|After exploring Chavenage House near Tetbury, we hit the motorway the next morning for the three-hour drive to Blackpool, John Inman's hometown. I loved Blackpool. It's sort of a cross between Atlantic City, Coney Island, Branson and Disneyland. Not the typical spot visited by American tourists in the UK, but a real treat if you just want to have fun. John was starring in a comedy variety show there until late October, "Comedy Bonanza 2000." We'd had tickets since the spring, and I wrote to the theatre ahead of time to say that I was a member of the John Inman fan club, and would it be possible to meet him after the show? I received a very nice letter in return instructing me to make myself known to the front-of-house manager when I arrived, and that every effort would be made for me to meet Mr. Inman. We got to the theatre early, just as the streets in the city centre were beginning to close down for the night. One of the box office clerks had told me that the front-of-house manager would arrive about an hour prior to the show, and when I finally found him, he assured me that Phil, the company manager, would find our seats during the interval and let us know what we needed to do. We bought a couple of programmes--a couple of cast photos are below:|
Photos from the programme of the cast of Comedy Bonanza 2000.
|The show was fantastic. John's first routine had him singing "Mambo #5" with the show's dancing girls, and then he performed a hilarious monologue for a very appreciative audience. He then introduced Billy Pearce, a very funny guy who is a bit manic onstage. Billy's standup routine eventually led to a mock tirade about not having a suit with which to sing a number with the Nolan Sisters. He went on like this for a couple of minutes, finally shouting, "Who's going to help me with my suit? Who's going to get my suit?" et cetera, when from stage left, the words, "I'm free!" floated out over the audience, who absolutely went wild when John walked onstage in Mr. Humphries' pin-striped suit, tape measure draped around his neck. He promptly reassured Billy that he'd help him with a suit, and proceeded to take his measurements, until he hesitated and said, "Now comes the part that you're dreading...and that they (the audience) can't wait for. The inside leg."|
During the interval, we waited for Phil to arrive and introduce himself, but no Phil. So I found the front-of-house manager again and told him. He said, "Just go out those doors when the show is over and make a left, you'll find yourself in the alley by the stage door. Phil will come out to get you. Phil knows you're here, John knows you're here."
The rest of the show was great, too. During the second half, the cast performed a skit in which John and Billy arrived in Blackpool. The hotel where they had reservations was run by the local vicar and was attached to a home for fallen women, so the girl who showed them to their room told them that only married couples could stay there and that one of them would have to disguise himself as a woman. Billy flatly refused, and John said, "Oh, no! It's not panto season!" The girl reentered and announced that the vicar was coming upstairs. In a panic, John and Billy retreated behind a curtain, and of course, John emerged with wig and skirt, and chaos ensued.
In short, this show was terrific. As the cast finished their curtain calls and the audience rose to leave, we grabbed our things and quickly made for the exit. We found ourselves in a well-lit alley behind the theatre along with about 20 other autograph-seekers. Then Phil came out, introduced himself to us and invited us inside. I can only imagine what those other poor people who were waiting thought as we were whisked backstage. Phil explained that John was just changing and would be free in few minutes. We waited near the stage door for a bit, telling cast-members as they left how much we'd enjoyed the show. I figured that John would stop on his way out for a few words, an autograph, and perhaps a photo, but instead, Phil finally came downstairs and said, "Okay, come on up."
| Come on up? Come on
up?! Within a minute, we were standing in John's dressing
room. We told him what a pleasure it was to finally meet him, and he
introduced us to his niece and her fiancée. John was as absolutely
friendly, gracious and charming as he had been described to me, and took
the time to not only autograph my program, but also posed for a picture
with us. He even said he'd seen my website! I asked him if the
movie he'd recently filmed, "Mumbo Jumbo," would be released in
the U.S., and he said, "Well, I hope so. I hope so. After
all, there are a number of rather big-name stars in it, so I should hope
that you will be able to see it." Then I inquired about the
upcoming Christmas panto. He was to be in "Aladdin",
at the Theatre Royal down in Plymouth, as Dame Wanda Twankey. Then
he did something very unexpected. He turned to his Ron and asked,
"Where's that poster?" and then said to us, "We just got the new poster in
for the panto. You're the first American to see it." And with
that Ron unrolled the poster for us
to admire. It looked great. The first thing I noticed were the
large teacups he was wearing as earrings, and we had a bit of a laugh
about that. As we were preparing to leave, his niece shot two photos
of us with him. Afterward, we were out on the street in front of the
theatre--I had just called Laurel MacKenzie of
Canteen and was making arrangements for a cab when who should appear
but John, standing outside my phone booth wearing a baseball cap,
inquiring if we had a cab back to our hotel. He said that it was too
bad I'd just called for one, since there was an entire string of them up
at the corner. We thanked him for his concern and his hospitality,
and with a smile and a wave, he and the others walked up the street and
Top Right: Me and John
Bottom Right: John's page from the program which he autographed for me.