Pantomime Animals

Barbara Newman as 'Priscilla' the Goose

with John Inman as Mother Goose

1981 - Victoria Palace

Barbara Newman (April 11th 1914 - May 4th 2002)

'The Best Goose in the Business'

Barbara Newman variety artiste, best known as “Priscilla” the pantomime goose passed away today at a nursing home in Surrey . She was aged 88. Along with Kay Lyell, she shared the distinction of being the country’s top pantomime animal impersonators, appearing as Priscilla the Goose in productions of “Mother Goose” since her first appearance in the “skin” part at Swindon in 1946.She was featured in several television documentaries including “The David Frost Show”, “The Braden Beat”, Gerald Harper’s “Tea Break”, Michael Parkinson’s “Pantomania” and Russell Harty’s “Saturday Night People”. A superb pantomime artist, she brought to life the role of Goose, and by her skilful manipulation of the eyes, by her movement and superb timing made her creation not only seem real, but solicited every ounce of sympathy and warmth from audiences everywhere.

We reproduce her obituary taken from The Times , May 11th 2002

 Barbara Newman

Diminutive variety performer who found fame in pantomime as “the best goose in the business”

The variety artiste Barbara Newman was known for most of her career as “the best goose in the business”. A diminutive figure, she specialised in playing the part of Priscilla, the goose who plays a central role in the pantomime Mother Goose.

She made the part her own, slipping easily into the lower part of the 6’ feathered costume, and with her quirky bird like movements created a totally believable character. Her first entrance, as she peered round the stage curtains, drew rounds of applause from the audience.

The costume itself was extremely heavy, and she had no option but to waddle around the stage- evoking either sympathy or laughter, depending on the scene. The bird’s eyes (controlled from inside) were particularly expressive and she managed to upstage many a fellow artiste.

She was paired in her career with some of the great pantomime dames of the era, notably John Inman (best known as Mr Humphries in are you being served?) with whom she worked in 12 shows. Newman always took the role seriously and even in the finale refused to remove the costume, insisting that Priscilla walk on in a glittering cloak with a crown on her head. “I would never break the spell” she once remarked.

Born in Cardiff , Barbara Newman made her first appearance in the chorus of a pantomime at the County Theatre, Reading, in 1932. In 1936 she was understudying the title role of Cinderella at the Kennington Theatre in London , and she went on to work as a soubrette in concert parties and revues around the country. She regarded every pantomime as her forte and every year would take any one of a variety of classic roles, such as the principal girl, Dandini or even an Ugly Sister in Cinderella.

During the Second World War she was a light comedienne in Tommy Trinder’s Concert Party in Devon , and she later played in Germany for ENSA. By the late 1940’s she was appearing in celebrity concerts, notably at the Kingsway Hall in London (1947). She had by then also begun to play the role of Priscilla the Goose in Pantomime. She had soon made the role her own, and in the process built up a considerable reputation, appearing at leading theatres throughout the country, including Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Hanley.

By the 1970’s she was widely acclaimed as “the best goose in the business” (the phrase often being used in her billing material) and was appearing in productions of Mother Goose opposite comedians such as Ken Dodd, Billy Whittaker, Billy Dainty and Roy Hudd.

It was, however her teaming with John Inman in 1976 that proved to be the most felicitous of her career. The two had a natural empathy on stage, and their comic repartee was superbly timed. Inman commented “When you saw the costume in the dressing room it was simply a dead object. When Barbara wore it she made it come to life”. Offstage the two became close friends.

By the late 1980’s, years of performing as Priscilla had taken their toll on Newman and she was suffering ill health. She retired from the stage, but she was a familiar figure and cheery face at many showbusiness functions, where she was affectionately called “The Goose Lady”.

Her last years were spent in a nursing home in Surrey, where she was often visited by fellow pantomime performers, and every year on her birthday she was taken by friends to a luncheon in a hotel on the Strand. Bent over almost double, beady-eyed and with a mischievous sense of humour, she was, as her many admirers remarked, rather like Priscilla.

She is survived by her brother Peter.

From the BBC Points West Archive, an interview from 1977 with Barbara backstage at the Bristol Hippodrome. (opens in new window)

 

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