Panto finds a promising newcomer

In the box seat: Joan Collins makes herself at home at the Hippodrome where she will make her debut in panto in Dick Whittington at Christmas.

IT WOULD hardly be chivalrous to reveal a lady's age but suffice to say that in the year Joan Collins was born Everton beat Manchester City 3-0 in the FA Cup final with Dixie Dean on the scoresheet, Stoke, with a young Stan Matthews in his first season, were promoted as champions to the First Division and Neville Chamberlain still had six years to practise declaring war on Germany.

Not that you would ever guess it or even be remotely close in the presence of Miss Collins. She appears to have discovered the secret of defying time, seeming to age at about half the rate of we mere mortals

She was in Birmingham at the Hippodrome to talk about her forthcoming debut in panto as Queen Rat in Dick Whittington and as she walked into the room she looked every inch the glamorous, international star she undoubtedly is – the epitomeof Hollywood glitz.

Julian Clary who will be playing the goodie, The Spirit of the Bells, in this year's panto

The world these days is full of celebrities but  Joan Collins is the real thing, celebrity with a capital, glittering C and her appearance in pantomime at the Hippodrome is a major coup for the Birmingham theatre as she leads a cast who, individually, would each be seen as the star of many a panto with Julian Clary, Nigel Havers and Keith Harris & Orville.

Julian Clary, incidentally, appeared on the alternative comedy circuit in the 1980s as The Joan Collins Fan Club and now he gets to appear with the real thing.  

The Hippodrome panto has become an institution, this will be the 53rd, and it has grown into the the biggest in the country, but it is also of major importance to the theatre with chief executive Stuart Griffiths revealing that the panto represents 20 per cent of the theatre's business with 100,000 tickets sold in its December and January run.

This year Nick Thomas, chairman of the panto producers Qdos, taking on his 13th Hippodrome Panto, said he wanted to return to what he called the “London Palladium panto”, a glittering show with not just one star but a whole galaxy “led by a star of stars”.

And his star of stars seemed delighted to be finally joining the world of boos and hisses, calls of behind you and jokes first heard by animals cruising with Noah.

Nigel Havers will just have to get used to being rat whipped by his evil wife, Queen Rat

She said: “I have always wanted to do  pantomime but I have been waiting for the right situation and the right role because I have several friends who do it and they have told me how much fun it is. I also love this theatre because I have played here before. I also want to do it for my grandchildren (she has three) so they can see me on the stage.”

The actor, writer, stage and TV star was steeped in theatre from birth including the great British tradition of panto. She said: “My father was a theatrical agent who used to book pantomimes so I went to pantomimes as a child. He had Aladdins and Cinderellas and he had a lot of comedians as well and conjurers and singers. They used to be in our flats and I would see them.  I don't remember anything specifically - I have a terrible memory - but I remember I went to pantomimes and a did like them.”

Now she is set to see what panto is like from the other side of the footlights and has even had some high powered persuasion from The Fonz himself.

Henry WInkler has created a niche for himself playing Captain Hook in Peter Pan in panto  since 2006 when he took over from David Hasselhoff in Wimbledon and Miss Collins said: “Henry is a friend of mine and whenever I see him in Hollywood he says ‘You gotta do panto Joan, you gotta do panto' so here I am and in six months time I will be up there strutting around.”

Keith Harris and Orville will have their work cut out as the rat catchers in Dick Whittington's London

Initially it was suggested she might perhaps be a fairy, an idea which was very quickly shot down in flames with the star declaring she wanting to be bad.

She said: “And fairy has to fly and I didn't want to do all that. I thought it would be fun. I always wanted to play the evil, wicked Queen from Snow White.”

Just so people know she has announced: "I intend to be the wickedest, most mischievous, most dastardly scoundrel the kiddies will have seen yet."

In the panto her husband, King Rat, is played by Nigel Havers who could well end the run bruised and battered from whacks of his wife's tail which is another of Miss Collin's contributions to her role saying she felt Queen Rat should have a long, substantial tail and her husband . . .  “He should be kind of rat whipped.”

Could this be a don't try this at home children moment? 

Miss Collins has more than 60 films behind her along with novels and endless TV appearances, including her legendary arrival as Alexis in a failing Dynasty which she virtually single handedly took to a level to rival Dallas, and a recently completed guest spell in a German soap.

But panto with its gruelling workload of 12 shows a week is a new departure for her. Will it will become a regular feature of the Collin's Christmas?

“Ask me in February,” she said.

Panto is a special part of Christmas and Joan Collins jumped at the chance to play Queen Rat

Meanwhile, absolutely nothing to do with Dick Whittington but just for interest, it must really have been a vintage year when Joan Collins was born and a very small selection of celebrities born in the same year include Joan Rivers, Michael Caine, Daniel Massey, Diane Cilento, Quincy Jones, Sacha Distel,  Nina Simone, Sabrina, Jayne Mansfield, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Lou Adler, Kim Novak, Sheila Hancock, Liz Fraser, John Boorman, James Brown, John Barry, Gene Wilder, Elizabeth Mongomery, David McCallum, and Willie Nelson not to mention Edd Byrnes, (click those fingers) Kookie in 77 Sunset Strip amd Wayne Rogers, Trapper in M.A.S.H.

Roger Clarke

Dick Whittington runs from Saturday 18 December to Sunday 30 January 2011. 

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