Panto dame Roy takes final bow

Glitter and glam: Above, Nick Challenger and Roy Staniforth; left, Roy Staniforth as the dame in Dick Whittington in 2005, pictured at Wales Methodist Church.
Glitter and glam: Above, Nick Challenger and Roy Staniforth; left, Roy Staniforth as the dame in Dick Whittington in 2005, pictured at Wales Methodist Church.
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IT’S the time of year when the Panto Prince of Wales normally starts to weave his magic.

An overheard quip at the check-out, a remark on the bus, a child’s observation would provide the spark to ignite the dramatic imagination of Roy Staniforth MBE.

For 67 years Roy has been the creator, dame and inspiration for Wales Panto players annual production.

But no more.

The man who must be the longest-running pantomime dame in the world - probably ever - has taken his final curtain call.

At the age of 83 Roy has slapped on the greasepaint for the last time - the first was in 1944 when the panto cast was made up of Wales and Kiveton locals and wartime evacuees from London.

So why now?

“I always said I would know when it was time to quit, and I did,” said Roy at the Killamarsh home he shares with his 85-year-old sister Freda.

“The last pantomime we did was Goldilocks And The Three Bears and I didn’t play the dame for the first time in 60-odd years - apart from the National Service years. I found it was a big part and I was having trouble learning the lines.

“I’ve had a fantastic time and I will still be helping to produce the pantomimes and acting as a consultant to help out and, although I won’t be doing any more writing, they will be using my scripts.

“I’ll still be around, I couldn’t walk away altogether, I don’t think they would let me.”

Nor should they.

Roy has been the driving force behind four generations of principal boys, dozens of dames and endless one-liners.

Without him there would be no Wales pantomime which, pre-1970s, would tour the theatres and church halls of Sheffield from Christmas to Easter.

“At this time of year I would be starting to order the scenery for this year’s pantomime from a company in Rochdale, you have to get your order in early.

“I would also be starting to write bits of the script as they came to me, one-liners and jokes or things I overhear people saying to each other.

“I must admit it does feel like a weight off my mind not having to do it. It’s always a bit stressful wondering whether it will take off or not when the time comes.

“One woman would say to me every year after last rehearsal: ’It will be a miracle if it goes on’ but it did go on every year and I hope someone will carry on the tradition . We have a good cast and some great kids.”

Many of those kids have been inspired or just calmed down a bit by being in Roy’s productions over the years.

Like the youth clubs and boxing clubs of the past, the Wales panto production has helped to maintain a community heartbeat, kept continuity with the past, and provided young people with goals and purpose.

The social and community aspect of Roy’s work was reflected in his being awarded the MBE in 1997.

“I had an awe-inspring day at the palace and I’ve been to a few garden parties as well, I’m practically a regular,” joked Roy.

Most people in Kiveton and Wales would think The Queen was lucky to meet Roy.

But there have been one or two minor mishaps over the years.

“One year we did Mother Goose and the goose and four chorus girls were sitting on a bench backstage,” said Roy looking back.

“I shouted the girls to get ready. They all stood up at once, the bench tipped up like a see-saw and the goose fell off the end, through the curtain and into the seats.

“He couldn’t move and had to ask the audience to help him back up.

“Another time we took a pantomime to Oughtibridge and the toilet was next to the stage. The first time the principal girl stood up to sing someone flushed the toilet and no-one could hear a thing.”

Roy Staniforth has a lifetime of such tales and the best wishes of generations of ordinary Wales and Kiveton people.

So what will be his abiding memory?

“I will miss the fun of it all and seeing people’s faces as they are laughing. I will miss being on stage but I have no regrets. I have enjoyed every minute, it’s been a big part of my life.

“I will remember the happiness we have brought to people and the laughter we have had in rehearsals.

“It’s been such a joy.”

Nick’s set to fill Roy’s sparkly shoes

THERE’s a new dame in town...

Roy Staniforth has finally handed over the wigs and garish make-up to a man.

At 34-years-old Nick Challenger from Killamarsh is less than half Roy’s age and he has the task of following a pantomime l;egend.

“I have been in panto for 20 years . Roy came to see me in a school musical and |I asked him if I could join the pantomime.

“Roy is such fun and gas been a brilliant dame. Everyone just loves him. He is just that sort of person that you warm to.

Som what does the old master think to the new ‘girl’.?

“He’s a good lad but I’m not sure he’ll stick it for 67 years,” laughed Roy.

“I thought it was time to give someone else a chance and I know Nick will do a good job. I’ll be there to give him any advice he might need.”

Digging up pantomime gold

TUCKED away in a drawer in Roy Staniforth’s semi in Killamarsh is 67-years worth of pantomime gold.

Oh yes it is.

That’s almost seven decades of cross dressing, blackhearted villains, lazy lads, thigh-slapping principals, hundreds of songs and double-entendres, a million dance steps and 67 moral endings.

Roy has kept the script for every pantomime he has written since he first scripted Robinson Crusoe in 1944 in an old exercise book.

Nothing goes to waste.

“I have kept them all and I go back and re-write them, update them and use them again,” said Roy.

Many of the classics survive, like: irate customer to shopkeeper:

“Don’t you have any scruples?”

“No sir, but I can order you some.”