Did you know that:-
? Dick Whittington is the only Pantomime that is based on the life of a real person? – Richard Whittington was born in 1350 in Gloucestershire and twenty years later was apprenticed to Sir Ivo Fitz Waryn, a wealthy City of London silk merchant; in 1379, Richard opened his own shop selling luxury cloths; by 1398, he was elected to the position of Mayor of London for the first time – he held the post another three times after that; during this time, he provided healthier water supplies to the citizens of London and was also involved in the provision of better sanitation and prison reform; the very first Library of Greyfriars in Newgate Street was founded by him; Richard died in 1423 and was buried in the Church of St. Michael’s near Cannon Street Station. This church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, rebuilt and then bombed in 1944.
? After the church was destroyed in WW2, a mummified skeleton of a cat was found in the foundations and it was thought that workmen 300 years earlier had left it in remembrance of Richard Whittington – this is the only tenuous connection of him with the cat portrayed in the pantomime version of his life.
? Because Richard Whittington had been a popular benefactor to the people of London, stories about him were passed down the generations and, with many colourful additions and re-interpretations, we arrive at today’s pantomime.
? Over the years, the story has gained the Fairy of the Bells – Fairy Bow Bells this year played by Jodie Prenger – a Cook, a ship-wreck and an underwater scene.
? The first pantomime version of Dick Whittington was in 1814 at Covent Garden, starring the famous comedian and dancer Joseph Grimaldi as Dame Cecily Suet. Nowadays, the dame is called Sarah the Cook, a part successfully played twice at the Hippodrome by Dudley – born comedian and dancer Billy Dainty – generally regarded as one of the best pantomime dames.
? When, in the latter part of the 19th Century, music hall stars began to appear in pantomime, Lottie Collins (1866-1910) had a big hit with the song “Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay” in Dick Whittington at the Grand Theatre, Islington.
? Marie Lloyd, “the Queen of the Halls”, (1870-1922), appeared as Dick Whittington at the Crown Theatre, Peckham in 1898 – she was considered too raunchy for the West End!
? In 1908/1909 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, comedian Wilkie Bard (1870-1944) as Idle Jack popularised the tongue-twister “She Sells Sea Shells on the Sea Shore” – he appeared at the Hippodrome once in Variety in September, 1932.
? When comedian Norman Wisdom appeared as Dick Whittington at the London Palladium in 1956, he began the modern trend for male Principal Boys; he appeared here at the Hippodrome in” Turn Again Whittington” in 1978/1979.
? The first time Dick Whittington was staged at the Hippodrome was in March, 1907, when, as part of the normal Variety show, John Tiller’s Company presented “Dick Whittington and His Cat” as a “Grand Christmas Extravaganza” – in March?! According to The Owl magazine, “the house was full to over-flowing to see John Tiller’s latest pantomime. The chief artistes are Nellie Rodney as Alice, Will Lytton as Idle Jack and Jessie Templeton as Dick. The comical cat is played by Gaston Morel”. John Tiller was famous for creating the Tiller Girls high-kicking dancing troupe and pre-WW1 he staged several mini-spectaculars at the Hippodrome.
? The first modern Dick Whittington at the Hippodrome was in 1970/1971, starring singer Anita Harris, Billy Dainty, and comedians Freddie (“Parrot Face”) Davies and Bernard Bresslaw. (BHIPP:2015.455)
? Next was “Turn Again Whittington”, starring Norman Wisdom, in 1978/1979. (BHIPP: 2016.1)
? Subsequent productions have been –
1982/1983 – starring The Krankies, Paul Henry (” Benny” from ” Crossroads”) and Billy Dainty. This was the only previous appearance by The Krankies at the Hippodrome – as Janette Tough told me at this year’s Pantomime Launch – “we have made a quick return!”. (BHIPP: 2015.527 and BHIPP: 2016.452)
1993/1994 – starring Lesley Joseph, dancer Wayne Sleep (as the most balletic Cat ever!), actor John Nettles, Jeffrey Holland as Sarah the Cook, singer Vince Hill, and The Simmons Brothers.
2001/2002 – starring Brian Conley, Don Maclean as Sarah the Cook, and The Simmons Brothers. (BHIPP: 2016.50 and 2016.51)
2010/2011 – starring Joan Collins as Queen Rat (this remains to date Joan’s only pantomime appearance), Julian Clary as “The Spirit of the Bells”, actor Nigel Havers as King Rat, Jeffrey Holland and ventriloquist Keith Harris
? Matt Slack in this year’s Dick Whittington has made Hippodrome history as the only performer ever to appear here in pantomime four years running- in last year’s ” Aladdin”, he clocked up over 150 Hippodrome appearances.
Dick Whittington shows what makes pantomime such a vital part of our Christmas – an old story, embellished over the years, kept up-to-date with modern technology and performed with gusto by today’s stars – oh, yes it is!