Pantomime dame

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Euan McIver as pantomime dame

A pantomime dame is a traditional character in British pantomime. It is a continuation of en travesti portrayal of female characters by male actors in drag. They are often played either in an extremely camp style, or else by men acting 'butch' in women's clothing. They wear big make up and big hair, have exaggerated physical features, and perform in a melodramatic style.

Examples of these characters are: Widow Twankey in "Aladdin", Mother Goose in "Mother Goose", the Nanny or Nurse in "Babes in the Woods" and "Sleeping Beauty", the cook in "Dick Whittington" and "Rapunzel", the Queen in "Puss in Boots". The dame is usually the title character's mother like in "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Treasure Island" and "Robinson Crusoe". In almost all productions of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" the dame is the owner of a circus. In productions of "Cinderella", one may find that there are two dames in the script, who are the Ugly Sisters. There is usually never a dame in productions of "Peter Pan" this can either be because of the argument between whether Peter Pan is a pantomime or Christmas Play or that there is not really a dame character, but if there was to be a dame she can either be a ship's cook for Captain Hook, a nanny to the Darling children, or a mother to Peter and the lost boys, the only problem with this is that there is no purpose of Wendy coming to Neverland if they already have a mother figure. In productions of "Snow White" the dame can either be the Evil Queen or if a larger cast then a cook or nanny to the Princess Snow White. The dame can sometimes be villainous, as well as humorous, like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz.

Possibly the best known of this type of character is Dame Edna Everage whose name plays on two meanings of dame: this tradition and the title equivalent to Sir.

Notable pantomime dames in Britain[edit]

  • Gary Wilmot as Nora Crumble in Snow White and the seven dwarfs at Birmingham hippodrome 2014
  • Peter Alexander – (born 1952) Notable dame in pantomimes in Yorkshire.
  • Douglas Byng – (1893–1988) A legendary dame who appeared in over 50 pantomimes, Byng was also a noted cabaret and revue artiste. He was the first glamorous dame and designed all his own costumes.
  • Christopher Biggins – (born 1948) TV personality, actor
  • Herbert Campbell (1844–1904) a highly popular pantomime dame alongside Dan Leno at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
  • Les Dawson – (1931–1993) English comedian, remembered for his deadpan style and curmudgeonly persona.
  • Norman Evans – (1901–1962) "Evans' distinctive dame evolved out of nosy neighbour Fanny Fairbottom, a character he played on the sketch show Mr Tower of London. Fanny was hugely popular, and allegedly inspired Les Dawson to create the character of Ada" [1]
  • Patrick Fyffe – Creator of Dame Hilda Bracket, one half of Hinge and Bracket.
  • Chris Harris – Dame at Theatre Royal, Bath for many years, and writer and director of many pantomimes.
  • Melvyn Hayes – (born 1935) TV personality, actor well known for playing Gunner/Bombardier 'Gloria' Beaumont in BBC TV's It Ain't Half Hot Mum
  • John Inman – (1935–2007) Camp comedy actor well known for playing Mr Humphries in BBC TV's Are You Being Served?[2]
  • Berwick Kaler – (born 1947) Currently Britain's longest serving, Kaler has played his extremely non-camp dame at York Theatre Royal since 1977
  • George Lacey – "Widely regarded as the greatest dame of his generation, Lacey played more than 60 dames between 1923, when he was 19, and 1984"[1]
  • Dan Leno – (1860–1904) a legendary pantomime dame, whose ghost is said to haunt the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.[3]
  • James Rogers – The first actor to play Widow Twankey, in the 1861 pantomime at the Strand Theatre.
  • Danny La Rue – (1927–2009) Irish-born British entertainer known for his singing and drag impersonations
  • G. S. Melvin – (1886–1946) Scottish pantomime dame famous for his song "I'm Happy When I'm Hiking".
  • Paul O'Grady – (born 1955) British comedian and actor best known for presenting the daytime chat television series, The Paul O'Grady Show and his drag queen comedic alter ego, Lily Savage.
  • Shaun Prendergast (born 1958) – Resident Dame at Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith since 2010. Has been quoted in the Daily Telegraph as being 'finest, funniest pantomime Dame in London'.
  • Harry "Little Tich" Relph – (1867–1928) He was noted for his various characters, including The Spanish Señora, The Gendarme, and The Tax Collector, but his most popular routine was his Big Boot dance, which involved a pair of 28-inch boots.
  • Kenneth Alan Taylor – actor, writer director who has performed at Nottingham Playhouse for 25 years.
  • Tommy Trafford – (1927–1993) Lancashire comedian and noted pantomime dame.
  • Jack Tripp – (1922–2005) An English comic actor, singer and dancer who appeared in seaside variety shows and revues.
  • Stanley Baxter – (born 1926) Award winning Scottish actor and impressionist, famous for his lavish productions, notably at The King's Theatre, Glasgow
  • Rikki Fulton – (1924–2004) Award winning Scottish actor and comedian who also made numerous appearances in Scottish pantomimes, notably at The King's Theatre, Glasgow


  1. ^ a b The Telegraph, 14 December 2005
  2. ^ Kennedy, Maev (8 March 2007). "Actor and dame John Inman dies aged 71". The Guardian (Guardian News and Media Limited). Retrieved 16 June 2012. 
  3. ^ Donati, William Ida Lupino University Press of Kentucky 2000 ISBN 978-0-8131-0982-4 p.10 Google Books