon, where they scalped their customers through incompetence- a scene similar to “The Exploding Hair Dryer” scenes to be found today in some versions of “Cinderella”, where one of the Ugly Sisters will be revealed as bald!

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Artistes in the Wood:

I’m appearing at Brick Lane as Dame Vera- but in the 1950’s the REAL Dame Vera- Vera Lyn made a rare appearance in “Babes In The Wood”- she appeared as a special guest and I guess had nothing to do with the rest of the pantomime as was the fashion then! Here is the programme from that Pantomime.

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Over the years Babes In The Wood has appealed to pantomime artistes who found a special niche. Double Acts in particular have found the roles of Good and Bad Robber to suit their material.

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Jimmy Jewell & Ben Warriss appeared in“Babes In The Wood” at the London Palladium- later Jan Hunt (then called June Gaynor ) appeared with this Tom Arnold production as Girl Babe in the provinces.

Jewel and Warris played Robbers many times in their career, as did Mike and Bernie Winters, Hope and Keen, Cannon & Ball, Little & Large, Gordon and Bunny Jay, and in earlier times The Hengler Brothers specialised as “robbers”. Sid James-from “Carry On” fame played robber several times in his pantomime career, and in recent times Geoffrey Hughes and Roy Hudd played these roles many times in Roy’s version of this pantomime.This was one of the last outings for this Pantomime, as “Babes” and “Robin Hood” became less popular, and theatres rotated just the main five or six subjects, playing “safe” with “Cinderella”, “Aladdin”, “Snow White” and the “Disney” certainties for Box Office success.

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The Robbers: Over the years they have had many names-

 Stopum & Copham,(‘30’s) Rob & Plunder,  Jimmy & Harry (Jewel & Warriss 1950’s),Marmaduke & Horace (Jewel & Warriss), Horace & Herbert, Bill & Ben, Bubble & Squeak, Slippery Sam & Dangerous Dan, Sidney & Cecil, Percy & Cecil, Kind Heart & Pie Face, Cecil & Sebastian, Rudolph the Ruthless & Bertram The Bold, Smash & Grab, Daffy & Taffy (Wyn Calvin & Len Lowe), Hector & Les (Les Dawson & Hugo Myatt) Jasper Snatchem & Rodney Willoughby Fortesque (Bill Maynard & Derek Nimmo)Bob Over & Ben Dunder (Brian Freeman & Sid James  Mike & Bernie (Mike & Bernie Winters ‘75),’Orful Onslow &‘Orrible ‘Uddy (Geoffrey Hughes & Roy Hudd ‘90’s)

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The Dames: Often the Nurse to the Babes: Names for the Dame have included-

Nurse Glucose, Nurse Ada (Les Dawson) Nurse Gladys Glucose (Desmond Barrit), Nurse Ribena (Jack Tripp ‘90’s) Martha, Big Hearted Martha (Arthur Askey),Nurse Gertie (Freddie Lees) Nurse Tickle (Christopher Biggins),Nurse Gloria Goodbody, Nurse Bunty Biddle  (Julian Orchard ), Dame Durdan, Dame Trott , Dame Trot, Nurse Merryweather (‘50’s), Wilhelmina Whackster (Governess), Phyllis MacWhackington (1908), Dame Golightly,

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The role of Nurse appealed strongly to two comedians who, specialised in being “A fella in a frock”- always playing themselves- Arthur Askey and later Les Dawson. These two great comics played “Big Hearted Martha” and “Nurse Ada” respectively, and made the part their own. The role was often played by the late Jack Tripp in Roy Hudd’s version, and was played by the artistes including Old Mother Riley (Arthur Lucan), Clarkeson Rose, Sonnie hale,  John Inman at the London Palladium , and by Ossie Morris the Welsh comedian in his native Wales.

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The Baddie:

The Villainous Uncle- This role, whether Baron or Sheriff has appealed to the great Panto Villains. Previous incarnations have included Alan Curtis- at the Palladium in 1965, Keith Baron, Alfred Marks,  John Nettles and, in a very unusual piece of casting “Monsewer” Eddie Gray, from Crazy Gang Fame in the 1940’s.

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The Heroes:

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Among the heroic Robin Hood’s the list includes artistes like Patricia Burke, Adele Dixon, Eve Acott, John Hanson, Edmund Hockridge, Frank Ifield, Edward Woodward, Marty Wilde,  Julie Rogers, Marty Webb, Ruth Madoc, Nigel Pivaro, Anne Nolan, Lisa Hull, Anne Sidney, Billy Pearce. Most recently John Barrowman appeared as Robin Hood at Glasgow’s SECC.

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Maid Marions have included Eunice Gayson,  Ruby Murray, Lulu, Cheryl Baker, Katie Budd, Bernadette Nolan, Lesley Ash, and Danniella Westbrook.

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This “Babes” panto was presented by Joe Collins, father of Dame Joan!

The Schoolroom

A traditional “Set Piece” in this pantomime. The School Room scene would normally open with the chorus and juveniles on stage. The set would contain benches, a teachers old fashioned lecturn, and, of course, a blackboard!

This scene contains a lot of historical reference to Will Hay routines from variety and film, and from a “comic book” idea of a classroom- older than the Will Hay Comedies, it retains a very 1930’s atmosphere!

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The curtain rises to mayhem. The “school children” misbehaving, and in a state of near riot. . Into this chaos enters the Dame as School mistress. Traditional academic robes are usually worn. There are dozens of set pieces to a school room scene. The counting  routines on the blackboard, proving the teacher never works a day in her life, the hanging up of a school cap on a blackboard- the comic draws a hook, and hey-presto- he hangs his hat. Spelling routines, Question and answer routines-

Dame:   Why are you late?

Comic:    I saw this sign that said “School- slow down. “ So I did!

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Dame: “What is the shape of the world?”

Class:   “Dunno Miss”

Dame: “Foolish children. Look I’ll help you out. What is the shape of my hat?”

Class:   “Square Teacher”

Dame:  “That’s the shape of the hat I wear on week days. What is the shape of the hat I wear on Sundays?

Class:    “Round Teacher”

Dame:   “Correct! So what is the shape of the world?”

Comic:   “Square on weekdays, round on Sundays!”

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Dame:              You see Children, I know Everything..

Comic:             Miss! Miss! Who was it built the Pyramids?

Dame:              The Pyramids were built by hundreds and hundreds of Egyptians.

Comic:             And what were all their names?

Dame:              Right you- come out to the front……!

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