Peter Duncan: There ain't nothing like a Dame

FRUITFUL: Peter with Dereck Walker from Dick Whittington (Picture: STEVE REIGATE)As a toddler Peter Duncan's life was ruled by the sunshine leisure

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blue peter peter duncan theatre dame panto

FRUITFUL: Peter with Dereck Walker from Dick Whittington (Picture: STEVE REIGATE)

As a toddler Peter Duncan’s life was ruled by the sunshine leisure calendar. Summer season meant pier exhibits on the seaside at Brighton. Winter, in fact, was pantomime season and his dad and mom, mild comic Alan Gale and soprano Patricia Kaye, produced Tunbridge Wells’ panto yearly.

“We’d all transfer there, totally different faculties, totally different locations every time,” recollects the previous Blue Peter presenter. 

“That was the construct as much as Christmas for me. Rehearsals ran till Christmas Eve. The present opened on Boxing Day and was generally on till nearly Easter. I cherished to look at them. It was the world we lived in.”

And it’s one which Duncan, 64, nonetheless likes to inhabit. 

He has written two pantomimes this 12 months: Aladdin, which is enjoying on the Everyman in Cheltenham – he’s additionally the director of this manufacturing – and Dick Whittington on the Lighthouse in Poole. 

Subsequent month he’ll take the lead function, in actual fact the one function, in The Dame, at London’s Park Theatre. 

The play explores the mindset of an ageing panto dame, who’s again for one more season within the northern seaside city of his youth. 

Written by his playwright daughter Katie Duncan, beneath, the play, although not autobiographical, attracts closely on Duncan’s household historical past.

“It have to be within the blood,” he says of his daughter’s curiosity. “It’s as if she has locked into all these tales. It brings again recollections I did not even know I had.”

blue peter peter duncan theatre dame panto

Peter Duncan’s life was ruled by the sunshine leisure calendar (Picture: Mike Marsland/ Getty Photos)

Just like the play’s dame, Duncan’s father was born in Redcar.

After the Second World Warfare – which he spent within the service provider navy – he made a residing placing on seaside exhibits, often called “match ups” for his or her speedily erected stage units, on the sands.

He then returned to London, the place he had first lived as a 15-year-old bellhop on the Savoy, and started performing sketches, enjoying piano or compering wherever he may.

It was there that Alan and Patricia received collectively.

“My mom was a soubrette [a kind of comic operatic singer] and she or he went alongside to audition for his present,” says Duncan.

“She took her sister as a result of my father was often called a little bit of a wolf apparently however she fell in love with him anyway, ditched her rugby participant boyfriend they usually married.”

The couple settled in west London and Duncan was born in 1954 adopted by his youthful sister, Julia, in 1960.

The primary years of the wedding have been financially troublesome, along with his dad and mom working on the Preferrred Residence Exhibition to complement the meagre earnings they produced from their selection exhibits. 

blue peter peter duncan theatre dame panto

IT’S IN THE BLOOD: Peter’s dad and mom Alan Gale and Patricia Kaye (Picture: STEVE REIGATE)

“Typically they’d generate profits. Typically they’d lose cash.”

Lastly, with an everyday programme of summer time exhibits on Brighton Pier and pantomime in Tunbridge Wells, the couple started to make a residing from their craft.

For the younger Duncan, the seaside sojourn was the annual spotlight.

“It was a improbable summer time vacation: heat seaside days, late nights. It was so evocative.”

The every day ritual of efficiency appealed to him early on.

“Every morning it could be the counting of the money, then all the way down to the seaside within the day, a day nap and the build-up to the night present.”

He was additionally uncovered to his dad and mom’ flamboyant social circle.

“There have been all these characters. It was the 60s and I had all these homosexual uncles and aunts when that was nonetheless a little bit of a secret world. It felt thrilling and forward of the occasions.”

To buddies, whose dad and mom usually “had different much less fascinating issues to do with their working lives”, his itinerant, theatrical way of life, appeared glamorous.

A lot of the 12 months, although, was taken up with the extra mundane duties.

“My mom would restore all of the costumes,” he recollects.

“I needed to roll out all of the backcloths on the garden to verify the rats hadn’t nibbled them. There was a sure means you needed to fold them – that drove me mad.”

The household at all times had sheds and garages stuffed with props and ultimately Duncan’s bed room was annexed to deal with extra costumes.

“I preferred having all of the stuff round,” he says.

“I notably bear in mind a set of baronial gates. They have been used someway in each panto.”

The flowery units of as we speak’s exhibits – for Aladdin, Duncan has simply constructed an enormous washer primarily based on the Moldovan Eurovision entry – are a far cry from these of his dad and mom.

“Their exhibits existed of their two garages. They have been residing off the historical past. That they had the routines, the songs, nevertheless it was actually only a set of previous cloths. They have been horrible actors actually. It was that hammy, excessive factor of music corridor. It could by no means work now.”

blue peter peter duncan theatre dame panto

Sarah Greene and Peter Duncan attend the ‘Blue Peter Large Birthday’ celebration (Picture: Shirlaine Forrest/Getty Photos)

Whereas Duncan could also be aiming for extra subtlety than his dad and mom in his efficiency, he has nonetheless inherited their resourcefulness on the subject of the trimmings.

He additionally builds sheds, he factors out.

“I’ve numerous their props and costumes up within the attic,” he says.

“My mom used to get all Danny La Rue’s attire when he had worn them out. They’re falling aside however I can not convey myself to throw them away. When I’m doing a panto I am going to flip up with an enormous goose or another odd bits. I suppose I’m fairly old style.”

Duncan’s dad and mom lived to see his early profession as a stage actor (he spent two years with Sir Laurence Olivier’s Nationwide Theatre Firm) and his subsequent TV fame as a Blue Peter presenter within the 1980s.

His father died in 1986 and his mom in 1997 (each on November 3).

Each labored till the top.

“They preferred the Blue Peter factor, particularly as a result of it was reside. It reminded them of the seaside exhibits. They have been grafting away in a lodge in Scarborough, doing the acts, and I used to be attending to be a bit extra identified. It was good for them.”

blue peter peter duncan theatre dame panto

Mild comic Alan Gale and soprano Patricia Kaye (Picture: STEVE REIGATE)

When Duncan’s play opens subsequent month, sitting within the viewers would be the half-sister, Jennifer, he found solely after his father’s loss of life.

Through the Redcar sands season that impressed The Dame’s setting, his father – then single – had a romance with a lady who was engaged to a US airman.

When she fell pregnant the infant was put up for adoption and, needing to quieten the scandal, he left for London.

Ten years in the past Duncan acquired a letter explaining his sister’s existence and the siblings met. 

“Jennifer found she was adopted, waited till she was in her 60s after which traced her mom, who instructed her about her father and me. She had adopted my father’s life and in addition my life. It’s, for me, an incredible story.”

Duncan’s father by no means instructed his secret.

“He died with out us understanding. As we speak it feels extra like a trigger for celebration than a scandal.”

The story now kinds the idea of a scene within the play.

“Standing up there, I’m pondering of my dad and mom,” he says. “There are such a lot of recollections. The theatre looks like residence.”

The Dame is at Park Theatre, London, from January 2-26. For particulars go to