Paul Elliott - 50 Years in Showbusiness!

On June 8th  The King Of Pantomime, Paul Elliott held a celebration fifty years to the day when, on June 8th 1958 he made his first professional appearance on stage at the Palace Court Theatre in Bournemouth.

When the King of Pantomime holds court, the event is bound to be star studded- and indeed it was! The event was held in the Prince Of Wales Theatre in the heart of the West End, where, in the beautiful art deco stalls bar we gathered to celebrate Paul’s half a century of work as an actor, director, producer and lately author.

Paul himself has not regarded it as work- “To me, this is a holiday” he said during his speech, as he recalled the many productions he has been involved in since first making the decision to become a producer back in 1964. Since then there has been an immense outpouring of productions in the UK, in Canada, America, South Africa, Australia, and all over the globe.

The Shows:

Paul Elliott in his own words “Has survived” more than 43 years as a producer!

Starting as an actor fifty years ago to the day- the 8th June 1958, he appeared at the Palace Court Theatre in Bournemouth, his home town, in Agatha Christie’s “Murder In The Vicarage”.

Since then Paul has produced, or co-produced over 60 West End Productions including Buddy- The Buddy Holly Story, which played for 13 years in the West End, the Olivier Award winning Jolson, starring Brian Conley (Best Musical of 1997) at the Victoria Palace, , Kat and the Kings (Best musical Olivier Awards 1999) at the Vaudeville, The Goodbye Girl with Gary Wilmot at the Albery Theatre, Run For Your Wife at various theatres in London and on tour, and the hugely successful Stones In Their Pockets, which won the Olivier and Evening Standard awards in 2001.

With Duncan C.Weldon Paul has produced Private Lives at the Albery with Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan, also on Broadway (Tony award Best Revival) The Royal Shakespeare production of The Hollow Crown with Dame Diana Rigg, Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Donald Sinden in Australia and in Toronto (with Vanessa Redgrave), The Master Builder with Patrick Stewart at the Albery, Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Shaftesbury Theatre with Amanda Holden and on tour with Lesley Joseph, Suddenly Last Summer at the Albery (Dame Diana Rigg and Victoria Hamilton), The Birthday Party with Eileen Atkins and Henry Goodman at the Duchess, The Philadelphia Story with Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic, As You Desire Me at the Playhouse (Kristin Scott Thomas and Bob Hoskins), The Best Of Friends (Patricia Routledge), Hot Flush! With Sheila Ferguson, Rula Lenska and Marti Webb, The Last Confession at the Haymarket  (David Suchet) and Macbeth at the Geilgud Theatre with Patrick Stewart.

Paul’s first play as an Author There’s No Place Like A Home has undertaken two national tours since it opened in 2006, and he is currently producing The Music Man starring Brian Conley in association with the Chichester Festival Theatre which opens this month.

Paul has produced over 360 pantomimes in the United Kingdom and abroad, and has enjoyed a seventeen year association with Nick Thomas, developing the biggest pantomime company in existence.

The Family:

Peter, Nigel, Val Nalton, Teresa, Andrew Ryan, Laura Taylor

Peter Robbins, Andrew Ryan and myself arrived at the P.O.W Theatre and before we even got in the door found ourselves among Paul’s extended Pantomime Company. After Twenty-Six years of working with Paul you tend to build up a large number of Panto mates- and so many of them were there this evening.

Brian Godfrey and Vicki Michelle

Outside we ran into Brian Godfrey- he’ll be giving his “sister” in Northampton this season, and met up with Val Nalton and her daughter Teresa. Val and Teresa have run the E&B wardrobe, and now the Qdos wardrobe since “the early days”, and travelled from Scarborough where the enormous Qdos wardrobe is based. Every year they supervise and create the hundreds of costumes as they are shipped to theatres from Aberdeen to Plymouth, and all stops in between.

Michael Harrison and Danny La Rue

Danny La Rue, accompanied by Anne Gailbraith were arriving at the same time, as was Tony Priestley, wardrobe supervisor for many of Paul’s productions. Tony has recently returned from America where he has been supervising costumes for the Qdos “Strictly Dancing” tour. We also met up  with Laura Taylor who, for several years ran Paul’s publicity department for E&B and then for Qdos.

Paul Robinson and Jonathan Kiley

We ascended the stairs to be greeted by our host, along with Linda Hayden (Mrs Paul Elliott) and their children Haydn and Laura-Jane. Peter and I first met Linda on our very first pantomime for Paul at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage in 1982. Linda was our glamorous Prince Charming!

Val Nalton, Andrew Ryan, Jan Hunt and Peter

Glasses of champagne to hand, we were fortunate to be introduced to John De Lannoy. John was director of Paul’s first pantomimes at the New Theatre Hull in 1968 and 1969. John had brought with him the original programmes of “Goldilocks” with Ronnie Hilton, George Lacy and Jan Hunt, and “Goody Two Shoes” with Jimmy Thompson, Norman Collier and McDonald Hobley!

Nigel, Rolf Harris, Alwyn and Peter

Within minutes of arriving we ran into Rolf Harris and his wife Alwyn. Rolf was our “Buttons” for quite a few years, and then our Daddy as “Baron Hardup”, until his retirement from panto when we played Woking in 1997. Rolf has continued to appear in concert and, of course on television, and is currently working on a series of paintings in the studio he had built at his beautiful house on the river Thames. We talked about the “old days” obviously, and the revival of the “Rolf Harris Stylophone” currently available in the Gadget Shops- that wonderful electronic hand-held keyboard Rolf first advertised back in the early 1970’s!

The foyer and bars were now filling up, and in the crush we managed a quick chat with our mate Ian Sandy- he’ll be at the Hippodrome in Birmingham this season, between co-ordinating our “Panto Roadshow” autumn tour- bless him! We caught up with Carole Todd- Carole has directed us many times over the years, and will be once again be directing the Dublin Panto this Christmas, and met up with our great friend Jan Hunt- featured in IBY’s “Spotlight on” series recently. Jan has just finished touring her 50’s show “Magic Moments”, and will be giving her Fairy Godmother this year.

Jan’s “Crackerjack” co-star Don Maclean and his wife Toni were at the next table, and we got the opportunity to catch up on the panto news- Don will be appearing with John Barrowman once again at the Hippodrome in Birmingham in “Robin Hood”, and has just appeared on tour with Jan’s “Magic Moments”.

Don Maclean, Toni, Nigel, Jan Hunt, Peter Robbins

Met up with Peter Byrne and his wife at the top of the stairs. Peter and Paul Elliott were both in “Dixon Of Dock Green” on our television screens for many years, and the original partnership of Elliott & Byrne was the original E&B productions, before Peter returned to his main love, acting. He’s currently on tour with “And Then There Were None”. Peter was our first director (and Baron!) for Paul at Stevenage, and it’s been a joy to run into him in theatres recently- on tour with Paul’s play “There’s No Place Like A Home” at Westcliff, and at the St. Martin’s in “The Mousetrap”. Peter never stops working, and seemingly touring!

Before we reached the stalls bar we were delighted to run into another of our beautiful “Prince Charming’s”- Rula Lenska- she was our Principal Boy the year after Linda Hayden, at the Beck Theatre in Hayes. A Dame and a Dandini were next- actually a “Buttons” when we worked with him at the King’s Edinburgh in Millennium year-Alan Stewart and his wife Jane Danielle. Alan is now premier Dame in Scotland, and Jane was our lovely Dandini for several years, in the days when girls were boys!

Alan Stewart and Jane Danielle

One of the great joys of evenings like this is meeting up with your panto family. For Peter and I meeting up with our wonderful Baron, Windsor Davies and his wife was a huge pleasure! We worked with Windsor in Bournemouth, Cardiff, Leeds and Croydon, and have great happy memories. In Bournemouth Peter & I would invite Windsor and June Brown (Fairy Godmother) over to our flat after the show, and then just sit back and drink in the wonderful tales they both had to tell of the business. We’ll both treasure those evenings. We reminded Windsor (he now lives mostly in the South Of France) that somewhere in his garage is Polly the Parrot.

Nigel, Windsor Davies and Peter

Windsors routine with this wooden parrot- “Why can’t you find asprin in the Jungle? ‘Cos  the Parrot’s ate ‘em all”… think about it…and all the gags he did about polyfiller, polytechnics and polyunsaturates made him laugh as much as the audience. We’d watch every show for the “feel good factor” of the wonderful Windsor!

Vicki Michelle and Jeffrey Holland

During the evening we managed to catch up the news from Vicki Michelle and from Jeffrey Holland- they will both be embarking on a tour of “’Allo ‘Allo” prior to Pantomime seasons- Vicki is at the New Hull, where Paul’s first pantomime was produced way back in 1968.

Lesley Joseph, Nigel, Peter Tod

We caught up with Lesley Joseph- and hopefully managed to find her great digs- Lesley is off to the Theatre Royal Plymouth for pantomime, appearing as Fairy Godmother. We got to chat with Danny La Rue and Annie, caught up on the news of the King’s Panto with Grant Stott, and chatted to Peter Tod (Peter and I have worked so many times for Peter at the Hippo in Birmingham- it’s our second home!)  and to Judi Richards (Judi was manager of The New Cardiff when we played Cinderella there with Dame Hilda Bracket, and Windsor Davies). Even got a gossip in with Chris Biggins- he’s giving his “Buttons” this year at Southampton AND managed to get to eat the great food- not bad for one night, eh?

Paul’s Speech:

After a superb sit down dinner, serenaded by a truly excellent three piece band, our host took to the platform and outlined the journey from the Palace Court Theatre in 1958 to today, paying tribute to those who were instrumental in helping him on that journey.

At the Palace Court Paul received five pounds a week- and that this evening Anthony Peck and Anthea Morris, who were both in that production were sitting “out front”, having kept in contact ever since. He paid tribute to Michael Gaunt who, in 1964 gave him the opportunity of presenting his first professional production at the Rhyl “Little Theatre”, He related how he had met John Newman and Daphne Palmer at this time, before John and Daphne founded “Newpalm Productions”.

Paul mentioned his early pantomimes, directed by John De Lannoy, in 1968, producing “Goldilocks” and “Goody Two Shoes” in Hull, and Torquay, and then taking “Goldilocks” (Which Paul has described to me as his “Lucky Mascot Pantomime”) on to Toronto with Lionel Blair starring and directing- leading to a seven year season of pantomimes in Canada, which were all received with tremendous warmth.

Paul told that it was John De Lannoy who was responsible for his West End Debut, and how, in the early days he rented a “space”- as small as a cupboard from Vincent Shaw, and now if he wasn’t able to come up with the full rent, he would work for one day a week as a theatrical agent for Vincent’s company in lieu of rent!

That first “Goldilocks” in 1968 at Hull had Jan Hunt appearing as Principal Boy, and Peter Tod, who was to have a long association with Paul at Birmingham, working at the Hull New Theatre as Assistant Manager at the time.

Paul related how Barbara Windsor had starred in his Norwich pantomime in 1969 (with Dave King and Alan Breeze), and then the production, starring Barbara  played the Temple Fortune Theatre in Golder’s Green the following year.

He told how Peter Bridge, the producer had given him his start in “the business” He described touring in a production directed by (Sir) Donald Sinden, and getting sound advice from the leading lady, Evelyn Laye. He related how Sir Michael Redgrave opened doors to him in the profession that otherwise might have been barred.

Paul told of the great debt he owed to Renee Stepham, and her stable of young producers “Renee’s boys” that included Mark Furness and Bill Kenwright, and of his “Dixon Of Dock Green” days which saw him working as an actor with Peter Byrne , forming E&B (Elliott & Byrne) Productions in 1964, touring a production of “Ring For Catty”- their first venture lost money

Paul paid tribute to those who are no longer with us- amongst them were Mark Furness, the producer, Richard Stone the legendary agent, Sheila Formoy, Tony Young who worked alongside Paul in the Aldwych offices (The same suite of rooms at 11, Aldwych that was once the home of Ivor Novello), and memories of Sally Fleming, who ran Paul’s office for him, and was a truly lovely lady of the theatre, and of Paul Jury, the musical Director, arranger and composer who created “Jolson” and worked alongside Paul in creating “Buddy- The Buddy Holly Story” that ran for so long in the West End.

Paul also paid tribute to his long term partner Duncan Weldon, who he has worked closely with since 1967. Paul shared the offices at 11, Aldwych with Duncan for 36 years, before building extensions at the newly renamed “Novello Theatre” meant they had to remove themselves a great distance- literally just across the road!

Sitting in the “audience” this evening was Eric Sykes, who Paul praised as a comic genius, and related stories of their long association with “Big Bad Mouse”, with Eric playing opposite Jimmy Edwards in a show that became hugely popular-running for twelve years- and is being revived this year once again with Paul as “referee” to the mayhem.

Paul said how delighted he was that David Mirvish and Brian Sewell had arrived from Canada for this evening, paying tribute to Ed Mirvish, and the 37 shows that he produced with Ed in Toronto at the Royal, and 5 at the Princess Of Wales Theatre.

He also paid tribute to Paul O’Grady- telling how had to persuade Buster (Paul’s dog) that he HAD to appear in pantomime, and won over his master, resulting in six years of sell-out pantomimes with Paul O’Grady as Wicked Queen, including a season at the Victoria Palace. He also gave special praise to Leslie Phillips, and to Ray Cooney- Paul’s production of “Run For Your Wife” played in the West End for a great many years, and brought some of the finest comic actors into its ranks as it played all over the world. Brian Conley was praised by Paul for his long association in both pantomime and in musicals- “Jolson” at the Victoria Palace being just one, and the forthcoming Chichester Festival Production of “The Music Man” being the current one.

Paul talked about his association with the wonderful Les Dawson and the Palace Theatre Pantomimes- the shows that took him into a  new era of high standards and talented star names: “From the third division into the premier division”, with Eric Sykes, Russ Abbot, Michael Barrymore and Windsor Davies, and superb productions of “Babes In The Wood” and “Dick Whittington”.

Paul  said “I am blessed that I am working with the best pantomime company in the world” and that his association with Nick Thomas had helped lift pantomime into a new medium”- and that those, even in our own profession who run pantomime down as not being worthy, were doing it a great disservice- and that he was also blessed with his Edinburgh pantomime family- referring to his long association with the management and artistes at the King’s Theatre.

Paul also paid tribute to Linda, his wife and family for all their support, and, regarding his life’s work used the phrase I started this article with:

To me this IS a holiday”

Paul- on behalf of all of us who attended your celebration tonight- thank you for inviting us, and thank you for having us join you on that holiday- but mostly, I would like to thank you for creating a vast pantomime family, one that we all continue to belong to, and all feel a part of- the biggest pantomime family in the world!

The Guest List:

With such a vast gathering- I think there must have been nearly two hundred plus guests- I’m afraid I’d find it impossible to list everyone- so please forgive me for any omissions- and spelling errors-balancing a glass and trying to jot down names at the same time is not one of my best skills!

Some of those attending Paul’s Fiftieth Year In Showbusiness included:

Russ Abbot, Jeffrey Archer, Robin Askwith,  John Barrowman and Scott Gill, Gavin Barker,  Lionel Blair, Don Black,  Michael Barrymore, Peter Byrne, Christopher Biggins, Barry Burnett, John Costigan, designer Hugh Durrant, Ray Cooney, Brian Conley and Anne-Marie Conley, Windsor Davies, John De Lannoy, Frank Donovan,  Ian Drake, Beth Eden, Hilary Gagan,  Brian Godfrey, Rolf and Alwyn Harris, Michael Harrison and Kathryn Rooney,  Roger Hannah, Dennis and Sharon Hall, Jeffrey Holland, Gary Hind, Jan Hunt, Mathew Kelly, Steve and Sirina Jonas,  Dinesh Khanderia, Bill Kenwright, Jonathan Kiley, Roger Kitter,  Lesley Joseph,  Sharon Harding and Alan Harding, Rula Lenska, Danny La Rue and Anne Gailbraith, Gareth Marks and Paddy O’Neil,  Laurie Mansfield,  Don and Toni Maclean, Patrick Maloney,  David Mirvish & his Wife, Vicki Michelle, Val and Teresa Nalton,  John Newman and Daphne Palmer, Leslie Phillips, Tony Priestley, Judi Richards, Paul Robinson, Peter Robbins, Andrew Ryan, Bill Reinking,  Ian Sandy, Jenny Seagrove, Brian Sewell, Mark Sherwood, Sir Donald Sinden, Janet Spearman,  Grant Stott, Allan Stewart and Jane Danielle, John Stalker,  Eric Sykes,  Laura Taylor, Richard and Lucy Temple, Nick and Sandra Thomas, Carole Todd, Peter Tod, Barbara Windsor and Scott Mitchell, Ian Wilson, Simon Williams, Duncan C Weldon and Anne Sidney, Mandy Carole.

Nigel Ellacott

June 2008

This page was last updated 13th June 2008

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