Dear Reader - 'Lennon and McCartney' of panto + looking for Boris Johnson

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Friday, 6th December 2019, 3:19 pm
Updated Friday, 6th December 2019, 3:23 pm
Snow White - The main cast members of this years brilliant Harrogate Theatre panto.

Until I saw Harrogate Theatre’s production of Dick Whittington three years ago I’d had an aversion to panto since I was a small boy.

The Harrogate panto is different. It’s no insult to anyone’s intelligence and it’s silly rather than stupid.

I said as much to its director and co-writer Phil Lowe last week in the empty auditorium after the curtain had fallen on its brilliant new production of Snow White.

It’s no exaggeration to say he and fellow co-writer David Bown, the Lennon and McCartney of panto, put blood, sweat and tears into the panto each year.

Much of their normal life stops for months on end as they attempt to reinvent the wheel for the umpteenth time.

For there are only a limited number of possible panto plots, though arguments rage over whether this is six or eight or 20, even.

Financially, there is a lot riding for Harrogate Theatre on maintaining the fairytale success of their annual cash cow.

But there’s more to it than that. Firstly, there’s the fear of letting down the queuing school children and excited families who flock each year to the panto.

Next is the fact that this is Harrogate, afterall, a town whose badge of honour says we do it better than other places.

Then there’s a more unusual consideration.

You never known when someone like Sir Ian McKellan is going to pop in to check out your panto is, as the great man did at Harrogate Theatre nine years ago.

I rushed into Harrogate by foot last Thursday morning from our offices off Skipton Road.

Social media chatter was saying there was a “cavalcade” of vehicles with a police escort heading along Leeds Road.

Some tweets were claiming Boris Johnson’s campaign was coming to town.

Arriving in the town centre awash in Christmas shoppers, I scoured Oxford Street and Cambridge Street, James Street and Parliament Street, popping into bars and cafes, anywhere.

All in vain. My Boris hunt had been a wild goose chase.

Last year I trailed Nigel Farage through the streets on his way to Harrogate Convention Centre when the Brexit debate seemed young and the idea of another general election completely fanciful.

Rumours do occasionally come true, as happened one day in Harrogate in the late 1990s when ex-US president Bill Clinton was spotted in the Old Bell Tavern pub.

But embarrassment is an occupational hazard for a journalist.

I remember being sent to the local hospital to make some new contacts at the Goole Times when I was a very youthful-looking 22 year-old at a time when I tried to fit in a bit to this small Yorkshire town by sporting a flat cap and drinking only Tetleys.

Stepping up to the hospital’s reception desk, I introduced myself to a nurse with a lengthy, very polite preamble about who I was and what I was doing there.

The reaction wasn’t what I expected.

After a moment’s silence, there was a sudden burst of laughter.

Who was this wee Scottish boy rabbiting on about the Goole Times dressed like an early incarnation of Peaky Blinders?