John Hannam: Super veteran Melvyn looks back on amazing pantomime career
Melvyn Hayes did his first Christmas show back in 1950 and he was not topping the bill. Just over 20 years later, thanks to a character called Gloria in the TV show ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’, he was the star name in pantomimes all over Britain.
Like many other pantomime veterans, Melvyn is clearly disappointed how the format has changed in recent years. Initially, pantomimes starred top music hall stars, then famous radio names took over, followed by television stars and then so-called personalities from reality shows.
“Now they just put anyone in who they think can put bums on seats, which has nothing to do with entertainment, in any kind of logical way,” said Melvyn.
It’s also noticeable that some of the ageless comedy routines and traditional panto fun can’t be included anymore, thanks to the brigade who want to spoil everything.
Melvyn has appeared in some huge shows and there was none bigger than the 1980-81 Dick Whittington pantomime at the London Palladium. It starred Jim Davidson, Mollie Sugden, Melvyn and Windsor Davies, Clive Dunn and Lionel Blair, who also directed the show, and it ran for several months. Apparently, it was very noticeable that Lionel Blair appeared in nearly every scene and had more costume changes than anyone else.
Some of the other panto stars that Melvyn has starred with include Jon Pertwee, Bill Maynard, Lynda Baron and Vince Hill. He has great personal memories from many but a few major disappointments. A production in Kent with Jeff Brazier was not one of his highlights.
“It was his first time on a stage and he asked me if I was going to teach him to act. He told me he was playing Aladdin and what was the story about? I told him he married the princess. I was actually playing Widow Twankey.
“In one scene he came on stage doing up his buttons and said ‘sorry about this Melv.’ I quickly told him, I’m not Melv, I’m your mother.”
He also had trouble with Mark Little in a Worthing panto. There was an ego involved. At the dress rehearsal Melvyn and Little were going through the song sheet together. Suddenly the Aussie soap actor stopped.
Melvyn reflected on this incident: “Mark said ‘this song is no good for me. Let’s be honest, I’m the face they’ve all come to see. They’ll only come because I’m in it.’ Actually, we had joint top billing.”
After the show, Melvyn heard from the director and suggested to him that he let Mark sing it on his own, to keep the peace. It was Melvyn’s song sheet routine, so Little had to choose another one.
“I had 10 minutes in my dressing room, as he did it by himself. I just listened to him die on stage at every performance.”
Melvyn still favours the more traditional pantomimes with a girl playing principal boy and a dame played by a man. He said: “Years ago there was an innocence about them and there were no crude jokes. I always played them as if my children were in the audience and would not be embarrassed by dad.”
Melvyn and I share a passion for the First Act pantomimes at Shanklin Theatre. This special group of performers always bring a tear to the eyes. He is their patron.
“I am very proud to be associated with this group of people who get so much pleasure out of performing in shows. Their wonderful on stage helpers also do such a great job,” enthused Melvyn. This year First Act are presenting The Snow Queen on December 11th and 12th.