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Film ID  ACE123
Article  The
Title  Pantomime Dame
Date  1981
Director  Elizabeth Wood
Production Company  Woodfilm
Synopsis  The evolution of the British pantomime dame from the 1880s as told by a number of contemporary “Dames”, Arthur Askey (1900-1982), Douglas Byng (1893-1988), Billy Dainty (1927-1986), Ian Evans, George Lacy, Paul Laidlaw, Terry Scott (1927-1994), and Jack Tripp (1922-2005).
Minutes  47 min
Full synopsis  ACE123.2 (00:02:00 - 00:11:04)
Actors making up and getting into costume. Song over about “the wonderful Pantomime Dame”. Victoria Wood describing the strange characters of pantomime, including the Dame. Billy Dainty as Widow Twanky. Credits. Victoria Wood on the Dame’s first appearance. Billy Dainty as Widow Twanky. Wood explains that the Dame connects with the audience both as a mother figure and as a man pretending to be a woman for an audience that sees through the pretence. Another Aladdin performance with Ian Evans. Wood VO explains the long cross-dressing tradition and deduces that the comic Dame character isstill important to the audience. Terry Scott as Dame Trot (Jack and the Beanstalk). Jack Tripp also as Dame Trot. Wood introduces John Morley who believes that the Dame is analogous to characters from seaside postcards. Ian Evans as Widow Twanky. Morley’s VO points out that the Dame arrived in British pantomime when Queen Victoria was on the throne. Early 19th century appearances included that of Joseph Grimaldi. The “red hot poker” sequence from Aladdin (production as 06:46) which derives from Grimaldi’s original. Victorian toy theatre. Photograph of early Dame. Photographs of James Rogers, “the first Widow Twanky” (1861). Photographs of Arthur Roberts, first Dame (Mrs Crusoe) to appear at Drury Lane, 1881. Dan Leno, who first appeared as a Dame in 1888.Wood asks what the essential characteristics of a Dame are.

ACE123.3 (00:11:04 - 00:21:32)
Caption: “Duggie Byng was born in 1893.” Byng talks about Leno (photographs) as the model for the rest. Photographs of George Robey, George Graves, Old Mother Riley (Arthur Lucan), and Norman Evans as “low class” dames. Caption: “Arthur Askey first played ‘Dame’ in 1924.” Askey describes the Dame as the pivot of the pantomime. Photographs of Askey on stage. Film of George Robey getting into character. Askey emphasises that everyone should know the Dame is a man; photographs of him in costume. Byng says his characters have always been a little more upper class. Photographs of him in costume. He prefers to be thought of as the character he’s playing, not as a man playing a part. Caption: “George Lacy and Paul Laidlaw.” Lacy talks about playing Mother Goose and the contrast between his working class characters and his “posh” accent. Photographs of him in costume. Wood says that the Dame’s character is developed by each actor; the costumes change as regular fashions do. Caption: “Jack Tripp.” Tripp talks about how his make-up has changed over time, and how the character has to be a little more believable than formerly. Tripp in rehearsal and in performance. He quotes Ted Ray on Dame “movements”; his VO talks about the fine line between being a Dame and a female impersonator. Terry Scott in his dressing room. Caption: “Terry Scott.” Scott getting into costume; his VO about seeing Norman Evans in Humpty Dumpty. Billy Dainty getting into costume. Caption: “Billy Dainty.” Dainty’s VO on adding pathos to the character. He talks about taking malapropisms from his own mother.

ACE123.4 (00:21:32 - 00:30:55)
Scott making up. His VO says his character is an extension of himself and can be accepted by both women and men. Dainty dressing. Talks about doing his speciality ballet dance during the performance, and says that every actor has his own interpretation of a role. George Lacy in his dressing room. He talks about his characterisations and believes he started playing a character like his mother. Paul Laidlaw says drag queens and Dames are – and should be – very different. Wood sums up the elements of the Dame’s character, and asks why they make a Dame funny. Dainty padding his underwear. Lacy making up; says this is when he beings to become a character. Scott making up says he needs to grin to judge the effectiveness of his make-up. Tripp describing the elements of his make-up. Laidlaw in his make-up. Ian Evans. Various make-up shots. Theatre and audience. Wood points out that watching pantomime is watching society’s attitude to women. Female members of the audience mostly believe the character is funny. Wood suggests the character is actually frightening, the mother, the boss, etc., and becomes a substitute for them which can be laughed at and thus made less threatening.

ACE123.5 (00:30:55 - 00:39:02)
Lacy (Queen Gertrude in Cinderella), Scott, Tripp, Dainty and Laidlaw all in performance. Laidlaw changing costume; VO talking about the stereotype elements of the characters. Lacy and Scott on stage. Lacy, Scott and Dainty changing costume. Wood points out that the Dame changes through the pantomime from mother figure to more and more outrageous parody. Scott, Tripp and Dainty in dance numbers. Lacy in new costume. His VO says Dames have a certain amount of licence and can get away with quite crude gags. In performance.

ACE123.6 (00:39:02 - 00:49:05)
Scott in another costume change, helped by his daughters, Lindsay and Nicola (who’s also in costume). His VO says the Dame is never really involved with any men; she can be vulgar but never really offends anyone. Scott on stage doing a bed-time strip-tease with multiple layers of garments. Tripp and Dainty in scenes of sexual innuendo. Wood talks about the art and tradition of the Pantomime Dame. Dainty and Laidlaw talking about the difficulties of being more outrageous than contemporary fashions when so many people have multi-coloured hair and dress wildly. Lacy says that he looks forward to doing pantomime even though he feels he’s getting too old. Roundup up actors and characters with “the wonderful Pantomime Dame” sung over. Credits.

Full credits  Sound Cyril Collick, John Lundsten; Photography Martyn Rissen, Ernst Vincze, Ivan Straburg, John Shann; Assistants Richard Melman, Martin Testar; Editor Peter Heelas; Assistant Finn Arden; Graphics Tony Geddes; Rostrum Ken Morse; Music John Du Prez; Production Assistant Catherine Townsend; Executive Producer Rodney Wilson. With thanks to Gyles Brandreth, Robin Carr, Charles Haley Productions, Allen Cristie, Roger Crittenden, Paddy Dickie, John Huntley, Roy Jordan, TV Film Services, The Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, Raymond Mander and Joe Mitchenson, The Richmond Theatre, David Tweed, Patrick Wilkes, Duncan Weldon and Triumph Theatre Productions, David Hawksworth and the Woking Drama Association. Produced and Directed by Elizabeth Wood. A Woodfilm Ltd. Production. The Arts Council of Great Britain © 1982.
Watch segments  ACE123.2 (00:02:00 - 00:11:04)
ACE123.3 (00:11:04 - 00:21:32)
ACE123.4 (00:21:32 - 00:30:55)
ACE123.5 (00:30:55 - 00:39:02)
ACE123.6 (00:39:02 - 00:49:05)
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