TV’s Christmas Pantomimes

Mari-Anne: Frank Rich, Patti McGrath

Television.AU wishes everyone a very Merry Christmas.

This year’s Christmas flashback is a quick look at Christmas pantomimes — the age-old theatrical tradition that made the transition to the small screen in the early days of television.

It was not unusual for various capital city or even regional stations to produce a Christmas pantomime, usually utilising existing station talent. Even newsreaders were not spared in being seconded for roles or cameos.

Among the more prolific producers of pantos in the early days of television were GTV9, Melbourne, and NWS9, Adelaide, with productions by both channels sold to TV stations around Australia.

GTV9 was still in its first year of operation when it produced Princess Joybelle, airing on Christmas Eve, 1957, as part of The Tarax Show. Written by producer Denzil Howson and starring Happy Hammond, Ron Blaskett (and his puppet companion Gerry Gee), Diane Thorington and newsreader Eric Pearce. Ernie Carroll was originally cast as Good King Ratbaggy, but a last-minute illness saw Howson take on the role.

GTV followed Princess Joybelle in 1958 with Sleigh Bells, then Merry Make-Believe (1959), Dick Whittington (1960), The Magic Mirror (1961) and The Golden Princess (1962). All were written by Howson.

YouTube: The Tarax Show

The 1963 production, Mari-Anne, was set in a Swiss village and told the story of an ageing toymaker whose shop was to be demolished to make way for a statue of the town mayor. An opportunity to save the shop arises when a prized doll belonging to the mayor’s daughter needs restoration to be entered into a doll exhibition in Zurich.

As well as The Tarax Show regulars Norman Swain, Ron Blaskett (and Gerry Gee), Susan-Gaye Anderson, Patti McGrath (later Patti Newton) and Joff Ellen, Mari-Anne also featured Frank Wilson (host of Take The Hint), Frank Rich, Rosie Sturgess, Ormonde Douglas (pictured) and Greg Anderson. 

Mari-Anne also featured junior cast members Tony Sheldon (eight-year-old son of singer Toni Lamond and GTV9 producer Frank Sheldon), 12-year-old Cheryl Gray (who later became known as recording artist Samantha Sang) and 15-year-old Denise Drysdale in one of her earliest TV appearances, playing the part of Tom Tom The Piper’s Son (pictured, far right, with Susan-Gaye Anderson as The Old Lady Who Lived In A Shoe). Adding to the line-up were two dance troupes and two choirs.

The production, the most lavish of the pantomimes produced at GTV, was taped over two weekends in September, allowing separate sets to be used to put together the scenes from the play’s two settings — the Swiss village and the Toy Kingdom.

Mari-Anne included 12 musical numbers, composed by GTV9 pianist Margot Sheridan with lyrics by Howson. It aired on GTV9 on Christmas Eve, 1963, and was sold to 14 stations across Australia, including Nine Network stations in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide.

The full cast of Mari-Anne
Source: The Tarax Show

Mari-Anne ultimately became the last of GTV9’s annual Christmas pantomimes, as Howson left GTV9 to a become program manager at new TV station AMV4, Albury, and, as Howson put it himself: “no-one else on the Channel Nine staff was silly enough to take on the task of writing and producing them.”

Read more about Denzil Howson’s Christmas pantomimes and The Tarax Show at The Tarax Show website.

For more Christmas-themed flashbacks from this website, click here.

Adelaide’s Christmas pantos included Aladdin, Jack And The Beanstalk, Dick Whittington And His Cat and the 1962 production Cinderella — starring Glenys O’Brien (later to be Glenys Sigley) in the title role.

Dick Whittington And His Cat: David Flatman, Pam Western

The Incredible Christmas Day Theft: Gerry Gibson, Johnny Farnham, Humphrey B Bear, Jackie Ellison, Lucky Grills

In 1971, pop star Johnny Farnham joined actor Lucky Grills in The Incredible Christmas Day Theft, starring Humphrey B Bear, Gerry Gibson, Jackie Ellison, Carl Pink and Patsy Biscoe. The production was shown across Australia.

The Incredible Christmas Day Theft: Gerry Gibson, Carl Pink, Patsy Biscoe, Humphrey B Bear

Source: TV Times, 18 December 1963. TV Week, 21 December 1963, 20 November 1971. The Tarax Show


Permanent link to this article:


  1. Nice memories of more innocent times when we were simply pleased by sets and props, yet the standard of writing and acting and overacting was high. Merry Christmas and thanks for another year.

    1. Thank you, Andrew, and hope yours was a Merry Christmas too 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.