The Phantom of the Palace


The ‘haunting’ at the Palace Theatre makes for good entertainment value, but the S.P.R.’s investigation is becoming a nuisance: the basement studio has been identified as a particular ‘hot-spot’ with the consequence that the Players’ rehearsals are sporadically interrupted by outbreaks of hysteria. Last night, I dropped in to find Brenda Wishart cowering from the draught of cold air that preceded me into the room – she thought it indicated a spectral presence, a delusional panic that quickly communicated itself to several of her colleagues. Later a smashed cup caused further consternation and Nina Kelly, clearly exasperated, sent everyone home. As you know, this is her first stint directing and, judging from her demeanour, it might be her last.

Coincidentally, the Walter Greer mural was unveiled last Friday: ‘A Tribute to Drumfeld’s Brothers Greer and the Enduring Spirit of Panto.’  A cluster of indistinct blotches was already evident at the mural’s furthest corner, partially concealed by a strategically placed catering trolley; within forty eight hours, these had multiplied, creating a mottled effect that has subsequently darkened to the extent that several of the featured performers are no longer recognisable. Naturally, the S.P.R. team has seized on this as further evidence of poltergeist activity, ignoring more common-place explanations provided by the Palace caretaker (who blames the antiquated heating system) or Scott Simpson, the artist, who queried the designated wall’s suitability from the outset.

The haunted mural is now covered by a sheet and panicked actors scurry past en route to rehearsals: by Nina’s estimation, preparations are now a week behind schedule and she’s resigned to the possibility of cancellation – a first since 1986 when Walter Greer suffered a heart attack while berating the children’s chorus.


Heroes of Panto: Angus Milner

F.A.O. Kirstin McVicar – The Drumfeld Gazette

Dear Kirstin,

I enjoyed your article, ‘Forgotten Stars of the Drumfeld Panto’: I hope that you’ll forgive my correction.

The actor identified as Francis Kemp is, in fact, the late Angus Milner: neither, I suspect, would thank you for the mistake!

Angus was an occasional contributor to Lomond Sound’s Business Time, but he’s best remembered for an appearance on Dragon’s Den on which he failed to convince the panel to invest in his Pacifier – a muzzle for obstreperous and badly-behaved children. Despite insisting that the Pacifier was “100% safe”, Angus struggled to escape the association with child cruelty – a stigma about which he became increasingly depressed.

His casting in the 2008’s production of Peter Pan (as Hook) might have presented an opportunity of redemption; unfortunately, he was ill suited to such a prominent role and humorous references to the Pacifier alienated the audience. After each performance, he was vociferously booed, a judgement that, according to friends, precipitated a rapid and terminal decline; his last years were blighted by alcoholism, though occasional appearances on Business Time revealed a self-effacing humour, sadly predicated on the single blunder that defined his life.


Obituary: Ronald C. Bell


To Irene Barr – the Drumfeld Gazette


I’m sorry for the late response: my father, I’m afraid, didn’t represent Ronald Bell – while I remember seeing him in various productions, there’s nothing I can offer toward a ‘personal picture’.

Looking through Dad’s files, I found the following, but, on reflection, it might not be a suitable tribute!

From the Archive – Hugh Walker writing about the late Ronald C. Bell.

“…Trouble at the Palace Theatre where the Drumfeld Players have started work on this year’s show. Should anyone be surprised that Ronald C Bell has a central role? The tempestuous stalwart has form for this sort of thing.  In 2006, he reduced one actress to tears and insisted on the destruction of 300 programmes that failed to include his middle initial; twelve months later, he demanded an investigation into toilet graffiti that denounced him as a ‘blowhard and a ham’ (though a cursory examination indicated that the hand-writing was his own.) This year he’s coordinated a petition, protesting against the casting of a female Scrooge – Susannah French, last seen chewing the scenery as ‘Rizzo’ in Grease.

Speaking to Gus Barbour on the Breakfast Show, Mr Bell pooh-poohed the notion that he’d be discomfited by the abandonment of traditional genders. “We’ve had a woman in Downing Street, for goodness sake: why not a female Scrooge? All that matters is that the part goes to someone who can act...” At this caveat he paused, allowing the listener to recall any number of performances in which Ms French has struggled to communicate anything more nuanced than the syllables of her own name. “I’m not saying that Susannah can’t,” he finally added, satisfied that the sentient listener had reached that conclusion without any prompting, “but it’s a difficult role that requires an old hand….”


Best regards,


Heroes of Panto: Philo and Vance

Re. Christmas Memories – The Palace Theatre, 1994


You have (slightly) mis-remembered: the ventriloquist in the photograph was called Vance Waddell and his dummy was ‘Philo’ (though on reflection ‘Milo and Vince’ does seem easier on the ear.)

I’ve no idea if Vance still practises what my father referred to as ‘the dark art’; as I recall, he struggled to master the most basic tenets of his craft, instinctively covering his own mouth as ‘Philo’ spoke and removing his hand to reply.

Some were charmed by the effrontery with which Vance signaled his incompetence; unfortunately, Philo’s louche persona became repellent, alienating the audience and rendering his ‘master’ vulnerable to hostility and assault.


Walter Greer – A Life in Theatre


Re. your ‘history of panto’.

I think it’s better NOT to use your grandfather’s memoir as a reference. Re-reading first two chapters, I was startled by the frequency with which he blundered into areas of contention. Within twenty pages, he’d cheerfully acknowledged transgressions that ranged from racism to bullying and ‘looking at girls’ legs’ (a confession that’s followed by a weirdly delirious description of Nina Kelly’s calves.)

As a social historian, you might want to draw attention to this, but as a GREER, I think your first loyalty should be to the family reputation. Even innocuous passages might encourage curious readers to better acquaint themselves with a worldview that many of them will deplore.