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My Gran, the ultimate Panto Dame by ROY HUDD

by Elinor Rischbieth (2020-04-01)

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My earliest memory is of being held up above my aunt's head, looking out of the bedroom window at 5 Neville Street, Croydon, at a huge red glow in the sky. 

That was the Crystal Palace on fire, Prince Albert's marvellous monument burning to the ground. Can I really remember back as far as November 1936? 

I would have been just six months old. It seems impossible, but that image comes back to me, real and vivid, every night of panto season when I'm on stage in Cinderella. 

One of the Ugly Sisters, usually me, dewadominoqq shouts, 'Crystal slipper? You couldn't get your foot in the Crystal Palace!' and everyone roars with laughter, though today's children surely can't have a clue what it means. 

Roy Hudd peaks out of the curtain before one of his many appearances on the London Stage

I love pantos that obey the old superstitions: never speak the last two lines of the goodnight doggerel until the first performance, and always make sure that the goodie enters from stage right and the baddie from stage left. 

My first lessons as an actor came during the Blitz, when I was four. We had an Anderson bomb shelter in our garden and this was a magical place to me. To be in there, in the candlelit gloom, with the sirens wailing as Evalina, my mum, frightened Gran with ghost stories, is a very special memory. 

How all kids love to be frightened — and how they love to see the old 'uns frightened. I used to pretend to Gran that I wasn't the least bit scared and that I would see she came to no harm. 

I was acting. Mum was an impressionist. She did take-offs of friends and local shopkeepers. Inspired by her, I could impersonate an old drunk by the time I was five, and make Gran laugh. 

Roy Hudd as Mother Goose 'Mother Goose' Pantomime performed at Wilton's Music Hall, 2016

Her third daughter, my auntie, was called Snowdrop, and I pretended to be my grandad (long gone) sloshed at the christening ceremony. When the vicar asked him the baby's name, he was too sozzled to answer straight. 

'I dunno, do I? Lovely flowersh in the churchyard . . . oops, I musht wipe my noshe . . . we'll call her Dewdrop. No, Snowdrop!' And how did I know what a drunk sounded like? 


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