When the curtains closed on the final performance in January 2013 of ‘Jack and the
Beanstalk’, St. Giles Pantomime Society had performed it’s 64th annual pantomime
all of which have been staged in the Assembly Room at Pontefract Town Hall.
The Society was formed in 1949 by the then Vicar of St. Giles Church, The Reverend
Jack Peel, (inset) who stated in his article in the 1974 Silver Anniversary programme
“there were many reasons for starting the Pantomimes, the principle being to draw
people of all ages and differing abilities into a ‘Splendid fellowship’ as he called
it. It is one of the best clubs you can find. Some people sing, some dance, some
play music, but that is not all, you must always remember those who do stage work,
stage sound, stage lighting, make costumes, help with make-up, book seats and do
the multiple other jobs. There may be a crowd of performers onstage, you can be sure
there are just as many behind the scenes”.
Everyone enjoys it and the performance week is only the climax of weeks and maybe
months of preparation.
The Society has gone from strength to strength over the years since 1950 (the last
5 years has seen the cast performing to sold out audiences) bringing live theatre
to Pontefract and the surrounding district by way of the annual pantomime and occasional
Included in the Society's early membership was Norman Robbins, (inset) well known
Playwright and prolific Pantomime writer. Although Norman now resides in Devon he
still manages to keep in touch with some of his friends in the Society from time
The House that Jack Built marked the first appearance for Norman with the Society
and after the following year’s Aladdin he wrote the 1963 and 1964 pantomimes ‘Sing
a song of sixpence’ and ‘Hickory Dickory Dock’ before emulating the well known Pantomime
character Dick Whittington and departing for pastures new to make his fortune.
Since that time he has appeared in more than 30 pantomimes with such well known
names as Ken Dodd, Morecambe and Wise, Harry Worth, Roy Hudd, Charlie Chester and
Jack Douglas, along with appearing in films and on television in several shows including
‘Open all hours’ and ‘All creatures Great and Small’ to name but two.
Norman boasts in excess of 30 pantomimes and plays in Samuel French’s catalogue and
four of his eight plays were given their first staging by the then St. Giles Players
in the Parish Rooms on Ropergate, Pontefract, and were produced by the Society’s
longest serving producer,
the late Barbara Arundell.
His years in Pontefract are not forgotten however, and the names of many of the local
stalwarts remain in his memory to this day. In a recent conversation I had with Norman
he tells me that he is still writing plays but is reluctant to continue writing pantomimes
the - politically correct - issue surrounding most productions is making life difficult
for Society’s to finance them.
Among Norman’s successes is ‘Slapstick and Sausages’ THE EVOLUTION OF BRITISH PANTOMIME
from pre-Christianity to the present century. Published by Trapdoor publications.
Each September when the main production begins in earnest we see most of the regular
performers plus several new members all eager to begin rehearsing. A boast of the
Society is that several families of 3 generations can be seen either onstage or involved
front of house, backstage or in an administrative capacity.
With the pantomimes usually consisting of around 80 performers from the principal
players down to the junior members, the producer has to compile a waiting list for
new members, this is due to the restrictions imposed on the Society by the local
authority for stage members.
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Pantomime Society Prayer
Father, we praise you for all your gifts to us, and for the fun and fellowship we
Help us to value one another and to work for the good of all.
May we give of our best, and so bring joy to others. Accept our efforts and give
us your blessing.