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Lowestoft links aplenty with panto star's showbiz family

PUBLISHED: 12:33 28 December 2012

Back in Lowestoft - from left to right, Audrey May, Len Howe and Simon Howe

Back in Lowestoft - from left to right, Audrey May, Len Howe and Simon Howe

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HUNDREDS of families have been heading to Lowestoft to enjoy the town's traditional pantomime Aladdin over the festive period.

But among those being entertained at the Marina Theatre this week were two very proud parents.

And up on stage was proof of the old saying that showbiz runs in the blood.

On Boxing Day, Simon Howe, who plays Widow Twankey in the production, was the star of the show for at least two members of the audience – his parents Len Howe and Audrey May.

Hailing from a family steeped in the theatre, and with strong links to pantomime, Len, 93, and Audrey, 82, were returning to Lowestoft after headlining several summer shows in the town in the 1960s.

Having both been famous variety performers in their day, and regulars on the panto and cabaret circuit, the visit rekindled some fond memories of the couple’s own stage appearances in Lowestoft, which saw them perform at the former Sparrow’s Nest Theatre in 1960, 1961 and the World Cup-winning year of 1966.

Len also played the old Hippodrome Theatre in 1948 and his wife went on to direct the record-breaking summer season with Bernie Clifton in the 1970s which also featured Caroline Quentin and Graham Cole.

Simon is the third generation of performers from the Howe family and his father and grandfather both worked as pantomime dames. His grandfather, comedian Silvester Stewart, appeared in pantomimes for more than 30 years and Len carried on the tradition, starring in 45 of his own – 34 of them as the dame.

But now, following in their footsteps, Simon has appeared as pantomime dames for more than a decade.

His parents’ links with Lowestoft go back many years. Audrey’s mother May Warden was an actress and comedienne, who worked for Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) in the second world war.

But after being taken seriously ill, she was admitted to Lowestoft hospital and underwent an emergency operation which saved her life.

In the 1970s, she would become “very famous”, according to Simon, as she starred as Billy Liar’s outspoken grandmother in the TV adaptation of the acclaimed Keith Waterhouse story.

Audrey, who first appeared on the stage as a six-week-old baby, said: “We have nothing but wonderful memories of Lowestoft. We had three brilliant summer season shows at the Sparrow’s Nest Theatre and also played at other venues in the town.”

Len added: “I believe I first appeared at the old Hippodrome Theatre for Jack Jay around 1948, and again several years later in review. We went on to do some great seasons at the Sparrow’s Nest. I remember the day England won the World Cup – I came on stage dressed as Bobby Moore, kicked a ball into the audience and my boot came off with it. It brought the house down!”

Recalling her time directing Bernie Clifton in his summer show in the late 1970s, Audrey said: “Bernie had his first theatre experience at the Nest, having previously appeared in cabaret, and during rehearsals he was so funny we just could not stop laughing. The producer and I thought he would be very popular in Lowestoft and he certainly was with record-breaking houses throughout the run.”

After seeing Aladdin, the Howes were very impressed. Len said: “It was great fun. The audience members were certainly enjoying themselves and we are so proud to see Simon following in our footsteps”.

Simon was also happy his parents could make the trip to see him. He said: “It is the first time I have come back here (to Lowestoft) since I was a little boy. There is lot of history with my parents performing in the town.”

● Tickets for Aladdin, which runs until January 6, are still available. Telephone the Marina Theatre box office on 01502 533200 or visit www.marinatheatre.co.uk

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