Pantomime, as a seasonal entertainment in the UK, is an unusual phenomenon. Over the years, I’ve grown to respect its tropes and traditions. But this particular production, the first panto I’d performed in as a professional (although I’d been composer/MD of a couple up in Lancaster), I remember as gruelling, particularly during the exhausting week leading up to Christmas.
On the plus side, Michael Simkins was a superb dame; Kevin Hubbard, my fellow chorus boy, was as good-natured a colleague as one could wish for; and David Steadman was our charming and gifted musical director.
Director Ben Benison was a familiar figure from children’s TV, an expert in mime and physical theatre. I now realise that I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with him, but I didn’t appreciate that at the time. I was far too self-absorbed, and over-intellectualised everything — the opposite of what was required. However, Ben, quick to draw the best out of people, clocked that I could write songs, so he asked me to add a couple to the score that had been provided with the script. I wrote one for the villain, King Rat, and a silly number, Don’t Insult the Sultan, for the second act which was set, as tradition dictates, in Morocco.
Just before starting work at the Marlowe, Canterbury, I had auditioned, successfully as it turned out, for the London production of Jesus Christ Superstar. As soon as the run of Dick Whittington was over, in Jan 1979, I spent a week at the Palace Theatre with fellow newbies before being plunged into my first West End show.