Some Britons greet slowdown with a custard pie

Thu Dec 18, 2008 7:21pm EST
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By Barbara Lewis

LONDON (Reuters) - Nick Thomas says this will be his third recession, and seems almost to be looking forward to it.

The founder and chairman of an entertainment business might appear to be in a vulnerable sector. But his company is the world's largest producer of pantomime, a tradition as eccentrically British as a knobbly knees contest.

If QDos Entertainment Plc is any guide, the pantomime business is booming. The privately held firm expects group sales to jump 65 percent this year to 51 million pounds ($79 million), about one-third of that coming from pantomime sales, for which advance bookings are up six percent year-on-year.

"It's a bit like selling turkey," said Thomas, who set up QDos' predecessor in 1986. Academics agree escapist entertainment takes on greater significance for people who are worried about the future.

Irreverently based on children's fairy tales like Cinderella, Aladdin, Jack and the Beanstalk and Sleeping Beauty, pantomime is theater rooted in the 16th-century traveling street entertainment from Italy, Commedia dell' Arte.

Perhaps because of its gaudy, bawdy mix of slapstick, cross-dressing and very bad jokes it has not made much of an impression overseas. But theatres from Aberdeen to Bognor, and Llandudno to Woking depend on it for a sizeable chunk of income.

"You could say that panto is keeping some theatres afloat really," said Dennis Willis, an amateur enthusiast, whose wife Jackie runs an online business selling scripts. He also said demand is holding up well.

Pantomime has not drawn great audiences in the United States, although Willis has sold scripts there as well as Canada, Kuala Lumpur, Qatar, Hawaii, China and France.   Continued...