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The Art of the Pantomime Dame: Jack Tripp (1922 - 2005)

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Published on Jul 5, 2011

Filmed in 1982.

Jack Tripp (February 4, 1922 - July 10, 2005) was a British comic actor best known for his many performances as a pantomime dame.

He was one of the most popular pantomime dames of the post-war period; a master of drollery and pathos, and a stylish, if eccentric, dancer, he was once described by the Stage as "the John Gielgud of pantomime dames".

Tripp's talents as a comic actor were not confined to the pantomime, but he will forever be associated with turning the role of dame into an art form. He played the part some 35 times, in the tradition of such classic dames as George Lacy and Douglas Byng. Never crude or over made-up, and always daintily dressed in lace-trimmed gingham, bloomers and immaculate white pinafores, he had a range of comic expressions - from a wide grin and a grimly pursed mouth to archly raised eyebrows - that said more than any smutty remark.

The only performer ever to be appointed MBE for "services to pantomime", Tripp worked at every role with the seriousness of a Shakespearean actor. "Mother Goose," he would say, "is the Hamlet of pantomimes." He excelled at physical comedy, particularly knockabout routines, and he was a devotee of mimetic comedy.

He first came to pantomime in the 1950s, initially playing the dame's son opposite Douglas Byng. But Tripp was soon promoted to dame and by the 1990s he had performed in all the traditional pantomime stories.

His final panto appearances were as Nurse Ribena in Babes in the Wood (Sadlers Wells, 1994-5) and as a spectacular Mother Goose in Plymouth the following year. Both shows were written and directed by Roy Hudd, who was Tripp's favourite panto partner, and his perfect comic foil. "Tripp," wrote Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph of his Nurse Ribena, was "the show's chief glory he is still amazingly nimble on his pins, pirouetting across the stage and leading a terrific tap routine. Tripp's secret is to make it seem entirely natural that an elderly trouper should be dressed as a woman, and he had a wonderfully benign and good-hearted stage persona."

Latterly, however, Tripp had become disenchanted with "modern" panto and he bemoaned the fact that Australian soap opera stars and sports celebrities had taken to appearing in panto.
"How bloody dare they?" he would say. "I could play at Lord's if somebody asked me but it wouldn't do the cricket much good."
Jack Tripp was born in Plymouth on February 4 1922.
After appearing in several small shows, when war broke out Tripp joined up to serve in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. While in the Army, he joined the Stars in Battledress unit - the revue which launched so many post-war theatrical careers - and was spotted by the agent of the comedian Sid Field.

On demobilisation, Tripp was cast as Field's understudy, and it was through watching Field on stage that Tripp learned about the importance of audience rapport. In the late 1940s Tripp joined the Half Past Eight show in Glasgow alongside Dave Willis and Beryl Reid, who became a lifelong friend. Subsequently he became the principal comedian in the Fol de Rols seaside summer shows. Tripp stayed with the Fols for 14 years, later appearing in his own show, Take A Tripp.

His last appearance on stage was in the revival of Sandy Wilson's pastiche 1930s musical Divorce Me Darling (Chichester); Tripp stole the show as the hen-pecked elderly Lord Brockhurst.

Off-stage he was modest, quiet and self-deprecating. "I have never been a star," he said in 1994, "but I don't mind at all, because I have played alongside the stars, the best in the business, and been able to learn from them. If I had been a star I would never have been able to do that."

Jack Tripp died on July 10th 2005.

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