This is the page for memories that don't belong to a specific panto, or cross a number of pantos like somone's memories over the years of how their views changed as they grew older.

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The girl who began it all

Here's a picture of Lucy Mellersh the girl who began it all, and below is her story of how it all happened.

Sowing the Seeds

Sometime in 1977, I was thinking about how there was nothing for kids to do in the winter. Junior Minstead catered for the small ones and the Youth Club for the big ones, but the middle sized kids had nothing.

I thought a panto could include everyone and occupy us during the long winter evenings, so in a red exercise book, I wrote “Snow White, Act 1 Scene 1”. I started writing, stealing some ideas I remembered from Mr Hart's days at Lyndhurst school but got stuck very soon. I went to Dad (Nick Mellersh) for help and poor Nick ended up writing the whole thing. We held auditions at the hall and to our amazement practically every child in the village turned
up wanting a part. Nick did a brilliant job of rewriting the script to include a part for everyone who wanted one.

Thanks for that Nick, your willingness to include everybody has made a lot of kids happy over the years!
Lucy Mellersh

Nick went on to write a lot of the pantos that followed and then to encourage others to write their own. He has even compiled his tips and tricks and made a great guide to panto writing: Write a brilliant panto with Billy and Wolfy.

Jeanie's memories

Jeanie Mellersh, Nick's wife, is the person who was responsible for the look of the pantos. Right from the very first one "Snow White" the costumes and the sets have been splendid. I remember a visitor saying "When the curtains opened and I saw the look of the stage I knew we were in for something special.

Ruining two perfectly good shirts

Two girls, Christine Saunders and Joanne Appleby, were to be nurses. We had aprons with red crosses on them made by Paddy Appleby (Joanne's mother). I asked around has anyone got two granddad shirts we could use for nurses' uniforms. Paddy said “Yes I have” and handed me two identical collarless shirts (new!) I thanked her and dressed the girls. The tails hung long at the back. I grabbed the scissors and cut the tails off. Paddy gave a scream. She had just bought them for her husband Jack. I'll never live that down.

We've just found one of the aprons, it should be on display at the exhibition on March 24 at the hall.
Jeanie Mellersh

George Ashby peeps through the curtains

I remember the curtain closing on the cast of children – but a tiny Ashby (was it George or Danny) poked his head through the crack in the curtains and beamed out at the audience. We fell about laughing and so did he.

Someone falls off the edge of the stage

The tiny ones were all sitting in on the edge of the stage in a row. One fell asleep and fell off. Fortunately there was a line of gym mats just in front of the stage where she fell. Not much harm was done.

Mrs White plays piano

Old Mrs White (who had once owned the Minstead bus) had the talent of a silent film pianist. She could improvise incidental music while she watched the action live. This was a great talent and she loved to play to match the action. The trouble was there were no mikes in those early days and as she had become deaf in her old age she didn't realise when the children were speaking. We used to stop her playing through the dialog by getting hold of her hands and removing them from the keys.

God save the Queen!
I remember Mrs White insisting on playing the National Anthem and making us all stand up and sing it at the end of each performance.

I also recall the last night 'party'. It was always loads of fun, especially seeing the adults get silly. I remember one year the 'seaweed pie' which we all had to endure - yuk!

Another memory was of rehearsing with Nick Mellersh. The closer we got to the first performance, the redder Nick's face would get red at rehearsal and we would watch with fascination his blood vessels bulge on his neck (sorry Nick).

Steve was the best person to have working behind the scenes and I remember him as always being calm, kind, cheerful and even-tempered (I think the only one who was by the end) but important for us kids (I'm not sure whether that was the case for you Steve but it's how I remember you.)

.....getting changed in freezing changing rooms and a conveyor belt of slapped on greasy makeup...oh, and plenty of custard pies!
Joanna Gardner

Tribute to Nick and Jeanie
I will be forever grateful to Nick and Jeanie and all the other parents who worked tirelessly to make this happen for us kids. Yes, things occasionally got stressful, but the pride and sense of community that was generated on 'the night' was wonderful. Being a parent now myself, I realise the effort and sacrifice involved, but most of all I appreciate Nick and Jeanie's great love of and belief in children. Growing up in Minstead was a 'one-off' I'm sure. They were good days. And still, with very little help, you are working to make it happen and bring us all together again to celebrate. I THANK YOU.
Joanna Gardner

I thought you'd like a photo of Nick and Jeanie, taken recently. From Isabel

Memories from the early days from Jeanie

At the start there was no mike, no lighting, and no backcloth. None of us had any experience in the theatre. The children had probably not ever been to one.

We had to persuade them to learn their lines, act, speak loudly, keep their hats on and wear make-up. The boys all refused lipstick at first. We had no money and no wardrobe so all costumes had to be gleaned from jumble sales or family clear outs. We had no army of capable helpers we had to persuade mums and dads that they were capable and tell them what to do and how to do it. But first we had to find out ourselves. Stage makeup was bought and false moustaches etc. with instructions given, over the counter, on how to apply them. Mums sewed and glued costumes. Dads sawed and hammered swords and such like. Paint was slapped on backstage.

Kids in groups met in houses after school in droves and rehearsed their parts. They loved it as they often got tea and it became a rowdy bun fight. They all got to know each other and had lots of fun. I got a colouring poster and a box of felt pens and they all sat round the table colouring the pictures and signing their names all round the edge while the ones with the big parts practised their lines.We had a cassette of the songs and they sang to the music. They really were awestruck when we set up the scenery and dressed them in costumes at it got near to show date. They then said to themselves “Oh my God, it's for real” and the show started to look good. It was unheard of a for a child to be ill on “the night”. They all turned up on Panto night. They were the stars and they wouldn't miss this not for anything. All the cast sat in the front row until it was their time to be called backstage ready for their part. They could enjoy the show that way and sit quietly until it was their time to be called backstage ready for their part. They could enjoy the show that way and sit quietly.
Posted by Jeanie March 11.

Geoff Green, Props Man Extraordinaire

Geoff and Liz Green have been involved in Minstead Pantomime since it started; first with their daughters and then (after a decent gap) with their grandchildren. Over the years Geoff has used his own very special inventive creativity to solve many a practical problem and more recently to inspire the kids by launching into choreography (as well as turning his hand to a further selection of props.) When asked “What do you remember about previous panto’s” the quick answer was “Mostly it’s the impossible tasks set by the directors." But he has now expanded his answer to reveal some of his stage secrets, which will appear on the different pages as appropriate and when time for typing allows.

Today (March 14th) we’ll give you “How to make a full sized aeroplane fly through the village hall and crash onto the stage”….. go to the “Tarzan” page to find out!

Posted by Isabel, March 14th (just!)

Steve and Nick require refreshment

Here are a couple of photos. A youthful looking Steve Cattel quaffs a pint during the interval in a stressful rehearsal.

And Nick wanders around with cans of beer hoping (probably in vain) to appease Steve and persuade him it was a great idea to fly somebody across the stage. In fact Steve used to do almost everything anyone asked of him. He was certainly one of the heroes of the early pantos.


Thank you to Nick and Jeannie

I can't let this opportunity pass without paying my own tribute to Nick and Jeannie.

They played such a large part in my children's upbringing in Minstead and I will always be grateful for that. They gave generously of their love and time, and that can never be taken away.

Taking part in the pantomimes gave the children so much fun, taught them a lot and challenged their abilities. They made friends with their peers and adults in the village alike.

And this is it- Nick and Jeannie have a wonderful gift of bringing people together and encouraging them to do great things.

I look back on those days with great affection and thank you both.

Ann Gardner.

In autumn 1977 my parents took us to Minstead to view the house that we were going to live in, this turned out to be Nick and Jeannie's, and they were about to move next door. Whilst the adults looked around and chatted, Lucy whisked us kids (Marcelle, Sally and Jonathan), off to Minstead Lodge for a pantomine rehersal. We were led into the main reception room at the Lodge, an enormous room with panelled walls and wooden floors. Here we met lots of other children from the village and were included in any scene which required a crowd! Although the whole thing was alien to us, we just assumed that this was what people did who lived in villages and got on with it.
We all loved being involved in the pantos through the years. It really did achieve exactly what Lucy had planned. It was the highlight of the year, and kept us all busy from casting (just before Christmas) through to March. Socially it was wonderful as all ages mixed, (especially at the 'end of panto party'!), plus you also got to know more of the adults in the village. We would go to different peoples' houses to rehearse different scenes, to Jeannie's, then later on to Marion Young's house for singing rehersals. I think though the best rehersals were with Nick at the hall as although he would often shout to get us under control, he worked at IBM Hursley at the time and would bribe us by bringing lardy cakes from the bakery for us to eat!
When it came to the actual performances, it really was always alright on the night, however awful the dress rehearsal had been. The costumes just got better and better, as did the make up etc... We would have strict instructions as to whose house to go to for make up, then somehow we were all ferried to the hall as we were ready. We had strict instructions back stage. Steve Cattell was great, firm but fair, and always calm - I have in my head that he smoked his pipe throughout, but I'm not sure if that's right. The one thing that we all had to remember (in addition to keeping quiet) was that we must not EVER flush the toilet back stage during the performance as the water pipes travelled from the back to the front of the hall, the audience could hear it and it drowned out whatever else was going on!
Being in pantomines for years really helped all of us find confidence and talents (sometimes) that we didn't know we had. We discovered what a wonderful voice my sister (Marcelle) has, her children (all 4 of them) have subsequently been in musicals at school and she has helped with costumes, make up and was even asked to bulk out the chorus one year. She still loves singing, but her kids never believe her when she recalls the heady days of stardom in Minstead as Maid Marion, Dale Arden and the like! It was a lovely part of our childhood and we shall be eternally grateful to Lucy, Nick and Jeannie and everyone else who made them happen.

Sally Hayward

Thirty year exhibtion

This Wiki was started at the thirty year anniversary of the first panto and to tie in with an exhibition organised by Isabel Yeo with great aplomb and energy. It was a great exhibition Isabel! Much of the material appears again in the Minstead History exhibition of 2011 and this Wiki will, we hope, continue for many years beyond that.
Nick Mellersh.