In the South-East of Sheffield, a group called Darnall Medical Aid put on pantomimes for many years, written and produced by Jack Douglas. The Dame was Lol Fenton, with Lynne Coyle as principal boy and John Coyle as stage manager.
Margaret Twelves, a Grenoside lady, was their choreographer. She was also a friend of Emily Pepper who was the Grenoside Centre’s entertainment secretary. In the mid-1970’s, Emily suggested to Margaret that Darnall bring their Jack and the Beanstalk pantomime to Grenoside.
So, one snowy winter night, the whole of the Darnall cast arrived in a coach. David Pepper remembers Lol Fenton playing Jack’s brother, a comedy part, having to milk Marvel the cow, whereupon a tin of Marvel powdered milk fell from its udder. (The script for Goldilocks in 2012 contains exactly the same joke….). David also remembers lots of nice young ladies in the chorus, and a lovely “principal boy” called Christine Kenny (who could also act). He also remembers Margaret being very strict and telling him off for talking to the girls.
Drummer Don Gillott remembers someone knocking on his door, asking if he’d play. “When is it?” he asked. “Tonight!” they said.
From this simple beginning sprang the Grenoside Panto, formed by Margaret and her brother Barry. At first it was via word of mouth, as Margaret asked her friends and neighbours if they thought a local panto was a good idea. Looking at the programme, and the photos, 54 people thought it was indeed a good idea, and appeared on stage!
It was run rather like a dancing class with a pantomime at the end of the year. Margaret had been a professional dance teacher since the age of 17, and already had a dance school in Hillsborough above her father’s wine and spirit business. She also apparently had a sweet shop in Darnall.
Barry was equally talented. He had been on-stage since the age of 5, and had had voice training from Jimmy Young’s mother (Jimmy Young was a popular BBC presenter and singer for 50 years). He was also very artistic: he designed and painted the sets and backcloths, and designed the costumes. He also played amateur football for Leeds United!
In its whole history, no pantomime has been cancelled despite some spectacular snow-falls (we are 200 metres above sea level). In two years, heavy snow falls prevented audiences getting to shows, so extra performances were added to make sure no-one missed out.
Over the years, we have had around 750 different people taking part. People stay an average of four years – but the record is held by one Rita Hampton who did 28 years with us!
The “Dame” is the most challenging part for principals, and in all our years we have only had five – Bernard Froud (once as Dame), Bryn Phillips (2 times), Bryan Prince (7), Ken Fielding (10) and Ross Crowe (21).