Freddie Lees (1934-2015)
It is with great sadness that we learned today at its-behind-you that Freddie Lees has passed away. Freddie was the finest pantomime dame of his time, and for me, the finest of all time. He began his pantomime career in 1956 and appeared in over forty five pantos, playing the Dame in twenty five of them. I was lucky to see quite a few of them.
Freddie was the star Dame in the pantomimes at my local Theatre, Swansea Grand, directed and produced by his life partner John Chilvers. I grew up watching Freddie make guest appearances in the weekly and then fortnightly rep seasons, and looked forward to the times he would return to play Dame at “The Grand”.
Freddie is the greatest influence in my choice of career, and he and John Chilvers fostered the love of Pantomime that will remain with me always. “I am a panto Dame because of Freddie. I watched him from the stalls so often as a young man, and I have known him almost all my life. To watch his style which appeared effortless, and to see him stand stock still and deliver a punch line with a knowing twinkle- Freddie had the ability to draw the audience in, make them part of the joke and they knew that he was enjoying every minute of it. In short, a masterclass in the art of pantomime from a true professional.
Freddie was my friend, and he had a huge network of friends who will be at this moment missing him and more importantly remembering the laughs and the joy. Friends not only in pantomime, but in plays, West End musicals and television. In his last weeks he still retained that humour. He told me how with his eyesight failing he missed reading the blogs on here and commenting on the articles. When I last saw him along with my Brother Vivyan we talked about things Panto, and a wonderful holiday in Llandudno back in the mid seventies, we talked until he suddenly said “right- I know you well enough. I’m tired, so bugger off!”
I would be so grateful if Freddie’s mates would send a few words and a few memories to share here via the IBY email.
A few years ago I created “A Spotlight On Freddie Lees”. Simon and I would like to repeat it here. After he read it Freddie said I should use it for his obituary. I will most certainly do that. It was the most amazing career, and his influence will continue in Pantoland . Thanks Freddie for everything.
WORDS AND MEMORIES
WORDS AND MEMORIES
From Susie McKenna
From Susie McKenna
I first saw the magic of Freddie Lees at Swansea Grand theatre playing
Norman in the Dresser From Richard Burke
I was 18 and was rehearsing for the next show . I should have ben learning my lines but he was mesmerising . So still , so funny , so heartbreaking , I just had to keep seeing the show .
And then he came to see a run of our show and spoke to me with such kindness and encouragement . Everyone in this business needs someone as Good as Freddie supporting you
The fact that I got to work with him many times a few years later at Nottingham Playhouse gave me the best of professional experiences and I am forever thankful for all the laughs we had. .
I Have always cared so much about what Freddie thought and I will miss his guidance . He was such a great friend , mentor and guide . I will miss him terribly and the world has lost a true gentleman and comic genius .
Sleep well you wonderful old Ginger
All my love
I first saw the magic of Freddie Lees at Swansea Grand theatre playing
Norman in the Dresser
From Richard Burke
I am very saddened to hear of Freddie's death. From Peter Lees
Freddie and I first worked together as actors in a season at the Theatre Royal, Bath in 1969 in the days when the theatre was run by Frank Maddox. We churned out plays like Semi-Detached and White Sheep of the Family. Soon after, we went on a long Charles Vance tour of Salad Days in which Freddie played Troppo. I was cast as Nigel, the supporting male lead who doesn't find it easy to sing (spot-on casting for me!). We were surrounded by rep names of that era such as Sylvia Carson, Jennifer Oscard, Maggie Lawley and John Atterbury. It was directed by Richard Fraser, and the MD was dear old Alan Leigh. I note from the programme that the pianist was a Timothy Rice, though I doubt it was the chap we all now know of.
When Freddie needed to leave the cast of the 1975 tour of Murder at the Vicarage to do something more attractive (as he put it), he very kindly suggested me to take over his role as a nervous young vicar - he gave me lots of helpful preparatory notes and warned me that Barbara Mullen, who both directed and starred in it, was not an easy person to work with in either capacity, and was I sure I wanted to take it on? It was work, so I decided to go ahead and, after a few days of what you could loosely call rehearsal, rang Freddie to thank him for both the job and the warning which had certainly helped me to deal with Barbara's whimsical demands. I must say I was pleased when something better turned up and, like Freddie, I could escape - even though the production ended up at the Savoy with an old friend of both Freddie and me, Avril Angers, in the lead.
My partner of 46 years, Adrian Rondeau, also worked with Freddie in Bath back in '69, and we kept in touch with him through what we call the Fergie years (when Jean Fergusson and many other actors lived in our Crouch End house). We moved out to Essex in the early 80s to build up Adrian's business, and some years ago made our home in Norfolk where we now are.
Adrian and I are both saddened by Freddie's death. I am sorry that we shan't be able to go to his funeral on Tuesday, and we send our condolences to you and your brother as close friends of the dear man.
With kind regards
I am very saddened to hear of Freddie's death.
From Peter Lees
I was proud to have Freddie as a branch on my family tree.
I only discovered him a few years back and traded photos and such. Freddie knew my Grandfather – something I never did. Although I never met him, he was the closest UK family member – with a memory I had been in contact with.
Sad day for me to find out he has gone.
From Roy Barraclough
From Roy Barraclough
Freddie was a wonderful man, actor and dame. We worked together many times
at From Richard Frost
Freddie was a wonderful man, actor and dame. We worked together many times
From Richard Frost
I met Freddie at Oldham
Rep in 1968 and we worked together many times in the following forty seven
years. We remained great friends until his passing. My partner Graham Richards
and I saw him play Dame brilliantly all over the country and he taught us both
so much about the theatre and pantomime in particular. As a young actor Graham
played with Freddie in 'The Sleeping Beauty' at The
From Kim Grant
From Kim Grant
Freddie and I first met in 1974 when he played the lead in a production I
He was incredibly talented, intelligent, witty...with a truly wicked sense of humour....I shall miss him so much.....life will not be the same without him
From David Henry and Derek Griffiths
From David Henry and Derek Griffiths
What a wonderful time we had together in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Palladium.
with great love and affection
of over thirty seven pantomimes, seven
Freddie made five pantomime appearances at the Grand
Swansea, where he also guest-starred in many rep seasons . Freddie Lees is the
Dame who most influenced me, and set the standard for what truly makes a Dame.
the Swansea rep and panto seasons, and the guidance of
Freddie’s career has seen him switch roles from Twankey to Brecht, and Dame Trott to Ibsen - he has appeared in Shakespeare’s “Tempest” in one season and the saucy “Pajama Tops ”in another; rep seasons include Bristol Old Vic, Leatherhead, Swansea, York, Harrogate, Salisbury, Windsor, Oldham, Nottingham Playhouse and two years with the National Theatre of Australia.
appeared as two characters in “
1956 - 57 Mother Goose (Touring Pantomime)
Freddie Lees played the Broker’s Man in a touring Pantomime that played
Presented by Jack Gillan, the production included Renee Dymott “The Unusual Girl”, The Arial Kenways, a trapeze act, and the “Zio Angels” a speciality act where the girls appeared as a fan fountain of ostrich feathers and also appeared as the Phantom Guard. Mother Goose was played by Billy Eaves- “The Scream Of Dames!”
Freddie recalls that
Elaine Smith (no
The Second “Corrie”
connection was that Freddie’s landlady in his
That year Freddie appeared at Crewe Rep. The play was “Cosh Boy”, and when the
leading man broke his leg in rehearsal, he stepped into the role. He also made
the first of his guest appearances in rep at the Swansea Grand. (He would make
appearances for the next six successive years with the
I asked Freddie about the first Panto that he remembered seeing:
Freddie was Stage Manager and appeared in the chorus in this pantomime. The star was Douglas Byng as Mother Goose, with the popular Hedley Ward Trio.
Douglas Byng (1893-1987) was the grand dame of pantomime. Like George Lacy he specialised in very aristocratic characters, and appeared in revue and cabaret singing his witty ditties like “Mexican Minnie”, and “Doris, the Goddess of Wind!”.
The Hedley Ward Trio comprised of Derek Franklin, George Taylor and Jack McKechnie. Founded by the band leader Hedley Ward in 1948 they appeared regularly on radio’s “Educating Archie” and became extremely popular. Derek Franklin married another popular Radio Star of “Educating Archie”- the actress Beryl Reid.
This repertory panto also starred Eve Lister - she had been starring in “The King & I” at Drury Lane, having taken over from Valerie Hobson – and Roseley Ashley, who was married to celebrity hairdresser, Raymond “Teasy Weasey!” Also appearing was John Standing, later to become 4th Baronet in 1964 after the death of his father (He doesn’t use the title) in his second year in the theatre. Now a film star, (The Eagle Has Landed, V for Vendetta) he recently starred in HBO’s series “A Game Of Thrones”.
in 1958 Freddie returned for a rep season at
In 1959 Freddie joined the Butlin’s rep season at Pwllheli for Michael McDona productions. The plays included “Cosh Boy”, “Sailor Beware”, “This Happy Home” and “Fresh Fields”. Audrey Leybourne appeared with Freddie in this season.
1960 Freddie made his
Holland was later to leave acting and take up script writing, creating
Julia Smith) “Angels”, “Eastenders” and the
ill fated “Eldorado” for the
Freddie’s guest appearances with Swansea Rep Co in the 1960 season included “Rookery Nook”, “A Taste of Honey”, and his first appearance as Lord Fancourt-Babberley in the classic “Charley’s Aunt”. (The photograph below shows the cast and director: Peter Boyce, David Beale, John Chilvers – director – Howell Edwards, Bryan Ramsay, Patricia Hockridge, Freddie Lees, Branwen Iorwerth and Pamela Galley)
Freddie’s 1961 and 1962 seasons at
One of the questions I asked Freddie was if he could pinpoint the pantomime where he sat in the audience and thought “I’d like to do that”, he said:
think it was “Old King Cole”
- either “Old King Cole” with Henry Kendall and
Vic Oliver, or “Humpty Dumpty” with Norman Evans and Betty Jumell
1962 - 63 Aladdin (Opera House Harrogate)
In 1962 Norman Evans was booked to “guest Star” in the Opera House pantomime, but sadly died in the November. I asked Freddie who had influenced him most as Dame:
Evans. I know everybody says that. . . but Norman Evans. There were different
kinds of dames then, there was the sort of washer-woman, and then there were the
kind of grander ones like Dougie Byng who was terribly aristocratic, and
Clarkson Rose and people like that.
I saw Henry Kendall play dame at
Norman Evans was replaced by
Tony Heaton “A
Host In Himself!” in this repertory pantomime. Previously Heaton had appeared
with Ken Dodd in panto at
1964 Freddie took up the Government’s offer at that time to travel to
Freddie had previously worked at Harrogate with Edgar Metcalf, and when Metcalf emigrated to become Director for Robert Helpman and Norman Marshall, Freddie took on the role of training stage management, and appearing in the pantomimes.
Freddie played Wishee Washee in this production.
Freddie played Buttons.
Freddie co-directed this
pantomime, but did not appear in the show.
He returned to the
Back In Blighty!
Freddie played Wishee Washee in this pantomime. The cast included Imogen Moynihan (Mrs Charles Vance), Richard Fraser as Twankey and Angela Eaton as Aladdin. “The Stage” newspaper described Freddie Lees as having
September 1968 saw Freddie Lees at Leatherhead Rep in Goldini’s “The Fan” and in
November a tour of “Relatively Speaking” before returning to his home
town and Oldham Rep at The Coliseum Theatre. He appeared in two pantomimes at
Freddie Lees appeared as Silly Billy opposite Carl Paulsen, who ran the company and played Dame. Kenneth Alan Taylor wrote this panto, but did not appear that year.
The “Corrie” Connection comes to the fore as Colin was played by
Barbara Mullaney (later
Barbara Knox) who was to play Rita in
in this pantomime was
Jean did many rep seasons with Freddie, including
In 1968 Freddie was able to return to Swansea Rep for a much anticipated guest appearance in “The Amorous Prawn”
Freddie Lees once more played Wishee Washee, opposite Kenneth Alan Taylor as Twankey and Barbara Mullaney - played Aladdin.
“Making an instant hit in the show was Freddie Lees as Wishee Washee. His aimiable manner and natural charm make him probably THE star of a great show!” The (Stage)
Having played comic in six pantomimes to date, he joined the Theatre Royal in
1970/71 Cinderella (Opera House York)
The cast included Freddie as Ugly Sister with Joe Cook. Buttons was played by Frankie Desmond. Frankie had been the star of “Dazzle” in Scarborough Summer Season for four years.
The Sisters “pile
extravaganza on top of fantasy in the way of costume, but with taste too.
During 1971 Freddie’s Rep
Season included “Hadrian The Seventh”, with Jonty Miller,
with Barbara Mullaney and Philip Lowrie
( Forty-one years Barbara and Philip
just married in “
1971/72 Babes in the Wood (Opera House York)
Frankie Desmond played Nurse Trott with Freddie Lees as Simple Simon in this Donald Bodley Pantomime that also featured Olivia Breeze as Maid Marion, as well as Max Harvey, Geoffrey Brightman and John Rudling. The Musical Director of the panto was Paul Laidlaw- now a leading pantomime Dame himself!
The Stage wrote “Mr Lees wins friends with his engagingly knowing air, and scores a hit with his tender little song “If I only Had A Puppy!”
In the autumn of 1972 he was able to return once more as a guest artist to Swansea Grand, where he re-created the role in “Charley’s Aunt” which he had so successfully performed twelve years earlier.
This time he appeared alongside Vivienne Moore and Eleanor Thomas.
Cinderella (Wyvern Theatre,
Freddie played Buttons this time around, with husband and wife team Howell Evans and Patricia Kane as The Ugly Sisters, Hysteria & Hydrophobia. David Davenport played Baron and Linda Rusby played the title role.
In February 1973 Freddie
At the time, Alf was Mayor-elect of Weatherfield, and feared the publicity might affect his prospects. When Bet Lynch heard of this, she confronted Leach and forced him to return the cheque. Bet had correctly assumed that Leach would have a criminal record and would suffer more from the police being involved than Alf.
Freddie Lees plays his First Dame- Mrs Crusoe in Robinson Crusoe, with Bobby Bennett as Billy Crusoe, The Rocking Berrys, and four live lions and a parrot.
“We had four live lions. Humphrey Stanley the manager swore us to secrecy because he said ‘On the first night it’s going to be such a coup de theatre. . . .the audience are going to go wild!’. My friend Richard Frost was in on the first night. I spoke to him afterwards. I asked if there had been a big reaction from the audience. ‘Well’ he said, ‘the woman in front of me turned to her friend and said “I thought there was a funny smell when we came in!”.
The smell was horrendous! And by the end of ten weeks, of course it was even worse. The lions were actually kept in the wings, on the side of the stage in cages. I used to get the biggest laugh by coming on immediately after with an enormous air freshener! Invariably women would say “Oh, down here please! “
We had trouble with the lions. There were three lionesses and one lion, and of course the only time the lion could get at the lionesses was when they were on stage, because when they were in the cages they were separated. It’s not a pretty sight when a lion is on heat. We had complaints from the Mothers, saying the children were asking what was going on with the lions. . . so they got rid of the male lion.
…They all had cosy names like Beryl and Ruby and Maud, and when they got rid of the lion they replaced him with a lioness called Phyllis, and - this is absolutely true- she turned out to be a lesbian! She wouldn’t let them alone either!
Now the parrot had to go after the first night. The principal girl sang “The world is a circle”, and as soon as she started on the song the parrot said “*!#! off!” very loudly! Throughout the song. So, the parrot went.”
know how it is playing Dame.
You can leave the theatre after the show and no
one recognises you.
Freddie appeared at Swansea Grand in “My Fat Friend”, which I saw as part of the
Rep Season. That winter was spent back in
Freddie reverted to playing Wishee Washee in this pantomime, the part of Twankey played by Frankie Murray, with Ann Hamilton as Principal Boy and Olivia Breeze as Princess Of China. Directed by Tony Clayton, this Panto featured Cy Grant, the film actor and calypso singer, as Emperor Of China.
Straight after this pantomime Freddie appeared at the Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford, re-creating his role in “My Fat Friend” in a new production directed by my brother, Vivyan.
was the first professional production to be performed at the brand-new
And immediately following Ilford, in February 1975 Freddie began a tour of “Murder At The Vicarage” starring Barbara Mullen, Derek Bond with Caroline Moody, directed by Donald Bodley.
was followed by the National Tour of the comedy “Norman, Is That You?” which
Touring continued with
“Kennedy’s Children” (Which I saw at the
Jack & The Beanstalk
This pantomime, starring the top Welsh comedian, Ryan Davies, as Simple Simon, featured Freddie as Dame Trott. Local pop singer Bryan Evans played Jack, with Kay Coleman as Princess, and the singing group “Golden Brandy” along with June & Paul Kidd (Mother and Son) as Daisy The Cow.
This was a pantomime of swift
As the pantomime was
about to open, Ryan fell ill and was taken to hospital suffering from bronchial
asthma. An urgent phone call on Christmas Eve saw
rush down to
1976 was to prove a busy year for Freddie:
1976- “Billy” The Musical
“Billy” had opened two years previously with Michael Crawford in the Title role. In this cast change Freddie joined the company in May as Mr Shadrack.. Roy Castle played the lead role with George Sewell as Mr Fisher, Fanny Carby as Billy’s Mother and Betty Turner as Billy’s Gran. Tony Aitken played Stamp, and Eddie Molloy was Freddie’s partner in the undertakers, Mr Duxbury.
November of that year- 1976 Freddie had opened in
Des Barritt appeared in the comedy, along with Phil Reilly- they were both rehearsing with me daytimes, and joined by Rosemarie Macvie. This was an “In House” production, and I’m sure there would have been many more like it at the New Theatre but sadly Martin Williams died suddenly at a very early age, and the theatre once more became a touring house, with only a few in-house shows.
Freddie played Widow Twankey alongside Lulu as Aladdin with Freddie Garrity as Wishee Washee and The Dreamers as Policemen. Also in the cast were Martin Dell as Abanazar, Michelle Summers as Princess, Reginald Tsiboe as Genie, Rob Stuart as Emperor. It was directed for Howard & Wyndham by Malcolm Goddard.
“Freddie Lees as Widow Twankey has ensured that he will be in great demand as a “Dame”. His timing is just right and he gets every ounce out of the situation and dialogue” (The Stage Jan 1977).
This was the last Howard & Wyndham Pantomime.
June 1977 returned as guest artist for another repertory season at the Grand
Theatre Swansea, appearing as
1977-78 Sleeping Beauty (Kenneth More Theatre, Ilford)
Freddie starred as Dame Trott in this pantomime. It featured Graham Richards as Silly Billy, Vivienne Moore as the Princess, Andrew Betts as Prince, Eleanor Thomas as Queen, Eric Leroy as King, Robert Quarry, and Peter Dayson playing several parts.
It also featured Paul Jaynes as Carabosse, Tracy Hart and Terence Suffolk. It was directed by Vivyan Ellacott, written by Vivyan and myself (Nigel Ellacott) and costumed by myself, with costumes adapted from Betty Astelle’s and Cyril Fletcher’s set and costumes that the theatre had purchased.
Freddie once again played
Widow Twankey, this time
Aston, the “Golden Shot” girl,
In this pantomime one of the dancing ensemble boys was twenty year old Chris Hamill- later to enter the world of pop music and change his name to Limahl, with his group Kajagoogoo. He talks about his days in panto, and life in “’I’m a Celebrity 2012” in his website www.limahl.com
1979-80 Puss In Boots (Kenneth More Theatre, Ilford)
A well-remembered pantomime for me, as it was the one time I got to work with Freddie in Pantomime! This “Puss In Boots” was written and directed by Vivyan Ellacott. Freddie played Dame Trott, and I- Nigel Ellacott played “Puss”.
Peter Dayson as
Peter went on to
direct and play Dame around the
James Curran was King and Stephen Fletcher made his debut in theatre- later to achieve fame in Eurovision as “Bardo” with Sally Ann Triplett and a change of name to Stephen Fischer.
There was a scene where Freddie appeared on a mock-up horse, and I remember one of pantomime’s potentially worse puns- I had to ask “Is that a Palamino?” to which Freddie had to reply “Any Pal-a-mino is a Pal-o-your-no!” So bad!
Some of the pictures below are from a set of proofs, which I have had in a drawer for a very long time. Apologies for the quality- in many cases it is the first time they have been seen!
the summer season of 1980 Freddie appeared at
Puss In Boots
This pantomime starred the late Davy Jones of “Monkees” fame as Colin, with Freddie Lees as Dame Trott. Once again Graham Cole played King (extending his rep season at the Grand) with local actress Menna Trussler as Witch. Diana Gibson played Princess Maria, with Peter Holbrook as The Cobbler. The part of “Puss” was played by Katrina Tanzer, with Jenny Alwen as Fairy. The pantomime was directed by John Chilvers and ran until March 7th!
Freddie Lees as Dame Trott- Outrageous costumes, with an unerring sense of timing”. (The Stage. Jan 1981).
the year Freddie joined The Orange Tree,
1981-82 Dick Whittington
1981-82 Dick Whittington
Ken Goodwin and
Ulman. At twenty-one, Ullman was a few
years away from the stardom that would follow. Two years later she would be
offered her own
Freddie Lees played Sarah The Cook alongside John Clegg , The Great Soprendo, (Geoff Durham)- at that point married to Victoria Wood, and Gareth Thomas, Linda Rusby and Terry Doogan, known as “the Best Cat in The Business”.
In September 1982 Freddie returned to the Thorndike Theatre Leatherhead to appear as Malvolio in “Twelfth Night” and in the Agatha Christie Thriller “Ten Little Indians”, playing Dr. Armstrong. It was directed by Ted Craig.
Jack & The Beanstalk
This was Freddie Lees’s fourth
Don Maclean and
Lees as Dame Trott. Once again
appeared as King, with
Paul Keown as
Jackie Marks played Princess (she was later
to appear in the original cast of “Les Miserables” in the
Blunderbore, played by James Marston must have felt jinxed during this season.
During rehearsals he slipped and broke his wrist, but managed to carry on with
suitable strapping. Shortly afterwards he was knocked unconscious by a
descending backcloth, and spent Christmas in
The Grand Theatre closed its doors after this pantomime season and underwent major renovation and re-building work. Its next show was the following year’s pantomime.
1983 Freddie toured with “Habeas Corpus” from
1983-84 Sinbad the Sailor (Wimbledon Theatre)
This is, to date, the only “Sinbad” I have ever seen - it is a pantomime which is hardly ever performed. Produced by John Newman and Mark Furness it had a plot somewhere, but it really didn’t matter as the entire pantomime was in the hands of the Master of Mirth, Ken Dodd!
starred in this pantomime that had pirates, acrobats, thieves (definitely not
had a book by
Paul Elliott and
Davies. I remember a dove act in the middle
of it all-
Paul Derek and his doves,
and a giant bird- a “Roc” that flew in from the flies at one point. There was an
on-board cooking scene with Doddy (as Sinbad) and
Freddie playing Bertha Wazir,
Jacqui Toye was a
swashbuckling Ali Baba and
as a very wicked Sorcerer.
Phil Compton (now with the Birmingham Stage Company) played Captain to David Brody’s Mate, and Christopher Beck played most of the forty thieves! Gail Ivey was the Pirate’s Daughter and her father, the Pirate King, was Jonathan Linsley. The Acromaniacs were pirates and sailors and performed a speciality. The pantomime was directed by John H de Lannoy.
might be the first review Freddie got for his
“. . . on the make with a stunning outfit for every appearance, and joyously
fleshed out by Freddie Lees of the Myrna Loy profile”
(The Stage Jan 1984)
following year this production transferred to
Sinbad the Sailor
This season the director was Alan Curtis, who also appeared in the pantomime for Newpalm Productions. Ken Dodd was again Sinbad with Jacqui Toye and Freddie Lees. The Dame had a slight change of name this time around- she was now Bertha Baba. The Principal Girl was played this year by Catherine Francoise McCarney, with Sybil Jones as Scheherezade. Director and renowned Panto villain Alan Curtis played Yazid the Sorceror with Bryan Sullivan as Yusef and the Caliph. Jonathan Linsley again played Hassan. Bob Morse created the beautiful costumes for this production
During March of 1985 Freddie joined Harrogate Rep and appeared in the comedy “My Fat Friend”. In May of that year he joined the Nottingham Playhouse and appeared as Jim Bloggs in “Gentleman Jim”.
“Underneath The Arches” was the major musical at Nottingham Playhouse that year. Directed by Kenneth Alan Taylor and Andrew Hay it featured Richard Frost, Freddie Lees, Susie McKenna (now responsible for the artistic output and pantomimes at Hackney Empire) John Jardine, Robert Kingswell , Jayne Moore as well as Kenneth Alan Taylor himself. Carole Todd was the choreographer.
Running until March 1st, “Aladdin” starred Bernie Clifton and Freddie Lees, alongside Ria Jones, a Swansea artiste who had been “Cinderella” with Peter Robbins and myself three years previously- her first panto.
Ria went on to appear in West End Musicals including Les Miserables, Chess,
Nine, The Witches of Eastwick, High Society, Joseph and Cats. She has recently
made concert appearances in The Far East and The Royal Albert Hall.
Also appearing were Simon Oates as Abanazar, Mark White in the title role and Simon Wallis and Peter Dayson as Chinese Policemen. Judith Hibbert played Genie with Stephen Robinson Stafford, Tim Ward, Christopher Wilcox, Neil Owens, Michael Mullen and Christopher Jenkins. It was directed by Dudley Stevens.
During the Summer Season of 1986 Freddie appeared in the saucy farce, “Pajama
John Inman at
The cast included Maurice Thorogood, Fay Hillier, Alan Christian, Louise Burton and Suzie Jerome.
This Triumph Pantomime starred Jim Davidson as Buttons, with Freddie Lees and Roger Kitter as The Ugly Sisters, alongside Allan Stewart as Prince, Derek Waring as Baron Hardup, Dianne Lee as Cinderella, Mia Carla as Fairy Godmother and Jon Jon Keefe as Dandini.
Directed by Alan Blackburn the Sisters were called “Krystle and Alexis” in homage to “Dynasty”.
The Stage Newspaper reported “Freddie
Lees looks decidedly closer to a certain
1987 saw Freddie returning to Nottingham Playhouse to appear with Richard Frost and Paul Bradley in “Pravda” before heading for Norwich Panto.
Produced by Dick Condon and directed by the late Robert Marlowe, this pantomime starred Bradley Walsh as Wishee Washee and Wayne Sleep as Genie Of The Lamp with Dilys Watling in the title role, and Freddie Lees as Widow Twankey alongside Rusty Goffe as Slave Of The Lamp.
Charles West played Abanazar, Wei Wei Wong , Palladium Principal Girl was Princess with George Reibbit, Peter Whitbread, Walker & Cadman and the Flying Carpet speciality of Emerson & Jayne.
In 1988 Freddie was back at the Thorndike Theatre in Leatherhead appearing in Joe Orton’s “Loot”.
Directed by Jim Davidson, this pantomime was similar to the Bristol Hippodrome
one of 1986. It again starred
Jim Davidson as
Freddie Lees and
Kitter as The Ugly Sisters.
again appeared as Cinderella. This
That year, 1989, Freddie returned to the Leatherhead Thorndike theatre to play Dr.Rank in “A Dolls House” with Rosalind Ayres, Josie Kidd, and Keith Drinkel. He went on to Nottingham Playhouse to appear in “Spider’s Web” with Susie McKenna, Michael Remick, Paul Gabriel and Michael Kirk, directed by Kenneth Alan Taylor.
This was followed at the Playhouse with “Stepping Out” joined by Josephine Blake and Josie Kidd, directed by Kim Grant, and by Ibsen’s “Enemy Of The People” .
1989-90 Cinderella (Alhambra Theatre, Bradford)
The previous year’s Jim Davidson production transferred to
Charlie Drake played Baron with Jess Conrad as Prince Charming. David Christian played Dandini with Mia Carla as Fairy Godmother and Hilary O’Neil as Cinderella.
and Charlie Drake created chaos with a lively baking scene, similar in style to
the one he performed at the Palladium with Molly Sugden. The pantomime at the
During the run there was a Charity Gala. Freddie and Paul Toothill are seen here with Danny La Rue who appeared as a Guest Star.
the April of 1990 Freddie appeared in the comedy “Last Tango in
In June the Playhouse presented Ken Hill’s “The Curse of the Werewolf”, with Freddie Lees playing Dr Hugo Bancroft, and his assistant, Ingerberg, played by Susie McKenna. It also featured Paul Gabriel and Alan Moore and was directed by Kenneth Alan Taylor.
1990-1991 Cinderella (Wimbledon Theatre)
Presented by Paul Elliott, this pantomime starred Brian Conley as Buttons. Bonnie Langford played Cinderella and Barbara Windsor was Fairy Godmother. The Baron was played by Gyles Brandreth, with Jan Hunt as Prince Charming and Amanda Bairstow as Dandini. Freddie Lees played Ugly Sister opposite Michael Sharvell-Martin with Ray Alan and Lord Charles and Ed “Stewpot” Stewart.
On a personal note, this is the sort of bill that we can only dream of seeing today- a “dream-team” of Pantomime pro’s, all under one roof!
In the February of 1991 Freddie Lees appeared in “Stepping Out” at Leatherhead Thorndike Theatre with Jennie Logan, Josie Kidd and Nancy Nevinson. He played Geoffrey.
As soon as that run ended a month
went to the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch. Mike Harding’s “The Last Tango in
Freddie played opposite Judith Barker as Pat again, joined by Lesley Randall as Henry, Judy Wilson, Paul Gabriel, Janet Whiteside and Jean Challis. It was directed, as before by Kenneth Alan Taylor.
Dick Whittington (New
This Paul Elliott E&B/Triumph production had
Cannon & Ball as Captain and Mate,
with Bernadette Nolan as
James Horne, a veteran Dame himself, played Sultan Of Morocco, and Sean Canning played King Rat. The Production was directed by Peter Purves and ran until February 2nd.
In 1992 Freddie returned to the Swansea Grand Theatre repertory season to appear in “Educating Rita” playing opposite Swansea Actress (and later starring in “Gavin & Stacey” on television) Melanie Walters. The play was directed by Menna Trussler.
In the Autumn Freddie joined the Bristol Old Vic Company to play Trinculo in “The Tempest”.
Babes In The Wood
Presented by Nick Thomas and Jon Conway, this pantomime again had Cannon & Ball as Good & Bad Robbers, with Lesley Ash as Maid Marion. Robin Hood was played by Jonathan Kiley, who is now an executive producer for Qdos Pantomimes.
The part of Friar Tuck was played by Ian Sandy who sadly died this Christmas season (2012) and who for many years was company manager at The Hippodrome Theatre Pantomimes.
Freddie played Dame- Nurse to the “Babes”. The Sheriff was played by Sean Canning, with Bradley King as Alan-A- Dale, Jacqueline Boanson, and Joanne Hegarty as Fairy. It was directed by Peter Purves.
The Stage newspaper described Freddie Lees as…
“A great Dame… his singing
of Verdi’s “La Donna e
April 1993 saw Freddie in “My Cousin Rachel” at the Redgrave Theatre, Farnham, followed by a return to the Bristol Old Vic to play Feste in “Twelfth Night”
Freddie Lees as Emperor Of China playing opposite Robert Kingswell as Emperor. Kenneth Alan Taylor played Twankey and directed, with Sally Ann Mathews as Aladdin, Paul Gabriel as Abanazar, Michael Remick as Wishee Washee and Jo-Anne Knowles (later to star in “Mile High” and television dramas) as both So-Shi and the Slave of The Ring. Mark Stratton played the Genie and the Chief of Police.
was Kenneth Alan Taylor’s touring production of “Fur Coat And No Knickers!”
Freddie Lees, Paul Shane
(of “Hi Di Hi” fame),
Judith Barker , Leslie Randall
Freddie played the Grandfather in this comedy which, again, I was lucky to see
during its tour of the
1994-95 Aladdin (Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon)
This pantomime marked Freddie’s 37th panto, and his 22nd as Dame. Widow Twankey is his particular favourite role and he holds this season as one of the happiest. Directed by Jonathan Kiley it starred Chris Ellison as Abanazar, Dave Benson Phillips as Wishee Washee, John Virgo, the snooker champion, as Chinese Policeman, Andrea Boardman as Genie Of The Lamp, with Wayne Morris as Aladdin and Ronnie Scott Dodd as Vizier and Mark Turnbull as Emperor.
When I asked Freddie to name the pantomime that most stays in his memory, either having seen or been a part of, he replied:
“The one that I’ve seen, I think, would have to be Humpty Dumpty, the Norman Evans one. And one of the happiest ones to be in was Croydon for Paul Elliott, an “Aladdin” with Chris Ellison and Dave Benson Phillips as Wishee Washee and John Virgo…”
On a personal note, I know that Freddie is still hoping that somewhere there might have been an archive video recording that might still exist, and if so, he would love to view it!
Babes In The Wood
This London Palladium production for E&B Productions had Brian Glover in the role of Sheriff of Nottingham, and Freddie Lees as Nurse.
Sophie Louise Dann played Maid Marion to Hilary O’Neil’s Robin Hood.
Gary Lovini, the violinist played the musical Merry Man, Alan-a-Dale, and as a nod to popular television characters at the time Falcon of “The Gladiators” played Fairy and Mr Blobby played himself!
1996 In May of this year Freddie took over the role of Mr Sowerberry, the undertaker, in “Oliver!” at The London Palladium. The production had originally opened in December, 1994.
Cotterill played Mrs Sowerberry in this
Mendes production, as did Judith Paris.
During Freddie’s time with “Oliver” the roles
of Fagin were played by
In 1996 Rikki Stone played an orphan child. In 2009, thirteen years later, Rikki played Muddles opposite Nigel Ellacott in Snow White at Ilford!
Freddie’s First child “Oliver” was Tom Fletcher- now the lead singer with McFly!
Freddie opened in “Oliver!” on
This production again starred Jim Davidson as Dick Whittington, with Victor Spinetti as King Rat. John Virgo appeared as Captain, with John Lyons. Freddie Lees played Sarah the Cook with Louisa Landon as Alice Fitzwarren. Scott Harvey and David Kristian were in the company which was directed by Jim Davidson. The lighting design was by Nigel Catmur.
The late Victor Spinetti,
favourite actor of The Beatles- he appeared in their films- also appeared in
many pantomimes, and was known as a raconteur of all things theatrical. His one
man show played to theatres throughout the
“Sit down, and I’ll do it for you” was the reply!
2000-2001 Dick Whittington (Apollo Theatre Hammersmith)
This was Freddie’s last pantomime
production was staged in the 3,632- seater Apollo Theatre, Hammersmith,
Directed and starring Jim Davidson the pantomime was the same as the previous year with Jim in the title role, Victor Spinetti as King Rat, Freddie Lees as Sarah the Cook, and John Virgo as “Captain Creep”. David Kristian reprised his role as Town Crier, and once again the lighting was by Nigel Catmur.
(Freddie and Victor were to be reunited at the London Palladium later in a long running musical centred around a famous automobile.)
FORTY FIVE YEARS IN PANTOMIME!
Pantomime career that had begun in 1956 continued through into the next century.
Freddie Lees appeared in pantomime for forty-five years, and played Dame for
twenty five of them!
Freddie appeared at Swansea Grand in eleven
different repertory seasons, and in five pantomimes:
1975, 1978, 1980,
1982 and 1985. He appeared in all the major theatres across the
CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG!
In September of 2003 Freddie Lees joined the company of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” produced by Michael Rose. The musical had opened the previous year with Michael Ball and Emma Williams. The cast had included Paul O Grady, Anton Rogers, Nicola McAulliffe and Richard O’Brien.
Freddie joined in the re-cast of 2003 with Gary Wilmot as Caractacus Potts and Caroline Sheen in the role of Truly Scrumptious. The Baron Bombast was played by Victor Spinetti, with Sandra Dickinson as the Baroness. Wayne Sleep was the evil Childcatcher, with Freddie as the Toy maker. Russ Abbot played Grandpa.
“Chitty” ran until September 2005. During this time Freddie remained with the show. The parts of Caracatus changed to Brian Conley, and then to Jason Donovan, with the roles of Childcatcher changing- Steven Gately and Alvin Stardust played the role, and Christopher Biggins played Baron with Louise Gold as Baroness. The company included Tony Adams and Lionel Blair.
Throughout this Spotlight on Freddie’s pantomimes, he appeared in a great many television productions. “Coronation Street” (twice); “Goose With Pepper” the TV Movie in 1975, “Hotel Babylon”, “The Bill”, “Tandoori Nights” in 1985, “ITV Playhouse “, appearing in “Office Gossip” “Little Britain” in 2005, and recently Freddie appeared in “How Not To Live Your Life” in 2010 and “Come Fly With Me” in 2011.
This page was last updated 9th June 2015