Panto season … 1951

Looking through some really old theatre programmes again, my eye was caught by the advertisement below on the back of one.  Dating from 1951, the ad is for a pantomime – Aladdin – put on my impressario Emile Littler at the London Casino.  Cast your eyes down to the bottom left and see who is playing the principal girl …

Yes, it’s a young Julie Andrews. Already a star, at the age of thirteen she’d been the youngest ever solo performer at a Royal Variety Performance in front of George VI; in 1951, now aged sixteen she starred as Princess Balroulbadour in this lavish panto.

The following extract is from her memoir Home, which I reviewed here …

That Christmas of 1951 I was invited to play the role of Princess Balroulbadour – the principal girl – in Emile Littler’s holiday pantomime Aladdin back at the London Casino. Jean Carson was to play the title role.

Aladdin was an elaborate production. The Genie’s cave at the end of the first act was dazzling to behold and there was a huge ballet, beautifully designed and executed, in the second act.

I wore exotic, sparkling headdresses, which I loved, and a lot of satin kimono-style robes with long, draped arms. The setting was Middle Eastern, but I looked more Japanese than Persian. I also wore ballet slippers, to keep my height down and make Jean Carson look taller than me.

The cast included a Danish acrobatic troupe, the Olanders – five lads who, clad in silk pantaloons and waistcoats, performed death-defying gymnastics: springboards, leaps, balancing acts. Every time they were onstage I had to come down to watch – they were that good: a special combination of bravura and muscular strength, with lean beautiful bodies.

One of the acrobats – the best – was a young man called Fred who executed something like twelve amazing butterfly leaps round the stage. He was attractive, fit (obviously), and very gentle and dear. My mother knew that I was fond of him and she said, wisely, ‘Bring him down to The Meuse for a weekend.’ Later she joked that he never stopped swinging from our chandeliers (we didn’t have any).

My mother was ever present. Fred and I would sit on the couch, bodies pressed together, and there was a lot of hugging and kissing, Mum plied her sewing machine across the room, her back to us but rigidly alert.

I was heartbroken when the run of the show ended.

6 thoughts on “Panto season … 1951

    • gaskella says:

      I wish it were a Tardis Col! My late mum kept every single programme – and she went to ballet/theatre/opera about for much of her life in London once a fortnight. Since she died, I’ve gradually got rid of them, (sold many), but I have one box remaining with some gems like this.

  1. Alex says:

    That was the first Christmas that I was taken to see a pantomime. It was ‘Mother Goose’ and the long gone Theatre Royal in Birmingham. I was just two and it was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with the theatre.

    • gaskella says:

      The first theatre experience I remember was ‘The Sooty Show’ at the Ashcroft Theatre in Croydon in the mid 1960s – I’d’ve been 6 or 7. I remember being jealous of my brother who got to take Sweep’s ball back up on stage when he threw it in the audience. I can’t recall ever having been to see a panto as a child at all – usually it was the ballet for my Christmas Theatre treat at the Coliseum, but occasionally at the ROH.

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