The Theatre of War: Interpreting the First World War in Pantomime

This blog post follows on from the recent post ‘What Did You Do In The War?’ and focuses specifically on the souvenir edition for the performance of Dick Whittington that took place in Salonika during Christmas 1915. In contrast to the First World War programmes for Bluebeard/Gluebeard and the flyer for the pantomime Aladdin, which was performed during the Second World War, which featured in the previous blog post, the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington provides readers with the opportunity to follow the story of the pantomime, examine the dialogues and songs, and see how what troops were experiencing during the First World War became incorporated into the story of the pantomime. In this souvenir edition, Dick Whittington is divided into 3 acts and each section of the blog post focuses on a few examples to demonstrate how the experience of the First World War in Salonika became integrated into this well-known tale.

As well as being a form of humorous and slapstick entertainment, pantomime served as a means of addressing social issues, providing a satirical commentary on serious topics. The pantomime also generally touched upon aspects of everyday life and the experiences of the troops where they were stationed. It is not surprising, then, to see references to the ongoing reality of the First World War within this souvenir edition of Dick Whittington, as well as the context around the First World War more broadly.

Act 1

The below section from Act 1 rather comically refers to the efforts of the 85th Field Ambulance to put on this pantomime in the first place, commending themselves on providing entertainment. Rather than overtly refer to themselves, they cast themselves as ‘Karno’s Ambulance’, who the character Jack says have been conferred by the King ‘the distinction of wearing a scarlet ribbon upon the shoulder in recognition of their valuable services in amusing the other troops’.

Extract from Act 1 – Alderman Fitzwarren’s Store in Chelsea from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

Whilst not overtly stated, calling themselve’s ‘Karno’s Ambulance’ may also be nodding towards the comedian of slapstick and theatre empresario Fred Karno, who was known for his chaos on stage. In fact, disorganised troops of soldiers referred to themselves as ‘Fred Karno’s Army’ during the First World War, perhaps to reflect the chaotic situation in which they found themselves.

The above example also addresses the sorry taste of tea, which Jack complains about to the character Fitzwarren, who tells Jack that it’s the same tea that is sold to the Army. Tea was a staple in the trenches during the First World War and was regularly drank to mask the taste of water, which was transported in petrol tins. Perhaps the tea drank by those in Salonika was not as tasty or as much of a luxury!

Attitudes around recruitment and joining the Army during the First World War are also present, with the character Horlicks attempting to persuade both Fitzwarren and Dick to sign up and ‘pull together’ and ‘rally round the flag and so forth’.

Extract from Act 1 – Alderman Fitzwarren’s Store in Chelsea from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

There were many reasons that men joined the army during the First World War and this idea of patriotism and peer pressure resonates in this discussion between these 3 characters. Like recruitment posters of the time (very much thinking about the 1914 Lord Kitchener Wants You poster), this dialogue taps into the sense of fighting for one’s fatherland and emotional ties to the war, particularly about everyone doing their part towards the war effort.

Blockades causing food rations and shortages – both on the Allied and Axis sides – were a tactic frequently employed during the First World War and hunger was used as a deadly weapon. For example, ships going to Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey, were blockaded by the British and French, causing malnutrition and starvation even after the end of the war. Dick Whittington offers a snippet into this reality from the British perspective in the below dialogue between Fitzwarren and Sir Joseph, blaming the gritty texture of jam, which now has ‘hard and sharp pieces’, and its manufacture within Britain because Germany had successfully blockaded their ports.

Extract from Act 1 – Alderman Fitzwarren’s Store in Chelsea from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

Act 2

Whilst this performance of Dick Whittington took place in Salonika, other areas where fighting took place during the First World War are also referenced. As seen in the below exchange between Dick and his love interest Alice in Act 2, Dick refers to his time in Flanders and ‘the awful ear-splitting stuff’ that he put up with whilst there.

Extract from Act 2 –On Board The Good Ship “Passover” from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

Between 1914 and 1918, Flanders suffered heavy bombardment and saw largescale destruction and death, with important cities and villages completely demolished. Notable battles occurred in Flanders, such as the Battle of Passchendaele between July and November 1917, which saw the loss of roughly 275,000 men on the British side and at least 220,000 German soldiers. Dick’s comment may only be a passing reference but still nods towards this devastation.

Interestingly the 85th Field Army are again referred to as ‘Karno’s Field Ambulance’, highlighting the contributions that they made ‘Out of England, with heart aflame,/ For a job “somewhere in France”,/At the dawn of 1915’ and their recognition as ‘Glorious Karno’ by ‘everybody’. Even beyond Flanders, in areas such as Mont Noir, the successes of ‘Glorious Karno’ are showcased.

Extract from Act 2 – On Board The Good Ship “Passover” from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

Act 3

Linked to the discussion about Flanders with the section of this post focusing on Act 2, Ypres is specifically mentioned in the chorus marking the finale of Act 3 and the end of the pantomime.

Extract from Act 3 – Outside Fitzwarren’s Canteen – In The Mists, In The Mountains, “Somewhere In Greece” from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

The first verse is particularly striking and again reflects societal attitudes about joining the war effort. Reminiscent of Jessie Pope’s poem Who’s For The Game, joining the war was treated as a game by the men, who were not scared of ‘dud German shells’. This of course is far from the futile reality of war but again shows how this pantomime performance made recognisable and provided commentary on general attitudes of the context in which it was created.

Even the traditional location of Dick Whittington has been influenced by where the 85th Field Ambulance found themselves during the First World War. Not only are various places in which troops fought mentioned throughout the performance, but, rather than maintain the setting of London for performance of Dick Whittington, as would normally be the case, the pantomime has moved to Greece where the troops have found themselves. This location change was made clear from the very opening of Act 3, in which we see that Fitzwarren’s Canteen is located “Somewhere In Greece”.

Opening of Act 3 – Outside Fitzwarren’s Canteen – In the Mists, On The Mountains, “Somewhere In Greece”, from the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika in 1915.

The myth of Dick Whittington stemmed from the streets of medieval London but, in this performance, it is very much the present and the experience of life in Salonika during the First World War that informs the vision, environment, and trajectory of the pantomime.


Themes and issues relating to life at the front and along the Home Front permeate this performance of Dick Whittington. A ‘Ration Song’ was included and there is even a character called Maconochie, no doubt called this because of the tinned food that troops ate, such as Maconochie beef and vegetable stew. Pantomime did not just provide entertainment and a distraction but, also, allowed troops to deviate from traditional stories and devise a setting in which they should share, laugh about, and understand the world in which they found themselves. These are only a few examples from this souvenir edition but there are many more – come visit us at Special Collections & Archives to check it out to learn more about the First World War and remember the experiences and lives of those who fought during the Great War!

What Did You Do In The War?

‘What Did You Do In The War?’ is the title of Clarkson Rose’s comic song written in 1919, and follows the experience of a father recounting to his son what he did during the Great War. The song addresses various themes and elements of life that contemporaries of Clarkson Rose would have been familiar with and able to relate to. These include the experience of food controls and the rise of prices of food items like ‘marmalade and jam’, as well as the joining up of men to fight in the Great War, such as Clarkson Rose’s ‘Comic singer’, who joined the Army Service Corps. The experiences of women are also addressed, who, like the boy’s mother, ‘used to sew some socks for all the soldiers out in France’, as well as those who undertook employment, working in munitions factories for example.

First page of Clarkson Rose’s comic song ‘What Did You Do In The War?’, written in 1919.

Clarkson Rose’s comic song, however, is not the only item within the David Drummond Pantomime collection to epitomise what life was like during the First World War, particularly with regard to the experience of soldiers at the front. What we also see within this collection is the familiarity with and exposure that soldiers had to pantomime during the First World War, helping us to better recognise the key role of pantomime and performance in boosting morale during the First World War. Examining these materials strengthens our understanding about how both watching and participating within pantomime was part of what troops did during the Great War.

Theatre and performance were vital in distracting servicemen from the horrors of the theatre of war, not just on the Western Front but in other areas too, notably the Macedonian Front. This blog post specifically shows examples of programmes for pantomimes performed in Salonika, now modern-day Thessaloniki, which was also ravaged by the brutality of war. This blog post also demonstrates how what was happening during the First World War was incorporated into pantomime and provides a commentary on this period of history.

Pantomime and Performance on the Macedonian Front: Christmas in Salonika

One of the things that is particularly interesting about the material found within the David Drummond Pantomime collection that relates to the First World War, is the spotlight this collection places on enjoyment and entertainment beyond the Western Front. Many of us will have heard a lot about the Western Front, with the focus on what occurred along the French and Belgian border being ubiquitous in popular culture. It seems, however, that the other areas in which fighting occurred is less well-known and it must be remembered that along the Macedonian front, British troops were part of a multi-national Allied force that fought against the Bulgarians and those who supported them in the Balkans, including Turkish forces, German forces, and Austro-Hungarian forces.

Various companies performed pantomimes during the First World War and the examples of entertainment at Salonika within the David Drummond Pantomime collection displays the involvement of different companies. For example, the following souvenir edition for the pantomime Dick Whittington shows that a performance of this pantomime was produced by members of the 85th Field Ambulance and took place in Salonika in December 1915.

‘Foreword’ written by Major C J Briggs in the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington performed at Salonika during Christmas 1915. The ‘Foreword’ was written at Headquarters of the 28th Division on 24th February 1969 and features the Major General’s signature.

The ‘Foreword’ written by the Major General C J Briggs is particularly revealing and emphasises just how important pantomime was for raising optimism and for ‘all hearts [to be] gladdened’.  The author of the souvenir edition, Frank Kenchington, goes one step further than the Major General. He stressed that in being asked by the Major General that a performance of Dick Whittington should be performed for ‘the whole of the troops in the Division’, those who contributed to organising this pantomime had been ‘given the privilege of their share, in their small way, to enliven the dull and uninspiring monotony of a winter in the mountains of Greece’. As well as entertainment, undertaking this performance was also a means of commemoration, of ‘[reviving] memories of many an old friend and many a half-forgotten chapter in this Campaign’.

The souvenir edition of Dick Whittington also gives an insight into the individuals that made up the company of actors, who provided their comrades with entertainment, amusement, and delight.

Synopsis of scenery, list of creative team, and cast members in the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington, written by Frank Kenchington, and performed at Salonika during Christmas 1915.

Troops used whatever they had to hand to co-ordinate and craft their pantomime, and this souvenir edition shows just what materials were used to make costumes for this performance of Dick Whittington.

Extract from the ‘Introduction’ of the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington by Frank Kenchington. Performed in Salonika during Christmas 1915.

As we see from the ‘Introduction’ to this souvenir edition, army pants became the tights of the Principal Boy and ‘hospital pyjamas, Army shirts, blankets and old sacks’, as well as ‘a deflated Rugby football’ were used for costumes. Parts of everyday army life and a typical soldier’s uniform were transformed to make the pantomime performance happen. Even haggling was involved and from the above we see the efforts that were made to ensure there was music within the pantomime.

Pantomimes continued on to the final year of the First World War and the below programme for a performance of Bluebeard, whilst slightly out of season, provides further evidence that entertainment and pantomime was a regular feature of Christmas for troops fighting during the First World War. As you can see from the annotation made on the top right-hand corner, this version of the pantomime Bluebeard was written by Private G G Horrocks and was performed by members of the 28th Division in March 1918.

Front cover of the programme for the pantomime Bluebeard by Private G G Horrocks, performed in Salonika in March 1918 by the 28th Division.

Like the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington, this programme for the pantomime Bluebeard reflects what life was like during Christmas in Salonika. It shows the involvement and interaction that soldiers had with the art of pantomime to put on a show for their brothers-in-arms.

Pages listing the cast and creative team for the pantomime Bluebeard by Private G G Horrocks, performed in Salonika in March 1918 by the 28th Division.

A full cast list is included, showing a range of ranks – Private, Corporal, and Sergeant – within the 28th Division, as well as the creative team, who were responsible for creating costumes and the scenery, and an outline of the acts. The programme even showcases who was responsible for crafting the musical numbers and who played the music, informing audiences that the ‘Orchestra was composed of the regimental bands of the Division by the kind permission of their Commanding Officers’.

The programme shown below for the Christmas production “Glue-Beard”, further demonstrates the enduring power of pantomime at the very end of 1918, even after the Armistice had been signed on 29th September 1918 at the General Headquarters of the Allied Army of the Orient at Salonika. This Armistice was signed between the Allies and Bulgaria, and came into force at midday on 30th September 1918.

Programme for a performance of “Glue-Beard”, A burlesque, with music in a prologue and two acts. Performed at the Base M.T Depot Concert Party in Salonica during Christmas 1918. The production was presented by The Spare Parts.

Despite the ceasefire and the signing of the Armistice, troops continued to stay in Salonika. During the First World War, the British army that was in Salonika was known as the British Salonika Army. Whilst this was disbanded in November 1918, the units that remained were renamed as the Army of the Black Sea and, as seen from the above programme, those who stayed in Salonika continued the tradition of performing pantomime as entertainment for troops at Christmas. The performance was produced by Second Lieutenant Jack Morrison and was presented by the Spare Parts at the Base M T Depot Concert Party, ‘by the kind permission’ of the Lieutenant-Colonel F W Beall, A S C. Like the souvenir edition of Dick Whittington and the programme for Bluebeard, we can see which soldiers starred in the performance and the roles that they played.

Cast list for a performance of “Glue-Beard”, A burlesque, with music in a prologue and two acts. Performed at the Base M.T Depot Concert Party in Salonica during Christmas 1918. The production was presented by The Spare Parts.

Like the above items, the performance of pantomime seems to have been taken quite seriously and we can see that the professional positions of General Manager, Musical Director, Electrician, as well as individuals who took on the roles the responsibility of scenery design, costume design, and organising stage properties (props), was undertaken by the following soldiers: Captain R C Syme; Private F A Taylor; Corporal J Tomlinson; Privates Maxwell, Justice and McCoss; Sergeant Benton; and Privates Jones and G Pollocco.

Back cover of the programme for a performance of “Glue-Beard”, A burlesque, with music in a prologue and two acts. Listed are the roles of General Manager, undertaken by Captain R C Syme; Musical Director, undertaken by Private F A Taylor; Electrician, undertaken by Corporal J Tomlinson; Scenery by Privates Maxwell, Justice, and McCoss; Stage Properties by Sergeant Benton; and Costumes by Privates Jones and G Pollocco. Performed at the Base M.T Depot Concert Party in Salonica during Christmas 1918. The production was presented by The Spare Parts.

The Second World War and the Entertainments National Service Association

The immense impact that pantomime and entertainment had on morale during times of hardship and destruction is further reinforced by the creation of the Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) upon the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. Created by Basil Dean and Leslie Hensen, both prominent figures in the entertainment industry who had been active in organising theatre and performance during the First World War, ENSA was an organisation that was founded to specifically provide enjoyment for troops and operated as part of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (N.A.A.F.I).

ENSA and N.A.A.F.I’s role in continuing the delivery of pantomime to troops at Christmas time is seen in the flyer below. This is a flyer for the ‘Grand XMAS Pantomime’ Aladdin at the (Somewhere in France) Theatre. The flyer lists the cast and provides a breakdown of the acts and scenes. They spared no effort, incorporating scenery designs by Dennis Wreford that were painted by the Drury Lane Studios, and had a proper Business Manager, E A McKalla, Stage Manager, Frank Woolf, and Producer, Stanley Brightman, involved.

Flyer for a performance of the pantomime Aladdin at (Somewhere in France) Theatre. This was performed at Christmas time at some point during the Second World War and was organised by ENSA and N.A.A.F.I. Some terms used in this record reflect contemporary attitudes and language used during the period. All such terms are used in the interest of historical accuracy, as altering them would risk falsifying the historical record. This language does not reflect the views or opinions of the University of Kent, Special Collections & Archives or our staff.

Interestingly, the flyer makes a direct link to ENSA’s co-founder, Leslie Hensen, demonstrating the key role he played in delivering entertainment during the First World War. The flyer informs audiences that this performance of Aladdin was adapted by Arthur Rigby from the original played by Leslie Hensen to the British Expeditionary Forces at the Nouveau Theatre in Lille during 1918. It’s a great example of the enduring legacy of entertainment during both World Wars and the importance of entertainment as part of the war effort.


Not only were troops fighting along the frontline but, from the above examples, we see that time was dedicated to providing entertainment and enjoyment for their comrades. Soldiers actively took part within the performance as key characters, as well as ensuring that materials needed to set the staging and deliver the pantomime were gathered and made. Clarkson Rose’s comic song ‘What Did You Do In The War?’ is an excellent reminder and social commentary on post-war feeling and the various experiences that people, particularly on the Home Front, had during the First World War but, also, it is important to remember other elements of life and the solace that troops found in a moment of profound delight, where the troubles of the Great War could be forgotten.

The Terrifying Tale of The Silver Curlew

Halloween is all about terrifying tales and The Silver Curlew by the English author Eleanor Farjeon perfectly fits the bill. First performed at the Liverpool Playhouse in December 1948, and directed by John Fernald, The Silver Curlew is a retelling of the classic Norfolk tale of Tom Tit Tot, the English version of the European folklore Rumplestiltskin. In this retelling, which is also set in Norfolk, Poll, the main protagonist, teams up with Charlee Loon to save a silver curlew, and, later in the tale, save Doll, Poll’s sister, who marries King Nollekens. King Nollekens believes that Doll has exceptional skills as a spinner as a result of a boast by Doll’s mother, Mother Codling. However, this could not be further from the truth as Doll cannot spin – rather than having woven twelve skeins of cloth, Doll had actually eaten twelve dumplings! Doll ends up at the mercy of Tom Tit Tot, a notorious imp who offers to spin flax for her so that Doll may be able to impress her husband but who asks this at a price!

Front cover of The Silver Curlew by Eleanor Farjeon. This text of the play was published by Samuel French Limited in 1953.

Infused with elements of British folklore, this tale is wonderful, magical, and terrifying all at once. Whilst originally created as a stage production to be performed at Christmas time for children, and turned into prose as a children’s story in 1953, many of the characters within The Silver Curlew would make anyone’s hair stand on edge on All Hallows Eve!

In the David Drummond Pantomime collection, we have materials relating to The Silver Curlew, including some spinetingling costume designs by the designer Paul Mayo. To tie in with the fabulous and spooky costume inspiration shared by staff from Special Collections & Archives on our social media platforms, we’re going to keep giving you some treats this Halloween by sharing some extra ghastly and ghoulish costume designs of things that go bump in the night from this scary story!

The Queer Thing

Central to the story of The Silver Curlew, are the ‘queerest [creatures]’ that Poll had ever seen and these creatures definitely get a 10/10 for getting their creepy vibe on this Halloween. Known as the Queer Things, these creatures are fantastical and would certainly stop you in your tracks if spotted on Halloween night!

Costume designs for The Queer Thing by designer Paul Mayo. These costume designs are dated 1948.

Costume designs for The Queer Thing by designer Paul Mayo. These costume designs are dated 1948.

If their names weren’t already strange enough – Trimingham, Gimingham, Knapton and Trunch, and Northrepps and Southrepps –  these colourful ‘Queer Things’ vary in appearance with some boasting some rather devilish looks, with razor sharp claws and horns. Others are more anthropomorphic and arthropod-like, with costumes appearing rather like the exoskeletons of insects or creatures. In the play, they’re described as ‘uncouth’ and ‘[rising] and [breaking] into a wild capering dance’ – not hard to imagine from Mayo’s strange designs and certainly what one would expect out and about on Halloween!


Lots of uncanny creatures feature in Eleanor Farjeon’s tale, including everyone’s favourite spooky season creature, bats. Bats have had a long association with All Hallows Eve and tend to have a creepy reputation, so we couldn’t miss this opportunity to share Paul Mayo’s truly bat-tastic designs to celebrate this spook-tacular holiday!

Paul Mayo’s designs for ‘Bats’. These are original sketches, with the sketch on the right providing details about how parts of the costume, like the mask and wings, should be fixed.

Drawing upon typical features of the bat, such as their great wingspan and their large ears, Mayo brings this magical mammal to life through his stunning costume designs. The masks for the bats are especially sinister and eerie, and when darkness falls on Halloween I wouldn’t want to see this popping out of the shadows!

Rackny The Spider Mother

Halloween is also the season of the witch and Paul Mayo does not disappoint in his representation of the witch Rackny The Spider Mother, who in Farjeon’s fairy tale is found within the Witching-Wood over her bubbling cauldron and singing her song:

Ho! Ho! In they go.

The best of savoury stews

Is serpents’ eggs

And spiders’ legs

And the muddy dregs of the Ouse!

The image of Rackny mixing her stew gives some real ‘double double toil and trouble’ vibes and this witchy persona is spectacularly captured by Mayo. With her pointed hat, large cloak, and dress decorated with cob webs, she embodies the fearsome, wraithlike, and mysterious traits of the traditional witch that many of us have grown up with.

Costume design by Paul Mayo for the character Rackney the Spider Mother, played by Elizabeth Gray. This costume design is signed by Mayo and dated to 1948.

Fairies and folklore

Not as scary, but just as magical, are Paul Mayo’s fairies. When thinking about Halloween, you may not immediately think of fairies as spooky but they were feared by the Celts on Samhain Eve, a historic Gaelic holiday that marked the transition between 31st October and 1st November. Whilst fairies were considered to be ‘good folk’, on this particular night when the lines between the living and dead were blurred, Celts feared their presence.

Luckily for Poll, Doll, Charlee Loon, and the other characters of The Silver Curlew, Eleanor Farjeon’s fairies are the good kind. In the tale, the Morning Fairy, Noontide Fairy, and Midnight Fairy act as Godmother to Doll and King Nollekens’ baby, bestowing loving gifts that are blessings.

Costume designs by Paul Mayo of the Midnight Fairy, the Morning Fairy, and the Noontide Fairy.

Mayo expertly captures their etherealness in his costume designs, highlighting their magical qualities and stressing their soft features. He draws on well-known ideas of what a fairy looked like, drawing these as small-sized, winged women – very Tinkerbell-like for anyone who’s familiar with Disney’s Peter Pan! They are dainty and, in distinction to Rackny, for example, are painted in brighter colours and are clothed differently – they provide a real contrast to Rackny’s dark, gloomy wardrobe. Mayo’s fairies are fair folk who use their magic for good. If dressing up as a fairy this Halloween, will you be the good kind or will you be tormenting poor souls out to trick or treat?

Tom Tit Tot

The creepiest creature of all in The Silver Curlew may just be the tale’s antagonist, Tom Tit Tot! Drawn from the German fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, the story of Tom Tit Tot derives from Suffolk folklore and was first recorded by Anna Walter-Thomas, who contributed the story to the Ipswich Journal in 1878, recreating it from the story she had been told by her nurse. The story was later included by Australian folklorist and publisher of English folklore Joseph Jacobs within his English Fairy Tales, published in 1890. Just like Rumplestiltskin, the name-guessing game is a trick of Tom Tit Tot’s.

Costume design by Paul Mayo for the character Tom Tit Tot, who was played by Mr Harold Goodwin. This costume design is signed by Mayo and dated to 1948.

Jacobs’ Tom Tit Tot was devised to be even scarier than Rumplestiltskin and Paul Mayo’s costume design for this character, who was played by Mr Harold Goodwin, certainly draws upon traditional folklore to design a truly horrifying character! Tom Tit Tot is an evil character, surrounding himself with the Queer Things, and, took pleasure in bringing in misery to others. He bargains with Doll, agreeing to spin flax for her, asking in return that ‘In twelve months Doll is mine, mine, mine!’. In the European tale of Rumplestiltskin, he agrees to spin straw into gold for a miller’s daughter, who, like Doll, marries the king of the land. However, in contrast to Tom Tit Tot, Rumplestiltskin asks in return for her first-born child, rather than she herself, only agreeing to allow her to keep her child if she can guess his name.

Like Jacobs’ Tom Tit Tot, Mayo’s costume design has long, webbed, outstretched hands with gnarled fingers and a whirling, horned tail. His grotesque and impish facial features also hint at his suspicious and malevolent nature. If you’re ready to scare this All Hallow’s Eve, dressing up like Tom Tit Tot will do the trick!

Whilst there are several costume designs by Paul Mayo for The Silver Curlew, including the silver curlew and our main protagonists Poll and Charlee Loon, those included within this blog post are certainly the creepiest in the collection and sure to give anyone a fright on Halloween night!

The Man, The Myth, The Legend: Richard Whittington’s Lasting Legacy In Pantomime

This year marks the 600th anniversary of the death of Richard Whittington, a well-known fifteenth-century Mercer and three times Mayor of London, who was key in shaping civic governance in medieval London. He also served under three medieval kings, Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. His legacy and memory has survived the test of time, albeit with a few embellishments along the way (there’s no record confirming that Richard Whittington ever had a cat, for example). Nevertheless, even in the present day, we continue to remember Whittington for he serves as the inspiration for the tale we all know and love, Dick Whittington and His Cat.

Black and white photograph of Dorothy Ward as ‘Principal Boy’ in Dick Whittington, taken at the Whittington Stone (created 1821) at the foot of Highgate Hill, London. Photograph in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

The Story of Dick Whittington and His Cat

The story of Dick Whittington is one of England’s most famous folk tales, harking back to the early modern period, with one of the first fictionalised references to Richard Whittington and his cat being made in a ballad written by Richard Johnson in 1612. The story was adapted into prose form during the later 17th century by Thomas Heywood, who wrote The Famous and Remarkable History of Sir Richard Whittington, and then it was crafted into a puppet play during the 18th century by Martin Powell. As from 1814, the story was further adapted as a staged pantomime, with the first performance starring Joseph Grimaldi as Dame Cicely Suet, the Cook, and later as a tale for children.

Flyer for a performance of Emile Littler’s Dick Whittington and His Cat at the Palace Theatre in London. Flyer in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

The story that modern day audiences are familiar with tell the tale of an orphan boy, Dick, who ventures to London hoping to make his fortune, believing the streets of London to be ‘paved with gold’. He enters the employment of the merchant FitzWarren, who takes him in, yet Dick finds life as a scullion boy miserable as he is bullied by the Cook and does not enjoy being plagued by rats and mice. It is during this time that he buys his cat, hoping to keep the vermin away. Dick, however, soon ventured his cat to acquire a stake in the cargo ship that was set to sail for north Africa. Nevertheless, when the bullying of the Cook intensifies, Dick runs away yet soon returns after hearing the bells of Bow Church speak to him ‘Turn again Whittington Thrice Lord Mayor of London’.

Extract from Scene 4 of the pantomime ‘The Adventures of Dick Whittington’ from a script collection of Clarkson Rose’s. In this scene, Dick hears the bells call out and predict that he will be Mayor of London. This performance took place at the Palace Theatre in Westcliff-On-Sea. Item in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Extract from Scene 4 of the pantomime ‘The Adventures of Dick Whittington’ from a script collection of Clarkson Rose’s. In this scene, Dick hears the bells call out and predict that he will be Mayor of London. This performance took place at the Palace Theatre in Westcliff-On-Sea. Item in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Upon his return to FitzWarren’s home, he finds out that he is a rich man. His cat who had formed part of the crew of the vessel that set sail for north Africa was loaned to the King of Barbary as his Palace was overrun with rats. The king was so grateful for the cat’s service, that he paid for the entire cargo and ten times as much for Dick’s cat. From this point onwards, Dick’s fortunes continue to improve by marrying Alice FitzWarren, his employer’s daughter, and becoming Mayor of London three times, just as the bells of Bow Church had foretold.

Where History and Myth Meet

Whilst the story that we recognise has been largely fictionalised, elements of the life of the true Richard Whittington form the basis of the pantomime. Even those responsible for staging the pantomime Dick Whittington, recognised the performance’s historical links to this medieval mayor of London, questioning aspects of the myth surrounding Whittington, such as whether he had a cat and where the origins of this story came from.

Short article explaining the historical links between the pantomime Dick Whittington to Richard Whittington, mayor of London during the late medieval period. The news article also gives details of the upcoming pantomime starring the Principal Boy Jean Adrienne as Dick Whittington in the upcoming pantomime at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. News cutting in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

These links can be further explored within the source material available for the pantomime Dick Whittington in Special Collections & Archives’ David Drummond Pantomime Collection, which is currently being catalogued after being awarded an Archives Revealed grant from The National Archives.

Travels to London

Central to the story is London as a focal point for the fortunes of Dick Whittington and the real historical figure of Richard Whittington. Like the fictional character Dick Whittington, the real Whittington also came from outside of London. In contrast to his dramatised counterpart, however, Richard Whittington was born in Pauntley, Gloucestershire during the 1350s and did not begin his tale in Lancashire. Whittington’s story was also not a tale of rags to riches. Unlike young Dick Whittington, who was an orphan, Richard Whittington came from a landowning family and was sent to London to undertake an apprenticeship to learn to be a mercer, a type of tradesman that specialised in textiles and luxury goods.

Miscellaneous item showing Dick Whittington and his Cat 4 miles from London. Item forms part of the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Both Richard Whittington and Dick Whittington also inhabit the same spaces within London. In both the pantomime and in the time period that Richard Whittington lived, both Cheapside and the Guildhall are prominent features of the stories of both of these individuals. Historically, Cheapside was one of the most important streets within London for trade and many of the individual guildhalls were based near this area (and still are to this day). Dick was taken into the home of the merchant Fitzwarren and the real life Richard Whittington himself was engaged in trade because of his profession. It is of no wonder, therefore, that the area known as Cheapside has been incorporated into the pantomime. Similarly, the Guildhall was a place that would have been central to those involved trade. Moreover, the Guildhall was the centre of civic governance and politics, being THE place that mayors of London would have frequented and conducted their business from. The Guildhall and Cheapside were core focal points for Londoners during the medieval period and it is significant that these locations feature in the pantomime of Dick Whittington, showing the clear historic links between both stories. Understanding the importance of London in both their stories is key for audiences to understand that by going to England’s capital, both Whittingtons secured their fortune and created successful careers.

Tradesmen in the Metropolis

Understanding the type of worlds that both Whittingtons inhabit in the city of London is also important in establishing this historical link between these two figures. Dick Whittington may not have been an apprentice to a merchant or artisanal tradesman but he does live in the house of a merchant known as Fitzwarren, who he works as a scullion boy for.

Extract from Scene 2 from a Book of Words of the pantomime Dick Whittington written by Frank Ayrton, produced at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham from 1910-1911. It is in this moment that Alderman Fitzwarren agrees to give Dick employment. Item in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

The inspiration for Dick to live in the house of a merchant may come from the work life of the real-life Whittington, who was himself a very successful artisanal tradesman and an established mercer in London by 1379. Whittington also had an upmarket clientele by the 1380s and 1390s, for he sold luxurious goods to customers such as Richard II and other members of the royal family, including John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Thomas Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. Despite the change of regime and usurpation of Richard II by the Lancastrian king Henry IV, Richard Whittington continued to prosper and he also sold goods to the new royal family, even supplying goods for the marriages of Henry IV’s daughters, Blanche and Philippa.

Marriage to Alice Fitzwarren

The historical Whittington’s links to the world of trade even influenced the choice of love interest for the character Dick Whittington, for both individuals marry a woman of the same name – Alice FitzWaryn/Fitzwarren.

Extract from Scene 12 from a Book of Words for the pantomime Dick Whittington and His Cat written by Newman Maurice, produced at the Brixton Theatre. Now that Dick is Mayor of London, he asks for Alice’s hand in marriage. Item from David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Where the pantomime departs from the true historical narrative, however, is in how that these marriages come about. The historic Richard Whittington married Alice Fitzwaryn, the daughter of Sir Ivo FitzWaryn (clearly the inspiration for Fitzwarren who employs Dick), a landowner in Dorset. Sir Ivo only had daughters and so this was probably an advantageous marriage for Whittington, who married Alice at the age of 48 and who would have inherited certain of Sir Ivo’s estates in Wiltshire and Somerset that would have been passed on to Alice. In contrast, in the pantomime, Alice is the daughter of Dick’s employer, Fitzwarren, and Dick’s love interest throughout, marrying once Dick has made his fortune and is mayor.

Thrice Mayor of London

The clearest link between Richard Whittington and the pantomime character, Dick Whittington, is, of course, the fact that they were both thrice mayors of London.

Opening of Scene X in which the Lord Mayor’s Show takes place. Extract is from the Book of Words for Augustus Harris’s Pantomime Whittington and His Cat, produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1884-1885. Book of Words written by E. L. Blanchard. Item in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

As mentioned earlier, by the end of the pantomime Dick achieves his destiny and becomes Mayor of London three times. This is in keeping with the fate of the historical figure of Richard Whittington, who was first appointed Mayor of London on 8th June 1397 by Richard II, following the death of Adam Bamme, the previous mayor, on 6th June 1397. What is quite special about the way that Whittington became mayor is that it shows the trust that the King had for him, as Richard II appointed him in this position based on the good relationship that Whittington had cultivated with him. He was then elected mayor by his fellow citizens in 1406 and then again for the third time in 1419.

Charitable Endeavours

Whittington’s charitable nature and philanthropic endeavours are also remembered in the materials available. Once mayor, the pantomime character Dick Whittington’s charitable acts included the building of alms houses, a church, and Newgate Prison. The real Whittington was just as philanthropic, financing a number of public projects, such as drainage systems for the poor. Whittington left in his will £7000 (more than £6 million by modern standards!), which he had drawn up by September 1421, to go towards charitable endeavours. Like Dick Whittington, money went towards the rebuilding of Newgate prison and investing in alms houses, but the historical Whittington also financed the building of the first library in London’s Guildhall and distributed money towards repairing St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

Etching showing Whittington’s Alms Houses on Highgate Hill. Item forms part of the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Whittington was recognised during his lifetime as being someone who inspired trust and nobly served the city of London. These character traits and commitment to good works certainly seem to have also been integral to the character of Dick Whittington, who follows the historical Whittington’s footsteps in ending his tale by giving back to the City where he was able to forge his path and success. This idea of civic duty and the role of Londoners in upholding these values seems to be preserved in the way that Whittington’s legacy has lived on through the legendary figure of Dick Whittington.

Extract from the final scene in a script for the pantomime Dick Whittington & His Cat, a Christmas pantomime written by Theo Hook in 1948. Before the pantomime ends, Alice reminds ‘every boy and girl this night (or day) Who sees this Pantomime. Be good and true like Whittington’. Item in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Remembering Whittington on the Stage

Throughout this blog post, you have seen various sources to study the links between the historical figure Richard Whittington and the fictional character of Dick Whittington. The David Drummond Pantomime Collection is a treasure trove for anyone wanting to explore the link between Richard Whittington and his pantomime counterpart Dick Whittington further. From photographs to news cuttings, these materials show us just how many times Dick Whittington appeared on the stage and where, demonstrating interest in the figure and his centrality to the world of pantomime from the Victorian period to the present day. It is a legacy that has survived beyond the fifteenth century and remains in popular memory in our present day.

At Special Collections & Archives, we have a rich collection of pantomime and theatre materials in which the figure of Dick Whittington appears time and time again. Search our catalogue for more and pay us a visit – we’d love to remember Richard Whittington’s legacy with you!