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Hands off! When Great Yarmouth punters rallied round a political panto

PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 December 2019

A scene from another of the company's pantomimes. Credit: Mercury Library

A scene from another of the company's pantomimes. Credit: Mercury Library

Archant

Oh no he isn’t! Oh yes he is!

John McNamara, 92, ex-treasurer of Yarmouth Publicity Association, with a Midnight Matinee programme from the Wellington Pier Pavilion, proving it did host the charity shows.John McNamara, 92, ex-treasurer of Yarmouth Publicity Association, with a Midnight Matinee programme from the Wellington Pier Pavilion, proving it did host the charity shows.

Well, we are in December so it is time to fine-tune those pantomime catch-phrases.

Many residents were disappointed when the final curtain dropped on the Great Yarmouth Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society leaving a hole in the borough's entertainment provision.

Yes, there were other talented groups hereabouts but GYODS was in a class of its own, especially when producing classic stage and film musicals like Oklahoma!, Carousel, Sound of Music, South Pacific, Hello Dolly, Guys and Dolls...

Its repertoire embraced straight plays, and its pantomimes also merited the applause they received - one was a ground-breaking political panto!

A full cast on stage to support Jack and his beanstalk in another Yarmouth Operatic and Dramatic Society pantomime.A full cast on stage to support Jack and his beanstalk in another Yarmouth Operatic and Dramatic Society pantomime.

Or, at least, it ventured into politics by adding its voice - and those of the cast and audience in the Regal - to Yarmouth's battle against national bureaucracy to prevent our ancient borough being dragooned into Norfolk under local government reorganisation.

As a county borough, Yarmouth administered all its required functions and did not want to be part of Norfolk, lumped together with - for example - Fenland villages few of us had heard of, small country towns with their own pace and way of life, agricultural dominance...

We also had our own police force that also lost its independence by becoming part of Norfolk Joint Police.

The society's pantomime in January 1966 had followed the traditional pattern until the curtains opened to reveal song lyrics pleading Yarmouth's case to be exempt from the plan. I was not there, and do not know if the music was specially written or was familiar to everyone.

The words to the protest song against Great Yarmouth becoming part of Norfolk are displayed on the stage of the Regal Theatre in 1966 so the audience could join in.The words to the protest song against Great Yarmouth becoming part of Norfolk are displayed on the stage of the Regal Theatre in 1966 so the audience could join in.

The Yarmouth Mercury front page proclaimed: "Hands off! - in song". It continued: "Yarmouth's status 'battle cry' was set to words and music as a surprise item in the Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society pantomime at the ABC Theatre this week."

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The rendering by audience and cast was "rousing."

Words and music were by society stalwart Derek Marshall who probably played The Dame in the pantomime.

Despite the enthusiasm and campaigning - plus the inspired idea of a packed large theatre's audience singing its hearts out to plead the worthy cause - nobody was seriously surprised when Yarmouth and Gorleston were dragged kicking and screaming into Norfolk, governed from County Hall in Norwich.

Living on Norfolk's coastal fringe, many Yarmouthians had probably never heard the names of some distant villages but their representatives were having a say in our affairs, and vice versa.

A charter granted by King John made Yarmouth a "free borough" in 1208. The "Great" was formally added as a prefix later that century.

According to John McBride's A Diary of Great Yarmouth, Gorleston was incorporated into the borough in 1832 for election purposes.

And in 1889. Great Yarmouth became a county borough - a status that endured until March 1974 when we were dragooned into Norfolk, lost our prized county borough status, and were downgraded to "borough."

It is only idle speculation among elderly survivors from our "county borough" era as to whether we gained or lost from reorganisation.

And from one local stage to another. Recently, recalling the annual Midnight Matinees in which our summer show stars staged a charity performance, I wrote that I could not remember the Wellington Pier Pavilion ever being a venue.

Proof that at least two were held there came from Susan Hoxley, sending photographs of her 92-year-old father, John McNamara, ex-treasurer of the Publicity Association, with two Midnight Matinee programmes from the Wellington Pier!

Finally, to Gorleston in response to my recent photographs of the new postwar Shrublands prefab estate, Valerie Jordan writes from Yarmouth's Ludkin Square that her family moved to Cherry Road in 1946 when she was four.

"We played in the road in those days, hardly ever saw a car. We had bikes as I got older. Trailers were in my case made from an old ironing board with two pram wheels front and back!"


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