There’s nothing like a Dame in the panto season. But when you get two, things can get very interesting.
Then throw in a politically-active actress and you get quite a festive cocktail.
I was lucky enough to get a taste of all three during their stint at The Stables recently.
Dame Cleo Laine had invited her old pal Dame Jill Knight to join her family of entertainers on stage for three Christmas gigs, plus the unveiling of a statue of her late jazz great of a husband, Sir John Dankworth.
She also asked another friend – actress and movie star Maureen Lipman along to join the party.
However, Dame Jill is a very right wing Tory peer who still sits in the Lords, while Maureen is a prominent socialist who has just attacked Ed Miliband for his support for Palestine.
So was it a case of lighting the blue touch paper and retiring to a safe distance? Or a Knight to remember with BT’s Beattie – who Lipman played in TV ads for many years.
“Not at all, “ said Ms Lipman. “I found Jill charming – and we even shared a dressing room.
“I’m not doing panto this year – then I got the call asking if I’d like to do Cleo’s Christmas and here I am.”
Maureen has a long history with the Dankworths. “I was here the night Johnny died.
“It was the night of the concert which he’d been planning to come along to. At the end, Cleo walked on-stage and said: “We lost him”. It was such a loss, but also an amazing theatrical moment. We bonded together as performers and the whole family went on with the concert, it’s what he would have wanted.”
More recently, Maureen has been hitting the literary festivals of Henley, Blenheim and even Gibraltar with Jacqui Dankworth and husband Charlie Wood.
“It’s a nice show which has proved to be pretty popular – Jackie’s great, she does off the wall stuff.”
Cleo’s Christmas show this year comprised a blend of jazz, spoken word and a rendition of John’s 1983 pantomime, Red Riding Hood. The Dankworths joined forces once again for their festive annual performance, led of course by Dame Cleo.
Joining the throng of family friends on the bill was Baroness Jill Knight, DBE.
Jill, who has long enjoyed watching Cleo’s Christmases at The Stables, gave up performing early in life for a career in politics. “It was difficult to get into politics as a woman yonks ago,” she says, “especially if you were on the stage – at the time, there were just 12 women out of 650 politicians.”
“I’m involved with the Palace of Varieties with Parliament every year in aid of Macmillan.
“My performing certainly doesn’t mean I’ve plans to be back on the stage permanently.
I’ve always followed Cleo and most enjoy coming to The Stables with my son, but I’m terrified of the roundabouts!
“I’m sure the council got a deal on a job lot and sprinkled them around Milton Keynes.”