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The king of panto

Pauline McLean | 19:09 UK time, Friday, 29 October 2010

I went to the last performance of this year's run of Aladdin at the King's Theatre in Glasgow.

It ran half an hour longer than usual as the cast - led by Gerard Kelly - ad-libbed, wisecracked and generally behaved as if they hadn't been performing two shows a days for weeks - with only one day off for Christmas.

At the end of the show, there was a special presentation to Kelly - to mark the fact that this was his 20th year on stage at the King's in pantomime.

Sadly, as we learned this morning, that was his last panto performance.

He died in hospital after collapsing in his London home of a suspected brain aneurism.

He was always modest about his role as the uncrowned king of Scottish panto.

He fell into it by accident, appearing first with Walter Carr and then year after year, he'd clear his diary and return to Glasgow for another season at the King's.

Even non panto fans were blown away by his exuberance, his cheeky ad-libbing and his ability to warm up an audience.

I interviewed him last year on a rainy Monday morning, just before a 10.30am performance - the first of three that day.

Did he never get tired, or worn down, or catch a cold and just wish he could give it a miss?

"Listen to that," he said, as scores of teeny sugar-fuelled school children passed the door.

"For some of them, this will be the first time they've been in a theatre. They love it - the songs, the costumes, the jokes - and I get to bring that to them. How can you not be excited by that?"

Kelly, as he was known to friends (the Gerard was for his Equity card, his real name is Paul Kelly) was known as a comedy actor.

But he did serious roles too - thuggish Scots in both Eastenders and Brookside, Felix in the Odd Couple on stage with Craig Ferguson, and then later Andy Gray.

His performance as a priest in the Ken Loach film Ae Fond Kiss is terrifying - in marked contrast to the charm he exuded in his comedy roles.

He's hilarious sending up camp theatrical types as Bunny in three episodes of Extras.

Ricky Gervais on his blog today says 'He was a lovely bloke and an excellent actor.'

Juliet Cadzow, who was protesting school closures outside the Labour Party conference in Oban, said he was natural raconteur but was also engaged with politics and current affairs.

"He liked nothing better than going home, getting a glass of wine and a cigarette and firing off emails to people and programmes about all the things he really cared about. He was a lovely man and will be hugely missed."

Elaine C Smith agrees that his sense of humour was matched by his love of politics.

"One of my fondest memories is of me dressed as a fairy and Gerard as "wishy washy" as we stood discussing the situation in Palestine," she says.

David Hayman, who first worked with him in 7:84 and then cast him in the Slab Boys trilogy, also recalled his ability to reduce people to tears of laughter with his daft stories.

"He just wanted to be loved," he says," and he was."

Jeanette Krankie recalls meeting him in the BBC canteen in Shepherd's Bush where he was playing a young police man in Juliet Bravo.

"He was a great comedy actor and Pantomime performer, in the true Scottish style of Stanley Baxter, Ricky Fulton, Jimmy Logan, also proving he could turn his talent to straight acting playing some great parts on numerous TV soups and dramas."

The King's Theatre say they'll decide on Monday what will happen with this year's panto, but Kelly's name will remain on the posters as a mark of respect.

But for thousands of fans, Scottish pantomime just won't be the same.


  • Comment number 1.

    A real gentleman.

    He will be sadly missed.

  • Comment number 2.

    I have taken my daughter to the panto in Glasgow for the past few years, best by far, we already have our tickets for this year but it will be tinged with sadness for many of the adults. I hope they find a fitting way to remember him and his service to acting. Sadly missed

  • Comment number 3.

    RIP Gerard

    You will be sorely missed!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    He came to my primary school in Linlithgow in 1977 or 78, acting in a children's tv series called "PlayFair". I asked for his autograph because he was the first person I had ever met who was on TV. I must have been 11 - and I realise now he must have only been 18 or so.
    I think he was as excited about signing an autograph as I was about getting one. I think he said something like "this is my first time signing an autograph". It stuck in my mind even then.
    I always imagined I meeting him again and telling him about having his "first autograph".

  • Comment number 5.

    I remember being in Yorkhill as a child. I was pretty scared and Gerard Kelly was visiting a nephew opposite me, he came over and cheered both me and my mum up, a brilliant guy. Panto in Scotland will never be the same.

  • Comment number 6.

    Surely time for BBC to give his best known role - Willie Melvin in "City Lights" - a fresh airing, and it's long overdue for a DVD release....

    A gentleman and a gentle man - who lived for the smell of the crowd and the roar of the greasepaint (!) - and a real illustration of what "Talent" is (Simon Cowell et al, take note).

    Requiescat in pace.

  • Comment number 7.

    I have always taken my children to the King's panto and for the last four or five years we've booked early and got front row seats. It's a real family affairs, three generations splitting their sides together as we watched this panto genius at work. I told my 10-year-old son about Gerard Kelly's death last night and he burst into tears and said panto will never be the same again. Out of the mouths of in peace Gerard, you won't be forgotten!

  • Comment number 8.

    Too young to let the laughter fade...he made me and my kids laugh, and that was a great gift

  • Comment number 9.

    I can't believe that I am writing a comment on the death of Gerard Kelly. It just doesn't seem real. How tragic and so premature!!

    I am 45 and in my early 20s, I loved watching Gerard in City Lights. The hapless "Willie Melvin" who wanted so much to be a writer but instead had to work (or some would say play) in the bank. He made me laugh then. I loved the programme and it wouldn't have been the same without him.

    I have always been a regular at the Panto in the Kings. I remember one year a group of us from work booked a Box for the Panto. I think this was Gerard's first panto at the Kings. He shouted up to us the whole night and thoroughly entertained us. A group of woman in their 20s, 30s and one or two older behaving like children like the great man himself.

    Last year I attended the Panto at the Kings with my friend and her daughter. Tragically, I didn't realise that this would be the last opportunity I'd get to see this great man at his best, rolling about the stage, jumping around like a schoolboy and loving every minute of it. He was a real character and NO ONE could ever say anything against him. He will be so sadly missed by everyone, young and old.

    This morning I picked up a newspaper and was going to read the story and the obituary. However, I could not bring myself to read it. Tears came to my eyes and I had a lump in my throat.

    Gerard, rest in peace my friend, you will live on in so many of our lives and NEVER be forgotten.

  • Comment number 10.

    Gerard (known as Paul to me at the time) and I were buddies when we were in our teens, his parents owned the local chip shop and that's how I got to know him.
    When the family sold the chip shop alas Gerard and I lost touch but I never forgot him, I met him again by chance in Putney High Street, London SW15, when he was acting in Brookside and I was delighted that he remembered me, we had a chinwag for about 5 mins but I wish we had went for a coffee and exchanged adresses.
    I cannot believe my old pal is not with us anymore, he will be sorely missed. Rest in Peace Paul.


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