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'Sinbad The Sailor' at the Royal Opera House Leicester, Christmas 1959/60

By David Garratt

Pantomime economics of fifty years ago - Pantomime in the 1940s & 1950s

A programme for 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.In the late Autumn of 1959, there was a buzz in the City of Leicester. Having lost all but one of its professional Theatres to the demolition squads, it was announced that Samuel Locker had purchased Leicester’s last remaining professional Theatre, the Royal Opera House, in Silver street, for the sum of £30,800, and was planning to re-open the Theatre in time for the Christmas Pantomime season on Boxing Day 1959. The Pantomime was to be 'Sinbad the Sailor'.

Right - A programme for 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.

The Opera House had stood empty since 1953, originally being designed by C. J. Phipps and opening in September 1877. Samuel Locker had previously owned and run the Leicester Theatre Royal, which finally closed down in 1957.

David Galbraith as Sinbad in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.The Opera House was a hive of activity and cleaners got to work cleaning up 7 years of dust and grime, removing the dust sheets covering the seats, and the Theatre receiving a hasty lick of paint.

'Sinbad the Sailor' was being presented by Barry O'Brien and Terry 'Toby Jug' Cantor, with the script written by Edwin Hicks. The pantomime was to star David Galbraith as 'Sinbad', he was a young Canadian singer from TV's 'Lunch Box' programme.

Left - David Galbraith as Sinbad in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.

Joan Hurley as 'Dame' in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.Joan Hurley, was 'Mrs Sinbad,' a female Panto Dame. Joan Hurley had been Queen Ratling in 1958 and 1962, she was a niece of Marie Lloyd and Alec Hurley, being a veteran of the variety Theatre.

Right - Joan Hurley as 'Dame' in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.

The Pantomime also starred Tony Dalton, comedian, as 'Tinbad,' and Peter Honri as 'Captain' of the El Kadir, with Tommy Dee as 'Khan' the ship's mate.

The pantomime opened with a prologue featuring the 'Fairy Stella Maris' and the ancient story teller setting the Arabian nights story.

Cast details from a programme for 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.

Above - Cast details from a programme for 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.

Synopsis of Scenery for 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.

Above - Synopsis of Scenery for 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt. This page also includes a letter to the show's Patrons from Peter Scott saying: 'Dear Patrons, Welcome to the Opera House. It gives us great pleasure to be opening with the Pantomime "Sinbad the Sailor," starring David Galbraith and Joan Hurley. After the Pantomime Season, it is our intention to bring to this Theatre a selection of Musical Shows and Plays now running in the West End. Thank you all for the encouragement which you have given us. For your enjoyment we have three fully licensed bars and Tea and Coffee will be served during the interval. Yours Sincerely, Peter Scott.

Tommy Dee as Ship's Mate Khan in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt. I remember the first scene was the port of Balsorah, and was a very colourful Persian sea port market Bazaar, full of market traders plying their wares, with a large Persian archway at the rear of the stage set through which various Dhows were painted on the backcloth, this was the scene where we met all the characters and the story unfolded.

Left - Tommy Dee as Ship's Mate Khan in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.

Tony Dalton as 'Tinbad' in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.The Bunks Scene featured Tinbad who was 'discovered' as they say, standing in the below decks cabin with a giant sack at his side. The sack had the words 'Tinbad's Homework' written on it. When he opened the sack, which all the kids thought was full of school books etc, out stepped a beautiful girl in a bathing costume, (a joke for the adults).

Right - Tony Dalton as 'Tinbad' in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.

The Captain came on, and gave Tinbad his captain's uniform and asked Tinbad to hang it up for him. When the Captain had gone off stage, Tinbad threw the uniform out of the porthole. Later the Captain returned and asked Tinbad, 'Where did you put my uniform?' Tinbad replied 'I put it in that little cupboard with the glass door.'

The next routine was of the Dame and Tinbad unpacking and getting ready for bed in the bunks. At each side of the stage set was a set of draws, one for the Dame's clothes and one for Tinbad's clothes. As the Dame closed the draw in her set of draws, one of the draws opposite opened, hitting Tinbad. This led to a duel of opening and closing draws on opposite sides of the stage, with draws hitting their opponent on the backside, in the stomach, and even on the head when they bent down. This was received with great hilarity by the audience, and was a clever slick routine. It then degenerated into Tinbad being soaked by water coming in through the porthole.

Jo-Anne Gaye as the Fairy Stella Maris, the Sailor's Friend in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt. I also remember that a giant bird, a 'Roc', descending from the flies above, and Sinbad being carried off upwards and out of site as the 'Roc' carried him off to the bird's island lair. There was then a ship wreck, and the last scene of the first act was 'An underwater paradise'.

The interval and time for an Ice cream before the second act began.

Left - Jo-Anne Gaye as the Fairy Stella Maris, the Sailor's Friend in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.

Colleen Laine as Princess Zenobia in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt. The opening of Act 2 on Wallamalloo island featured the ship's crew being washed up from the wreck of the 'El Kadir'. Each new arrival thinking he was the only one saved from the wreck and informing us that he was desperately thirsty and would love a drink. Suddenly a girl entered, went over to one of the trees and said 'Tiddley tree, Tiddley tree have you got a nice little drink for me?' and then she caught a bottle of orange juice which fell from the tree. Every time a new crew member arrived, they told him about the girl and the tree. Sure enough the new arrival said the words to the tree and got a bottle of orange juice. Tinbad decided to have a go. He walked up to the tree and said the words, 'Tiddley tree, Tiddley tree, have you got a nice little drink for me?', and got a bucket of water thrown down over him out of the tree.

Right - Colleen Laine as Princess Zenobia in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.

Specialty Act 'Little Beaver and Mary' in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.There was also a Red Indian village on the island with a specialty act which featured 'Little Beaver and Marie'. Marie dressed as an Indian Squaw standing against a Totem Pole and Chief Little Beaver cracked a whip, dangerously close to her, cutting paper held in her mouth etc.

Left - Specialty Act 'Little Beaver and Mary' in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.

The diamond Valley scene glittered with diamonds embedded in the rocky gorge stage set.

Suzanne Parsons as KoKo, the Princess's maid in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt. The panto community song sheet was 'Ali Baba's Camel'. The pantomime also featured the Vale sisters in an animal skin as 'Casim' the camel.

Other specialty acts featured in the pantomime were Peter Honri with his famous concertina act. Twelve tree puppets, Roger Bourne and Barbara with a clever mime act, and Prince Nareda and the 'Carillion choir.

Thus the end of the show and the grand 'Walk down' of all the characters in their finery.

Right - Suzanne Parsons as KoKo, the Princess's maid in 'Sinbad the Sailor' at the Royal Opera House, Leicester in 1959 - Courtesy David Garratt.

The colourful scenery was painted by David Chalet of Archel Studio's.

The Pantomime opened on Boxing day 1959 and played until the 6th February 1960. Unfortunately it was the very last pantomime at the Royal Opera House, as it finally closed in June of 1960 being demolished to make way for the Malcolm arcade of shops.

The above article was written for this site by David Garratt and kindly sent in for inclusion in 2011. The article and its accompanying images are © David Garratt 2011. David would like to express his thanks to Barry Waterfield who has pooled his memories with his own to enable him to write the above article, which he hopes has enabled the reader to experience the old pantomime routines, and get a feel for traditional panto of 50 odd years ago.

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