the younger audiences now "get" the conventions of panto?
I think they do if they're presented to them. What I've seen happen
over a number of years is that people tend to dispense with the
conventions: Anna Williamson as Principal Boy Aladdin and soap
star Chris Ellison, best known as The Bill's DI Burnside, as
seem to think that the story is just there to hang on lots of other
if the story isn't strong - and let's face it children grow up with
these stories - you can't fool them.
they've been brought up to believe a fairy comes along and takes
a couple of mice and rats and a pumpkin and turns them into a coach
and horses to go to the ball, that's the magic they've grown up
with so that's what you have to give them in the theatre.
well as being a great dame, you're quite a big fan of panto aren't
you? Do you have any panto dame idols who you saw when you were
absolutely, I think the first dame I saw as a child was Clarkson
Rose, who was a man who did summer shows and did pantomime.
was a very grand dame, he was a big man. His dames were very posh,
very grand - very masculine but very grand.
Evans makes 'em laugh on the wireless. BBC Archive photo.
the one that had the greatest influence on me and made the greatest
impression was the comic Norman Evans.
was the instigator and the creator really
Dawson took his character from Norman Evans - Ada and the two ladies
with Norman Barraclough that he did in his act. Do you remember
not long ago! Les then went into pantomime and started playing dame.
His dame was very much a copy of Norman Evans really. Norman Evans
influenced me quite a bit too.
Jackley, who was a very thin, rubber boned comedian of the old school
was another one who influenced me more than anybody else.
you be going to see any pantos yourself this year? As a fan?
I may be. I usually only go to pantomimes to see other friends,
unless it's a particular show that I've heard wonderful things about.
go down the road to Nottingham, I've got some friends in Cinderella
there. But otherwise we're all working at the same time!
of the great things about panto, I think, is that it's something
that the amateurs love doing. Have you ever ventured to go and see
an amateur show?
Ada! Actually, Les Dawson.
I'm involved in amateur theatre, I'm a patron of a amateur group
in Surrey. I go and see their plays, they're a very good company.
in amateur theatre in my village in Wiltshire as a kid, that's where
I began so I've got a lot of time for amateur theatre.
great they do pantomime, because they've always got the feller in
there who loves to put balloons in his shirt, they love it.
have to ask you, because the girls at work have asked me to ask
you, how long does it take to put the makeup on?
dame? Ten minutes.
that all? And how many costume changes?
got very few costume changes, this is a very easy show for me. I
normally have about ten or twelve, I've only got about four in this
character: Trevor Bannister as Widow Twankey
all my own wigs. They're made for me and moulded to my head. So
they just fit on like a hat, they're all acrylic, solid so they
don't need dressing and if I want to I can spray them different
colours and things.
had them for some years now all of those. A lot of dames have their
own costumes, I have a lot of friends who do. John Inman does all
his own costumes.
of course you worked with him in Are You Being Served? You were
very much a straight man in are you being served weren't you?
mean straight in what way? [Laughs] Heterosexual you mean
in not John Inman
. No but seriously, as in the foil rather
than the comic.
say straight or one of the less obvious characters, let's put it
you still getting fanmail from Are You Being Served?
here it is in fact! I get about thirty letters a week from America
and about twenty from around the country and other places around
the world. Yes, it still goes on.
we to expect any AYBS jokes in this panto?
I don't ever refer to AYBS. I never have done in panto ever since
I started doing it. That's all long gone past.
done an awful lot of things since then and I did an awful lot of
things before then. That was just eight years of bits and pieces
in my life, I don't hang my hat on that.