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Nigel Ellacott

Nigel Ellacott was born in Swansea, in the magical kingdom of  Killay, in an age when the birds could be heard singing in the Gower (or coughing in Port Talbot!). He was destined for a life "on The Boards" as his brother Vivyan Ellacott was first Assistant Manager, and then General Manager of The Grand Theatre in Swansea from 1967 - 1973. Nigel grew up behind the scenes of The Grand, and met some of the greats of theatre, and in particular Pantomime. Along with his stage partner Peter Robbins, they are acknowledged as being "The Best In The Business" when it comes to playing Ugly Sisters. Nigel & Peter have performed the role in “Cinderella” across the country for the past twenty-eight years, The first time being at The Kenneth More Theatre in Ilford, which has been managed by Vivyan Ellacott since 1973. Since then they have played theatres such as Manchester Opera House, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Porthcawl Pavilion, Birmingham Hippodrome, Cardiff New Theatre, Newcastle Theatre Royal, Edinburgh Kings and His Majesty’s Aberdeen among the many. They were the subject of  the 1997 Channel 4 documentary “Pantoland”, and the face (albeit an Ugly One!) of the Royal Mail for Christmas. Television appearances in Ugly Mode have included “Ready Steady Cook”, “The Lowrie Show”, “The Disney Channel” and  Nigel took on the Queen Of Mean, Anne Robinson in a “Weakest Link” Panto special!     Out of costume Nigel has made many television appearances- as a teenager he appeared in BBC Wales’s “How Green Is My Valley” alongside Sian Phillips, Stanley Baker and  Gareth Thomas of "Blake's 7" fame. Then followed “Hawksmoor”, and an appearance in “Mirrorball” with the “Ab Fab” team, Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, and June Whitfield. Nigel and Peter  have appeared alongside many of Pantomime’s greatest stars including seven years with Brian Conley, and have had the pleasure of having Rolf Harris and Windsor Davies as their “Daddy” many times. Memorable pantos have included the likes of Ronnie Hilton, Les Dennis, June Whitfield, June Brown,  Britt Ekland and Dame Hilda Brackett. Nigel's early career in Swansea began when he became a member of the Mumbles “All Saint’s Players” and the Swansea Youth Theatre, with many appearances at the Swansea YMCA and at the Grand Theatre. As a teenager he performed in variety, and has great if not challenging memories of Trallwyn Working Mens Club (where men were men,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,and so were the women!) and enjoyed  trips to Cardiff HTV and BBC studios, before breaking off for three years study of Drama  at Trinity College, Carmarthen.    By this time his brother Vivyan was John Chilvers’s assistant at the Grand Theatre in Swansea, and Nigel was to discover his love of all things pantomime backstage at “The Grand”.    He later joined the Welsh Drama Company, an off-shoot of the WNO in Cardiff, and then toured with them as well as Theatr yr Ymylon and appearances at the Cardiff Open Air Theatre alongside Des Barritt. Both he and Des  also joined the New Theatre Cardiff’s company. Among the productions was the musical “Toad Of Toad Hall”, directed by Martin Williams.    Summer seasons in Aberystwyth and Rhyl were  followed by a lengthy season in Stockholm, and pantomimes at Leicester Haymarket and the Belgrade in Coventry, as well as appearing alongside Swansea’s Eleanor Thomas and Gareth Armstrong (who had founded the Swansea Youth Theatre) at his brother Vivyan’s  “Kenneth More Theatre” in Ilford for pantomime.    When not appearing Nigel writes and designs pantomimes for venues around the UK, and a few in America! Each Autumn he and Peter Robbins take their love of pantomime on the road and into primary schools with their successful “Pantomime Roadshow” for theatres as far afield as Bradford, Hull, Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Aberdeen before starting the coming seasons “Cinderella”. This year (2008-09) they will be appearing with Brian Conley at the Theatre Royal Nottingham. An avid collector of pantomime ephemera, In his spare time Nigel runs the internet’s largest website on Pantomime: Nigel and Peter appear also on the cover of  Its Behind You - the Story Of Panto written by Peter Lathan

(Sadly Peter Robbins died suddenly on April 15th 2009 aged just 56 - Nigel has taken the brave decision to continue his pantomime career in the role of Dame)

Nigel Ellacott wrote an article which I reproduce with his permission on growing up in Swansea

"As a child, growing up in Swansea the local pantomime was always at “The Grand”. The Grand Theatre in Singleton Street was my local theatre, in fact, it was the only theatre in Swansea- I was too young to remember “The Empire”-it closed when I was four years old, although my Mother told me that she had helped chaperone the pantomime juveniles there for Rae Copp.The reason I went into “The Business”, like so many actors in Swansea, was because of “The Grand”, and the influence of John Chilvers.Like many other aspiring actors and working actors it was his influence that gave us inspiration. In the Twenty-Five years that J.C. ran the theatre from 1957 until his early retirement in 1982  John employed nearly 900 people, and presented weekly repertory at first, and then in the mid 1970’s fortnightly “rep”, in addition to annual pantomimes produced “in house”,  which, like the rep seasons were , with a few exceptions, directed by John himself, in addition to the day to day management of this 1,100 seater theatre.I can remember John telling me that when he worked with George and Beryl Formby, Beryl was extremely careful in doling out pocket money to George, but appeared to employ someone whose job, as far as John could see, was to follow Beryl around and ensure her coat was hung up!

A lifetime later- in the mid 1970’s I was playing in Summer Season in North Wales, and J.C. was on holiday in Colwyn Bay. He visited the shows (we did about six different ones) and insisted that we met up each afternoon, whereupon he would take me for afternoon tea. He also realised my salary could be bettered, and had a “quiet word”, and “Hey Presto!” I received a small but very welcomed increase!- Growing up in Swansea, I was growing up around The Grand. By 1965 my brother Vivyan was working at the theatre as Assistant Manager (Later Theatre Manager, when the Council took over the building, and John became Administrator).

After school, and during the holidays I was often allowed to be around the theatre, the front of house, or backstage- helping out if asked, and generally becoming in thrall of this wonderful place. John was a man of routine- one ritual I always remember was sending someone out- sometimes it was me, to the local cake shop in the afternoon, and sitting in the box office handing sticky buns around to the ladies who worked there. John’s dog, “Tom” would be asleep in his office (tucked away behind the ice cream room) and, in between Tom and John’s desk would inevitably be a stack of flyers and hanging cards- if I was lucky I would get to distribute a few, giving out comps- and cartons of  sweets, as the kiosk wasn’t big enough to take all the stock.The highlights of after school, and later, after college were watching the plays in the rep seasons, and of course the pantomimes that JC produced. Trips backstage to deliver something to wardrobe (then a series of small houses behind the theatre) or pass a message would last a very long time, as I was able to tuck myself away and watch rehearsals from the wings.

John always held his Panto rehearsals in the Circle Bar. I’m sure I remember incorrectly, but at the time it seemed as if everyone kept their coats (and hats) on, and manoeuvred their way between the bar stools suggesting “bits of business” while Cherry Willoughby rehearsed her dancers in the foyer, or if space, on the stage. The theatre came alive during these afternoons, with Panto folk rehearsing in every available corner. John held it all together, and presented the patrons with exactly what they wanted.We had local names and we had big name stars from television, a huge chorus of dancers, often singers employed as well, then a cast of principals, with the costumes and scenery usually on hire from ex West End and major provincial pantomimes.

It’s little wonder that I’ve ended up in pantomime myself I suppose. Watching John create the magic of pantomime year after year, and getting to know the actors- often returning year after year- my fate was sealed the moment I went backstage. JC influenced and inspired a great many young actors, and, just as importantly, employed them for long pantomimes and even longer repertory seasons throughout the year.I grew up watching Jess Conrad as “Colin” in “Puss In Boots”, Marty Wilde as “Robin Hood”, Grand and Mars as the Ugly Sisters in “Cinderella”, Reg (“Confidentially”) Dixon as Dame, Emerson and Jayne performing their amazing “Flying Carpet” speciality, “Dumart & Denzer's Skeltons Alive!” (John was an expert at employing superb ”spesh” acts) and later, after leaving Swansea I would return each year to see  the likes of Paul & Barry Harmon (later known as “The Chuckle Brothers”), Peter and Sue Barbour on stilts, Burdon & Moran as “Sisters”, Barry Hopkins as “Boy”, Sian Hopkins as “Girl”, Stan Stennet, Johnny Tudor-and of course Freddie Lees as Dame Trott. Freddie appeared frequently in the rep seasons, as well as being Swansea’s all time favourite Pantomime Dame.

Nigel Ellacott is undoubtedly one of Swansea's unsung success stories

Link to Nigel’s pantomime website