The information on this page covers the years 1997 to 2001. They benefit from a greater number of photographs and are therefore probably more interesting. There are pages covering 1991-1996 and 2002- located elsewhere.
The titles of the pantos detailed here are as follows:
2001: Harry Potter and the Librarian's Stoned
Picture the scene. With six weeks to go before Christmas, Mark and I have a conversation.
-Are we going to do a panto this year?
-Yeah, why not?
-Well, we'd better get it written then!
Two weeks later, after some swift writing and a number of meetings to iron out the small details three quarters of the script is complete. The first rehearsals start in the deep freeze that is the Holiday Play scheme Portakabin and all is looking good.
One week later another conversation.
-It doesn't look as if Lionel and Andrew are able to write and appear in scene three.
-We'd better write in another scene, then.
-Right. I'll ask Judy if she want's to be upgraded from pupil to staff member.
-OK, but you'll have to do the song.
One week later and we finally have a full script and all the actors know exactly what they're supposed to be doing. You'd think that under such conditions we might have been looking at a disaster. You couldn't have been further from the truth.
Harry Potter and the Librarian's Stoned was naturally based on the well known books and the film released in 2001. The action takes place, not at Hogwarts, but at Walton Secondary Modern Wizard's School where our bespectacled hero finds that his birthmark means that his true calling is to become a cataloguer. Immediately enrolled into Mr Newbroom's class he learns the mysteries of cataloguing and all about the swirling vortex that is the backlog.
It transpires that a posh public school on Euston Road called St. Pees has recently taken over and will do anything to close it down. They even send a Kensington Toff to search out the final piece of the jigsaw, a long missing report. The plan fails as the toff and the report are swept into the backlog, thereby guaranteeing the safety of the school for at least forty years. (Which is a damn sight more than in real life...)
Enough of the heavily laboured plot, what of the production?
Well, as you can see from the photographs, it was a slightly reduced cast due to a combination of back trouble and a wife giving birth (honestly, some people should be more careful in March!) We did welcome one new member, Judy, into the fold and she coped admirably with starting out as a pupil in scene four and being promoted to a staff member in scene three.
A great set of costumes, particularly those of the pupils that were made by Clare. Jeremy, whose partner used to be a professional costumier, was able to provide all his own gear! No-one noticed that Frank was wearing a dressing gown and I had a choice of two gowns to pick from as the headmaster.
Contrary to everything that I've written in other pages on this site, I actually agreed to do the song. It was a reworking of 'The Gas man Cometh' with each day being another disaster that happened at the library. I got the idea from Ken singing the real version in out 2001 Sessay panto. It seemed to go down quite well and I was actually in tune! Unfortunately it means that I can't pull the old 'can't sing, don't sing' scam anymore.
So overall, very well received, and lots of fun given the very short time scales. We do intend to start earlier this year (2002) because things became a little hectic closer to the performances, in particular me sat wiring lights up on dress rehearsal day.
One last point, which gives all involved a warm fuzzy glow inside was that we were able to raise nearly £450.00 for a local homeless charity at the time when they need it most, Christmas.
2000: A Christmas Turkey
Well, it's confession time here. I had very little to do with this production. Not through being thrown out by the others or by having a difference of opinion, I hasten to add. I was so busy with the Boston Spa LAN upgrade project that I had absolutely no time to do anything other than learn about seven lines and hastily put together some sound effects and do them on the day. The effects were completed the night before and I had no dress rehearsals!
In my absence, Mark and co made a rather good fist of it, taking as their theme the reduction in the staffing levels at Santa's Grotto. This mirrored the staffing changes that were/are occurring at the Library. We chose a nice baddie with Jean playing the Ice Queen complete with Scouse accent and wonderful costume she was very much the part. I am reliably informed that any resemblance between here and any member of Library staff was purely coincidental. Yeah, right...
Jeremy was back as a good guy as a slim Santa ably assisted by a selection of dwarves/elves/faeries of varying heights. Once again, Lionel provided his own script for he and Andrew to perform as two militant reindeer. We also had the notable addition of Frank Wray making his debut playing himself in our own game show, Who Wants To Be An SB1? (An SB1 is the most senior grade at the Library before you get to the real high up civil servants.)
We used the two other popular 'game shows' as vehicles with the audience having to pick members of the cast to be kicked out Big Brother style and Lionel and Andrew managed an impression of Anne Robinson as they shouted 'Goodbye' to a member of staff as she fell of the roof.
All in all, a good effort.
1999: Doctor Who and the Curse of the Digital Library
Well, this production was generally reckoned to have been the best of all those that I have been involved in. It all just seemed to fit together, the script, the acting, the props, the costumes and the songs. It was also the longest, being around fifty minutes, meaning that the turnarounds were quite tight (we do five performances in one day!)
The story was a mix of a Library initiative to evaluate digital storage and supply methods and that old favourite, the Y2K bug. We decided that if time was going to be involved then The Doctor had to be the main man. And, being a bit of a Doctor Who aficionado, there was only ever one man going to play the Doctor. Actually, this is a lie since we had Roderic playing the role for the first half a dozen lines before accidentally killing himself. Blackout. I crawl out from my hiding place to rapturous applause! Before I stop talking about myself, yes, the scarf that you see me wearing is authentic, based on actual patterns for that worn by Tom Baker.
The bad guy had to be Davros and we had an unbelievable bit of luck here. The Deputy Chief Executive of the British Library was actually called David Russon (Dave Russ.) We also had appearances from Gareth as Tony Robinson and Jean as Charlie Dimmock. They were excavating the remains of the once great British Library in the year 2020. Lionel, Andrew and Mark provided a memorable scene and quite possibly the best song we have ever done. To the tune of Ernie the Fastest Milkman in the West, they told the story of how the Urquhart building (pictured above in the section on Toni's) was built.
Now, once we had decided on Doctor Who as the theme then we knew that we needed a psychedelic Dalek. We turned to our ever resourceful and talented Heather for help. 'No problem!' She said and we left it at that. There was absolutely nothing that could have prepared us for the sight on the dress rehearsal day. This was an actual size Dalek, based on the dimensions that the BBC used, and it was phenomenal. Words just cannot describe just how much this thing looks like a Dalek, indeed had it not been painted pink and yellow then it would have been quite a scary thing to see in the half light. Especially for those of the 'behind the sofa' generation. It currently sits in the department where Heather works; I only wish I had the space to take bring it home.
One notable feature this year, which we intend to continue, was the use of backing music to the songs. Previously we had someone playing a keyboard for accompaniment, but this year Mark and a friend recorded their own renditions of Ernie and the Time Warp with bass, guitar and drums. I added some keyboards to the former and 'engineered' a song out of the bits of the latter. The Time Warp is presented here for those with mp3 players.
You know what's really scary? If you look at the pictures of me as Doyle in 1996, a salty sea dog/directing in 1997 and The Doctor in 1999, I'm wearing the same pair of trousers in all! They won't appear this year though as I've thrown them out (and about time too!)
This year marked a new beginning for the whole of the pantomime crew. During 1998 our beloved lecture theatre, complete with stage, proscenium arch, curtains and lighting was taken over to make office space. To this end was had to find a new location or 1997 would have been the last. Fortunately there are other large areas on the site and with the help of a local guy making a portable' stage we moved into our new home.
To 'celebrate' the fact that no one was consulted about the take over of the room by our estates 'management' people, we decided to write the pantomime as an allegory of the whole business. I still think that it is the best script that we have had purely looking at plot and story. Unfortunately, a large number of the audience didn't seem to get it and, although it was well received, it wasn't the overall success that Missing... or Doctor Who... was.
Looking back at the video recently, Mark mentioned how dark the overall effect was mainly due to the black costumes and the lack of suitable lighting. He's quite right, it does have a sort of film noir quality about it.
The plot had an evil gangster, Don Campbellino plotting to take over the whole of the North side of town to build up his empire. Having just closed down a theatre, all that stood between his goal was a seedy run down bar. Eventually we find that all the man is reality a devout royalist and will do anything to get a knighthood, including hiring an elocution teacher. Eventually his plans fail as the horses head he was using to place in the bar owner's bed just happens to be owned by the Queen herself.
Well, what can I say about this production. Firstly, Heather excelled herself by producing a marvellous model of the Urquart Building (a particularly ugly building on site.) If you look at the picture, then I can assure you that the building does look like that; it really was that good. We also had fun with costumes. For the second year, we headed off to York Theatre Royal costume warehouse to pick out bits and pieces. We needed a coat that the waitress would wear that would go with her pink dress. Boy, did we find it! It was furry, pink with black and white spots and is pictured. There was also a yellow one!
A nice touch was getting Janice involved for the first time in over ten years. She wandered on at the end portraying the Queen, accompanied by Mark in full Prince Charles mode. When she first saw that her racehorse has had its head chopped and delivered the line 'My word, it's Camilla' the audience fell about. This continued as Mark, it a rather good impression said 'Oh, Mummy! You said you wouldn't call it that.'
1997: Ship Of Fools (or All Aboard The Good Ship Santa Pancrasta)
This was my first ever attempt at producing/directing a pantomime, or any other production for that matter. This was the last production ever in the lecture theatre (see below.) For the script we decided on three themes, Pirates, Secret societies and one close to my heart, at the time, Information Systems technical support.
I had long wanted to do something with pirates since there is a lot of opportunity for strong, easily recognised characters. We actually took a leaf out of traditional pantomimes with the Captain played as a principle boy. She was ably assisted by an officer more suited to the Royal Navy, Scroggs, a salty old sea dog and Roger the cabin boy (I know!)
IS tech support and the Order of the Rampant Rutting Rhino, complete with wonderful headgear, were one and the same. Essentially a group of self seeking people who took delight on the misfortune of others and recklessly waster library funds. Of course this was not in the slightest based on the Library's actual tech support team...
We had a nice start with Lionel and Andrew camping it up a two castaways and the crew had lots of fun as they rowed a lilo (HMS Boston Spa) all the way up the River Wharf to the Library. We also paid homage to the rash of staff promotions at the time by having one of the cast promoted while another scene took place.
As far as an ending goes, we dropped the ball a bit. I remember Mark and I being sat discussing how to finish the thing off when we both agreed that having someone bring a wheelbarrow full of money on stage, then sit the captain in it and have her chase the bad guys around would be extremely funny.