A pantomime with elements of Babes in The Wood, Jack and The Beanstalk and Hansel and Gretel- with the forerunner of “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” thrown in!
The story of “Hop O’ My Thumb” began as “Le Petit Poucet”, one of the last stories in the collection of “Mother Goose” Fairy Tales by Charles Perrault, published in 1697.
If you would like to read the First English Translation of the tale from 1729, click here.
The Story was translated into English in 1729, and remained “Le Petit Poucet” until 1764, when it became known in the UK as “Little Thumb”.
The first use of the title “Hop O’ My Thumb” was not until “Tabart’s Collection of Popular Stories for The Nursery” was published in 1804.
(information from Iona & Peter Opie’s “The Classic Fairy Tales”).
The theme of abandonment is very ancient- cruel step-fathers or Step-Mothers abandoning their families abound. When Perrault collected this tale in his “Histories Ou Contes Du Temps Passe” in the late 17th Century, the phrase “Petit Poucet” was already a hundred years older.
There is an ancient Japanese fairy story of a cruel step-mother abandoning her children on the side of a mountain, and in trying to find their way home they stumble upon an Ogre.
The part of Hop O’ My Thumb where Hop exchanges the nightcaps of his brothers for the crowns of the Giant’s daughters is not unique either: The Brothers Grimm tell of a Witch who mistakenly murders her own daughter in place of her step-daughter in “Sweetheart Roland”, and like Hop’s Ogre, the Witch possesses Seven League Boots to pursue the hero.
The Swedish tale of “Roll” from 1843 has a Giant who murders his own daughters due to the trick played by Roll in exchanging head-wear- the plot here dating back to ancient Greek legends.
The interesting thing about Hop- both in the story and in pantomime is that his size is not of any importance to the plot! The nick- name he is given refers to his birth- born so small he could fit on a man’s thumb- and yet apart from that his diminutive size is not utilised or indeed referred to in the story. This must help when casting an actor or actress in the role!
THE PANTOMIME VERSION:
As a pantomime “Hop O’ My Thumb” is a subject that has not been seen, or in fact heard of for a very long time. One of the last of the very rare productions was, in fact a version set in a puppet theatre, with the lead role played by a ventriloquist’s dummy, at The Palace Newcastle in 1957.
As a pantomime subject it was never top of the popularity lists, but made appearances since it’s first airing in the 1850’s, fell out of favour, and by 1928 the “Stage” newspaper declared that it had disappeared, along with titles like “Bluebeard”, “The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe” and “Old King Cole”.
It had a brief revival in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s- it was a star vehicle for Mona Vivian in the title role, and then almost vanished without trace.
It has a few distinctions:
One of the earliest Female Principal Boys!
It is possible that the first Principal Boy played by an actress was in this pantomime. There are disputes over who was actually the “first” female “Boy” 1815 being the earliest in Covent Garden “Harlequin and Fortunio”, and- Eliza Povey is cited as the earliest in pantomime in1819 ,and Elizabeth Poole played “Hop” in Covent Garden’s “Hop O’ My Thumb and his brothers: or, Harlequin and the Ogre” in 1831.
She played the principal male role in “Hop”, then in “Puss In Boots” at Covent Garden in 1832, and then in “Old Mother Hubbard” in 1838. In none of these did she appear in the Harlequinade.
Another distinction was having General Tom Thumb playing the role in 1840 in front of Queen Victoria!
A further distinction is that “Hop O’ My Thumb” was taken by the Drury Lane Company to America, and was produced at the Manhattan Theatre in New York in 1913.
During the First World War it was a popular, even record breaking touring pantomime that played not just at Christmas, but also as an Easter attraction in theatres. After 1916 there is a full eight years gap before it re-appears as a pantomime subject once again.
Another distinction was that the popular Dame Comedian Douglas Byng devised a one man pantomime with “Hop O’ My Thumb” as the subject!
Among the notable productions can be found the following:
1831 Covent Garden.”Hop O’ My Thumb: or, Harlequin and The Ogre” written by Charles Farley , with Elizabeth Poole as “Hop”.
1840 Lyceum Theatre “Hop O’ My Thumb: or, The Ogre and his Seven League Boots” with General Tom Thumb in the title role. The pantomime was presented by the Keeley Management, and included a command performance at the request of Queen Victoria.
1864 Drury Lane. Hop O' My Thumb and His Eleven Brothers written by the prolific E. L. Blanchard.
Drury Lane 1864
1866 A production of “Hop O’ My Thumb” saw the last appearance of the celebrated clown Tom Mathews.
1881 Surrey Theatre. This production had George Conquest Jnr as King Nobody, Mr.Wood as Dame Noodle, Fred Hughes as Gaffer, and Grace Hamilton as Fairy Busybody.
It was a lavish production: “The Stage” noted it had “To mention the pretty ballet, in which there are sixty ladies, the beautiful scenery and the catching music”.
1882 A touring production of the pantomime began, and continued to play the circuit for several years.
1883 During Easter “Hop O’ My Thumb” was the attraction at several venues including the St.Helen’s Theatre Royal with a child actress, Emily Weston as “Hop”, presented by Mr.J.P.Weston’s troupe. Presumably they were related.
1884 Portsmouth Royal presented the pantomime with more or less the same character names as the Surrey Theatre’s production. It may well have had the same script. The title role was played by Katie Barry.
1892 The most prestigious production of “Hop O’ My Thumb” was presented at Drury Lane by Augustus Harris. Entitled “Little Bo Peep, Little Red Riding Hood and Hop O’ My Thumb” it featured the music hall star Harry Relph, better known as “Little Tich” in the title role. Dan Leno played Daddy Thumb, and the Dame role was his wife, Goody Thumb played by Herbert Campbell.The subject was to be repeated at “The Lane” eighteen years later.
1897 The Britannia Theatre in London presented “The Giant and The Dwarf, or Hop O’ My Thumb” with Jennie Dawson as “Hop” and George & Master Lupino as the comedians.
The Drury Lane revival of “Hop O’ My Thumb” in 1911 revived the fortunes of this pantomime. It had fallen from favour, and as a result of the West End success, it was produced in the provinces once again.
1911 Drury Lane interestingly titled it “A Fairy Tale”- the word “pantomime” was not used in the billing. A new script and new character names were created, and lavish set pieces and transformations were added.
Renee Mayer received acclaim as “Hop”, with George Graves as King Mnemonica- a King who forgot important things as the plot unfolded. Will Evans and Barry Lupino were Principal comedians as Potterini and Smilio, whilst Violet Loraine played the role of Principal Boy, Hilario. Daisy Dormer was the runaway Queen (spouse of Mnemonica) called Zaza.
Daisy Dormer / Violet Loraine
The spectacular scenes included “The Land Of Lost Memories”, “The Castle Grim” and “The March Of The Seven League Boots”. The Ogre’s Magic Garden became a store house where his victims were transformed into statues awaiting his eating pleasure.The six Princesses were played by the Tiller Girls. This version had a Mother and a Father together plotting to abandon their children, rather than the sole wicked Step-Father.
It is this production that was to be exported, with a different cast to New York. Originally planned for the following year, it was delayed until 1913 as there was no theatre available to take the Drury Lane production.
During 1911 the trade journals were advertising a large touring production of “Hop O’ My Thumb” with a cast of fifty performers. “Available for Big Theatres Only!”
Link to an picture from John Culme's Footlight Notes on Hop O' My Thumb
1911 The Alhambra Openshaw presented the subject with Gladys Wyse, Kitty Raffety, Harold Pyott, George Harris and Marie Lumberg.
1911 annuals mention a touring Hop O’ My Thumb at the Royal Court Theatre, Wigan. Possibly it is the same pantomime as Openshaw with the Levy & Cardwell production. There were no mentions of this pantomime staged in 1912 or 1913 in the United Kingdom.
1913 Drury Lane production played New York’s Manhattan Theatre for the Christmas season. Ernest d’Auban presented the show on behalf of “The Lane” a year later than had originally been planned. The role of King of Mnemonica was played by an actor named De Wolf Hopper in place of Billy McDermott. It appeared as if there was a law suit looming on the horizon because of this change. Iris Hawkins played the title role.
The critics did not seem entirely convinced that the production would be highly thought of. The American Stage reported “I very much fear that the Drury Lane producing company will not gather in the shekels on this deal to any great extent”.
1915 The Birmingham Hippodrome may have presented the pantomime with Little Charlie Bridgett as “Hop”. Probably a touring production.
1916 Levy & Cardwell’s touring version played the Metropole Glasgow for a short season, followed by tour.
1917 The J.E Cardwell tour of “Hop O’ My Thumb” was still on the road, and among the dates it played was the King’s, Gateshead-On-Tyne. This company also toured “The House That Jack Built”- choosing titles that would not clash with the larger local pantomime houses.
There now seems to be a gap of about eight years when “Hop O’ My Thumb” featured in the trade journals. By 1924 the “Stage” reported the three most popular pantomimes in the country were Cinderella, followed by Aladdin and in third place Dick Whittington. The newspaper noted that “Babes In The Wood” had dropped in popularity, Robinson Crusoe was returning to favour and Sinbad was “Erratic”.
1925 Frederick Melville- proprietor of the Lyceum Theatre presented “Hop O’ My Thumb” at The Brixton in London. The character names had once again changed, with the Dame now Dame Durdle, and her son Jack Durdle, and Fairy Sunshine thwarting the plans of the Demon Bluebottle.
The final revival of the pantomime came about in the late 1920’s- possibly as a result of Melville’s interest in the subject. “Hop O’ My Thumb” was to have a last fling before vanishing almost from sight in theatres.
1928 The Prince’s Theatre Bristol (see our article) presented the pantomime with George Lacy as Dame Amelia Sniff, and Ivor Vintner as Hop. Edward Barry played Surly Thumb, and Jack Martell was Squire Suppup. The Fairy was Eileen Vaughn, and Mavis, the Principal Girl was played by Anne Kasmir. The Principal Boy, named Raymond was Jeannie Hartley, with Charles Heslop as Augustus, Hop’s Brother.
Kathie Lyn, Jennie Hartley, Ivor Vintner, George Lacy
Despite this pantomime being presented in one of the country’s principal pantomime houses, the “Stage” newspaper for that year declared that the subject of “Hop O’ My Thumb” had all but disappeared.
1929 Manchester Opera House presented Mona Vivian in the title role. It is curious that the role itself called for a small (if not diminutive) performer, and as a leading Principal Boy short stature was not the chief requirement, but the vivacious personality and popular recording star took on the role both here, and the following year at Leeds.
1930 Mona Vivian again starred in “Hop O’ My Thumb” at the Grand Theatre in Leeds. The script was written by R.C.Oldham, and produced by T.D.Mills. Mills had presented the Prince’s Bristol production two years previously.
Mona sang “Sweeping The Clouds Away” as her opening number, along with “Punch & Judy”, “Take Your Hats Off To The Navy”, and “It Happened In Monterey”, for no apparent reason in the Home Of The Butterflies that closed Act One!
In Act Two Miss Vivian sang “Over The Garden Wall” and the Principal Girl sang the popular ballad “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes”.
The popular comedian Dick Tubb played Dame Amelia Sniff, Rosamund Bellmore was Mavis and Johnnie Schofield was Augustus, Hop’s Brother. The Shanks Brothers played Gladys The Mare.
Spencer Ward, The Shanks Brothers, Rosamund Bellmore, Millicent Hyde
Helen Desborough, Eileen Vaughan, Dick Tubb, Victor King
J. Murray Stewart, Johnny Schofield
The pantomime seemed to vanish after the 1930 production, and one of the last sightings was not until nearly twenty seven years later:
1956/7 The Palace, Newcastle. Pete Davis’s spectacular production presented the pantomime story built around a puppet theatre. The star of the show was a popular ventriloquist called Jimmy Tattersall, and his dummy played the role of “Hoppy”. At one point in the show Jimmy left the doll alone on stage with the Principal Girl, who operated the dummy while Tattershall provided the voice from off stage.
The Dame was Gus Aubrey, with Eileen Keegan as Principal Boy, and Bridie Devon as Girl.
The spectacle was provided by Billy Smart’s Chimpanzees (Alternately billed in some places as the “Hollywood Chimps”) the Stilt Walking Longtons and Currie’s Waltzing Waters speciality.
Although the character of Hop O’ My Thumb is no longer with us, he continues to live on in the world of ballet. As part of the speciality dances in “Sleeping Beauty” his character has his moment of glory still. The Royal Ballet has had many famous solo artistes dance the part- most notably Wayne Sleep- who himself has appeared in many pantomimes, most recently in the Dame Role.
Hop lives on, no longer in panto-land, but gracing the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden where, fittingly, he began his life in pantomime in 1851.
The Pantomime Plot: Circa 1930’s
Surley Thumb is a woodcutter with seven step-sons. He cannot afford to provide for them. He hopes to marry the Dame- Amelia Sniff, the school teacher, who he thinks has some money.
The Dame however has her eye on the Squire- Squire Suppup, a widower with a daughter, Mavis.
Surley’s youngest step- son is called Hop O’ My Thumb, on account of his diminutive size. He is in love with Mavis. His Brother Augustus loves Mavis too.
The woodcutter hints about a mystery about Hop which Hop’s Mother never revealed. The Woodcutter thinks his children are holding him back, preventing his marriage and plots to lose them in the wood in the near future.
Hop overhears his plan, and collects pebbles, so he can retrace his steps if needs be. (This device happens in “Hansel & Gretel as well). The boys are invited to a picnic in the “Haunted Wood”, where their Father abandons them.
Hop, using his pebbles guides the children back to the village, much to the surprise of their wicked step-father. He determines to try again, and makes certain Hop has no pebbles.
Some news reaches the village. A Duke’s son, the Earl of Lushlands is thought to be alive under another name, and the Prince has offered a large reward for news of his whereabouts. Hop offers to help the Squire trace this boy, and makes him promise that, if he succeeds, the Squire will let Hop marry Mavis.
Once again the boys are lured into the wood and abandoned. Hop tries dropping bread crumbs to find his way home but (again, as in Hansel & Gretel) he discovers the birds have eaten them, and the children are lost.
Hop sees a light in the distance, but exhausted the children fall asleep in the wood. The Fairy Of The Wood sends them dreams of sunshine and butterflies, in a transformation scene, and the first half of the pantomime concludes.
Hop and his brothers discover a castle. What they don’t know is the castle is the stronghold of the Giant Fee-Fo-Fum, who has made himself King of the district.
The Giant has seven daughters, who are virtually prisoners. The girls agree to hide Hop and his brothers from the Giant.
Meanwhile the Dame, Amelia Sniff has gone in search of the children, and stumbles upon the castle. She is caught, and made to work as cook for the Giant.
Hop finds to his surprise that the castle seems very familiar to him. He discovers a secret compartment with a note from a former prisoner- it mentions a ring that Hop has worn on a chain around his neck since birth. Hop discovers the prisoner was his Father, and that he is the rightful owner of the castle and heir to the title of Duke of Lushlands.
The Giant is short sighted. Hop exchanges the nightcaps that the boys are wearing for the crowns of the Princesses. The Giant thinks they are his own daughters, and leads them into another room in order to kill his victims undisturbed.
The boys escape with the Dame. And the Giant pursues them with his seven league boots.
The party arrives at the village. Preparations are carried out for the wedding of the Dame and the Squire. Hop and his brother, Augustus act as servants for the wedding banquet. It is Augustus who discovers the Squire plans to marry his daughter Mavis to one of the visiting gentry at the feast. Hop thinks he might not stand a chance, so persuades Augustus to disguise himself as the Prince, to produce the letter from the castle, and to suddenly recognise Hop as the long lost Earl of Lushlands.
The plan fails- Augustus fails in his disguise, and has lost the letter. Hop is ridiculed. Suddenly Giant Fee-Fo-Fum arrives, and Hop and the children escape to a hidden cave. The Fairy gives Hop a magic sword, and Hop fights the Giant, who takes flight. Hop pursues him, and the Giant falls into a valley.
The final scene has Augustus finding the missing letter- proof of Hop’s inheritance, and the wedding of Hop and Mavis. They invite the brothers to move in with them into the castle, along with the seven princesses.
Hop O’ My Thumb-
The Pantomime Characters
Hop The Hero of the story, a shortened form of his nickname “Hop O’ My Thumb” given to him at birth due to his diminutive size. Has also been “Hoppy”. The Principal Boy role, although there may be other “Boy” parts in the plot.
Princes & Other Principal Boys: There have been several different characters:
Prince Chic, Prince Fizz, Hilario, Prince Uno, and Raymond.
Amelia Sniff, Dame Durdle, Dame Noodle. Goody Thumb.
The King:or The Squire:
King Mnemonica, King Nobody, Gaffer, Gaffer Noodle, Squire Suppup
The Principal Girl:
Mavis, Princess Prettyeyes, Princess Meadowsweet, Princess Cherrylips,
Fairy Busybody, Fairy Sylvia, Fairy Sunshine, Fairy Forgetmenot.
Surley Thumb. Daddy Thumb.
Hugby, Reuben, Augustus.
Tremblini & Sixanait, Potterini & Smilio, Johnny Stout, Jack Durdle.
Ogreiferous The Ogre, Giant Fee Fo Fum.
Other Characters who have appeared include:
Zaza- The Wife of King Mnemonica, The Demon Bluebottle, Dotty The Cook (Helper to the Dame), and in one version a Wicked Step-Mother to Hop, as well as many named brothers and the Giant’s daughters.
This page was last updated 29th July 2010