Monday, 21 December 2015

Panto time!

As I have mentioned before in a previous post (see Strictly Music Hall) my grandmother, Winifred Griffiths was a professional singer. Her talent as a soprano was spotted at a young age and she toured with the Carl Rosa Opera Company.

But after a few years, she left opera behind to follow a different career path, performing in variety acts at repertory theatres all over the country, including pantomimes.

Here she is as the Fairy Queen, both panto and date unknown.

She appears in the photograph below in a production of Babes in the Wood, performed at the Hippodrome in Birkenhead in 1927. (I have another newspaper cutting of an almost identical curtain-call scene from the same year, but this time in Belfast.)

Babes in the Wood, Birkenhead Hippodrome, 1927

But I could do with your help here. The column accompanying the photograph reads, "Another gifted singer is Miss Winifred Griffiths, who makes a demure Maid Marion."  Maid Marion? Call me a traditionalist, but there looks to be way too many flashy head-dresses and posh frocks amongst the outfits for her to be dressed in a modest shift and wimple, as one might expect, so I have no idea which one is her! Any suggestions as to a likely Maid Marion?

Having recently subscribed to The British Newspaper Archive I've been on the search for mentions of Wyn (as she was generally known) in the press so I was delighted to find a review of her performance playing the squire's daughter in Little Red Riding Hood at The Hippodrome, Preston in 1931., "a decided asset to the musical side".

In a report in the entertainment industry's The Era, during the same panto season, she's described as "lovable and sweet".

I also found mention of my grandfather, Herbert Henry Coules Colley, in his guise as "theatrical artiste" under his stage name, Ken Barton. (I wonder whether she called him Bert or Ken?)

Ken's speciality was comedy and regularly played the part of the pantomime dame.

In a clipping my gran had cut out of the Dorset Echo, in 1931, his appearance in Little Red Riding Hood in Weymouth earned the comment, " one in the company could have been better chosen to impersonate Granny Matilda than Ken Barton, whose clever make-up deceived a good many."

But, as usual, I'm left with a mystery. According to The Sunderland Echo and Shipping Gazette, Wyn is quoted as saying that she had once been the principle soprano with another opera company in additional to Carl Rosa, alleging that she played in The Bohemian Girl with the O'Mara Company, which I understand was a well-known Irish Opera Company. (Ironically they were running an advertisement in the very paper in which I read Wyn's interview.)

Courtesy of British Newspaper Archives
Her stay at Carl Rosa was legendary in the family but I don't remember her or anyone ever mentioning the O'Mara company before. Why would that be?

Either I've just discovered something new about my grandmother's career or... it's a case of not believing everything you read in the papers!

So, as ever, there's more research to do to establish the true facts...

Finally, a big thanks to all of you who have dropped in on my blog during the year and added your comments. I look forward to welcoming you again in 2016. Until then...

Have a very  

Merry Christmas 
 Happy New Year