Honouring the man who gave panto back to Bognor

This year's Bognor Regis panto will be the first since the death this summer of John Spillers, the man who brought back panto to Bognor.

Bev Berridge
Bev Berridge

Directing the show, just as he has done for a number of years now, will be John’s son-in-law Bev Berridge – and it will be to John’s memory that everyone is dedicating the production.

John identified what Bognor wanted, and Bev has been proud to continue to deliver it.

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“This is about my fifth pantomime in Bognor Regis, though Spillers pantomimes have been doing Bognor for 11 years now, and it has been great. More and more people come every year. We know what money we are going to have to spend on sets and costumes, and we have been able to see the whole thing grow every year.

“We have talked about it a lot. We always try to get the show right for the particular audience.

“ The shows down here are very different to the shows up north. I think in Bognor they like a much more traditional show mixed with some modern music.

“This year we have got a dame – and it is going to be very much the traditional pantomime, with some up-to-date songs. Up north, it would have to be much more mobile phones and new technologies. They don’t get the traditional stuff up there.

“We have done Rotherham for a number of years, but we know that it is down here that we have to put on the more traditional shows.”

Bev has written the show – just as John used to do.

“John was my father-in-law and I worked with him for 30 years. He taught me everything I know.

“He was old school, and that’s why this works so well for us in Bognor. He was old school from the 60s and 70s when there were no mobile phones and not so much television, back in the days when panto was king.

“I will always have great memories of him. He always called a spade a spade, and he knew what he liked and what he didn’t like, and he helped so many people get started in the business.

“He must have done hundreds of pantos, and you think there are probably 20 people in each. That’s thousands and thousands of people that started in the business through John. When he died, so many people came out of the woodwork saying that he started them in their careers.”

And his talent was to spot what they could do – rather than accept what they thought they could do.

“If someone came along wanting to be a singer, John would tell them bluntly if they weren’t going to make it, but at the same time he would point them in the direction of acting if that’s where he believed their skills lay.

“People admired him for his honesty. People tend to hedge around it these days. But he told it to people straight.

“He was the Simon Cowell of his era!”

And it’s in that spirit that the show will go on in Bognor Regis this Christmas.

“He loved the venue at Bognor. He had so many memories. He loved the warmth of this place, the fact that it is run by volunteers.

“He used to run a theatre. He knew how hard it was. He realised that theatres live from hand to mouth.

“He knew the value of volunteers.

“He understood the pains and the pressures. He loved it here.”

Aladdin is at the Regis Centre, Bognor from Tuesday, December 12-Tuesday, January 2. Tickets are available from alexandratheatre.co.uk or 01243 861010.