Swansea’s Grand Theatre chalks up a record century of panto

December 12, 2012

Des O’Connor has done it, so have Ryan and Ronnie, Little and Large, Jimmy Osmond, Melinda Messenger, Stan Stennett and Windsor Davies.They are just some of the many well known entertainers who have appeared in pantomime at Swansea’s Grand Theatre.

And on Friday this year’s offering, Cinderella, will be the Grand’s 100th panto, making it what is believed to be the first British theatre to chalk up a century of pantomimes.

Now an exhibition featuring cast members, photographs and stacks of other information has been unveiled at the Swansea city centre theatre which was opened in 1897 by Victorian opera star Dame Adelina Patti.

The names of those who have donned the greasepaint for the traditional end of year show at the Grand read like a roll-call of British light entertainment.

Swansea panto stars over the years have included:

  • Joe Pasquale and Eastenders actor Adam Woodyatt (1994-95, Aladdin);
  • Rod Hull and Emu plus Cheryl Baker (1992-93, Robinson Crusoe);
  • Bobby Crush (1987-88, Dick Whittington);
  • Christopher Biggins and Les Dennis (1986-87, Mother Goose);
  • Steptoe and Son star Harry H Corbett (1981-82, Dick Whittington);
  • Welsh singer Ivor Emmanuel and The Golden Shot hostess Anne Aston (1978-78, Aladdin); and
    Mother Goose at the Swansea Grand in 1974
  • Pop star Marty Wilde, the father of singer Kim Wilde (1966-67, Robin Hood).
  • Enduring entertainer Des O’Connor, now 80, was in the 1957-58 Swansea panto Cinderella while Little and Large appeared in Robin Hood (1996-97), Jimmy Osmond was in last year’s Aladdin and Melinda Messenger was in Cinderella in 1998-99.
  • Welsh star Windsor Davies appeared in Sleeping Beauty (1993-94) alongside Paul Shane and Suzanne Dando.

The exhibition, available in the Grand Theatre’s arts wing, has been put together to mark 100 years of pantomimes in the building.

Images of cast members, backstage antics and stage hands over the years are included as well as video interviews with the stars and pantomime programmes over the decades. Welsh double act Ryan and Ronnie were among the other stars to have appeared in Grand pantomimes in the past.
Marty Wilde in Robin Hood from 1967-67

Ian Parsons, a Grand Theatre customer and expert on the history of the attraction, has put the exhibition together.

One of his most prized pieces is a complete recording of Ryan Davies’s last ever panto, Babes In The Wood, just three weeks before he died suddenly in America.

He said: “It was recorded on a reel to reel tape machine and kept in a loft for years.”

The dusty copy finally surfaced and was sent to the Grand last year and now a digitised version takes pride of place in the exhibition.

Mr Parsons saw his first panto at the city venue in the early 1970s at the age of eight, with the comedy pairing of Ryan and Ronnie starring.

Nick Bradley, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration, said: “Christmas in Swansea just wouldn’t be the same without panto at the Grand. The panto has attracted some of the biggest names in showbusiness over the years, helping to entertain hundreds of thousands of people.

“The exhibition is a fantastic way of celebrating a century of top-quality performances.

“It’s easy to see why pantos at the Grand are so successful. It’s a fantastic building that generates a terrific atmosphere.”

The exhibition runs until January 11. A souvenir brochure to coincide with the occasion has also been produced with help from the Swansea Grand Theatre Club. Copies will be on sale throughout this year’s pantomime.

Swansea Grand Theatre’s first recorded pantomime was Robinson Crusoe in 1897 and starred Tom Fancourt (initially pantos were not held every year and for some years the Grand acted as a cinema).

This year’s panto, Cinderella, starts on Friday and finishes on Sunday January 13. It stars Chico from the X Factor and Dancing on Ice, as well as local comedians Kevin Johns and Mike Doyle