Fry’s delight at taking his Town Crier role into pantoland for Snow White

Ben Fry’s Town Crier and Mark Little’s Lord Chamberlain of Trumpville in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York. . Picture: David Harrison

FOURTEEN years had passed since Ben Fry’s one and only appearance in pantomime, but the City of York Town Crier was quick to say Oyez, Oyez, Oyez to starring in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs this winter.

The Minster FM breakfast show co-presenter is playing, you guessed it, the Town Crier at the Grand Opera House until Saturday, in the company of ’Allo, ’Allo! star Vicki Michelle’s Wicked Queen and Australian comedian Mark Little’s Lord Chamberlain of Trumpville.

“I did panto once before at the Scarborough Spa in 2005 when I was at Yorkshire Coast Radio, and I played one of the Ugly Sisters – she was called Ugly Sister Whitby – in Cinderella,” recalls Ben.

“I remember it was a Tony Peers production: he was a panto legend, who gave me plenty of good advice, so I was able to go from nothing to playing Ugly Sister in one leap! It felt like an episode of Big Brother, where every experience is heightened; every emotion is heightened.”

Ben may have the gift of the gab as a cheeky radio presenter, speaking off the cuff each morning, but performing in pantomime makes contrasting demands. “Having to follow a script and learn lines is a different experience, which is interesting to do, though once you’re into the show, the performances are flexible, and the next show can be nothing like the last one!”  he says.

“Part of the fun with pantomime is that no two performances are ever the same, and while it might be a bit of a treadmill, it’s never boring.”

Ben is candid about his acting skills. “Let’s be honest,” he says. “I’m not in Snow White for my acting prowess, am I?! I’m a walking, talking PR machine on the radio, to make as many people as possible know about it.

“So, I’m being the Town Crier for the show almost as much off stage as I am on stage. I see my job as being to get bums on seats, then I hand it over to the professionals.

“I think we only agreed I should be in the show once the rest of the cast was in place, so Chris [Three Bears Productions’ director and co-producer Chris Moreno] then shoe-horned me into the show here and there. No-one is coming specially to see me, but hopefully because I’ve plugged the show.

“I don’t think anyone will be saying, ‘it was fantastic, but I’d hoped there would be more bell ringing’.”

Vicki Michelle as the Wicked Queen in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Picture: David Harrison

Ben is being unduly modest. He more than holds his own in the Busy Bee, Busy Bee slapstick scene with Martin Daniels’ Muddles, and he plays not only the Town Crier but also a second uncredited role.

Ben’s “costume” is the official City of York Town Crier livery, coupled with the City of York bell. “So, anyone who’s seen me around town since May will recognise me on stage,” he says. “It’s all a bit ‘meta’: the real Town Crier being the real Town Crier ion pantomime, whereas Vicki Michelle is not playing a wartime French waitress!”

As a son of York, Ben is “very proud to represent the city” both in his presenter’s role on Minster FM and now as the Town Crier too. “The Town Crier is the embodiment of York: I like the pageantry, the history, and it adds something else to people’s experience when they come to the city,” he says.

Picking out highlights from his first year in office, Ben selects pop star Ellie Goulding and Casper Jopling’s wedding ceremony at York Minster on August 31. “Welcoming Ellie to the Minster…and meeting Katy Perry that day was obviously the greatest day of my life – and that includes my wedding day and the birth of my two children,” he says, with his tongue by now nudging his cheek.

“The Mayor-making ceremony was a good day too, and I enjoyed the ceremonies for Yorkshire Day [August 1] , reading out the declarations at four bars where you enter the city, and the Christmas Lights switch-on in front of the Minster was pretty special too.”

Maybe Ben was destined to put his voice to public use as York’s Town Crier. “When I was a child, people always said that I had to grow into my voice, as even then I had a loud, bellowing voice,” he says.

It was a voice that stood out. “! got picked to play Bob Cratchit in Scrooge when I was at Westfield Primary School in Acomb,” Ben recalls.

That voice led him all the way to becoming the matchday pitch announcer at Elland Road during Ken Bates’s turbulent chairmanship of Leeds United, when Ben also would interview “Mr Chairman” on Bates’s station, Yorkshire Radio.

“It was a difficult time for Leeds United, as there was a great deal of unrest, and I was seen by some as a frontman for Ken as I was doing a lot of interviews with him, as well as doing the matchday stuff on the pitch,” he says.

“But I’d always wanted to work in football, and you don’t know when the chance will come. Those moments under the Elland Road floodlights, like when Luciano Becchio put Leeds ahead against Chelsea, were special.

“I’ll never forget the game against Bristol Rovers when Leeds won promotion, going around the pitch with [centre forward] Jermaine Beckford after the final whistle, in a yellow high-vis jacket, and being asked by the police to tell all the fans to get off the pitch. It was possibly the most futile thing I’ve ever been asked to do in my career!”

No stranger to performing to crowds, Ben is taking his pantomime role in his stride as he sees in the New Year.  What’s next? “We’ll be doing the Minster FM Search For A Local Hero in February, and the Town Crier is available for any fete or envelope opening, of course,” says Ben. “Just go to the York BID website and make a request there.”

Ben Fry plays Town Crier in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, until January 4. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at Charles Hutchinson

Discover the wicked side of ‘Allo, ‘Allo! star Vicki Michelle

“I make her a bit of fun to play with,” says Vicki Michelle of her role as the Wicked Queen in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Picture: David Harrison

‘ALLO, ‘Allo! sitcom star Vicki Michelle will spend her winter being booed at the Grand Opera House, York, even on her birthday.

Fondly remembered for a decade of waitress service as French dish Yvette Carte-Blanche in the BBC wartime comedy from 1982 to 1992, she will play the Wicked Queen in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs from December 12 to January 4 2020.

Her 69th birthday falls on December 14 as she settles into the Three Bears Productions’ pantomime run in a role she knows only too well. “I’ve done lots of wicked queens,” says Vicki, in full regal attire at the panto launch.

“I haven’t counted, but it’s probably 30 years now [in fact Snow White will be 27th panto]. I love it, because panto is magical for children, their parents and their grandparents, and it’s a genre where you think, ‘thank you, we still have this each year’…with people really believing in what they see on stage!”

Vicki relishes the audience interplay. “I’ll stamp my feet, I’ll react to them standing up to the Wicked Queen, not in a comical way, but I make her a bit of fun to play with,” she says

“I have to be evil ­- and the Wicked Queen is truly evil – but l love doing it. I just love performing. The audience have paid to see the show, they want to see you giving 200 per cent, and I know I’m working with people who can do that.”

Commercial pantomimes are never slow to remind audiences of their stars’ biggest successes. “Probably there’ll be a few lines about ‘Allo, ‘Allo!,” says Vicki, knowingly. “I was in this amazing series that’s still shown on TV and has been sold to 80 countries. South Africa. Bulgaria. Romania. Lithuania. Sweden…”

Even Germany? “The Germans said they would never buy it, but they did!” says Vicki with glee. “How amazing is that! ‘Allo, ‘Allo! Is still funny. It makes you laugh out loud and there aren’t many comedies that do that today.

“That’s the mark of good comedy: if they can make you laugh out loud. That should be revered.”

David Croft and Jeremy Lloyd’s long-running comedy, set in Rene’s Café in a German-occupied small French town, was recorded live to audiences of 200 to 300. “The laugh would come on the second line and grow on the third line. That’s what worked. Like in panto: audiences want the old jokes. I want the old jokes!” says Vicki. “But a lot of shows try to change things, and they don’t work.”

Louise Henry, left, Jonny Muir, Steve Wickenden, Vicki Michelle, martin Daniels and Mark Little in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: David Harrison.

‘Allo, ‘Allo! gave Vicki the chance to say hello, hello to plenty more work. “It didn’t spoil things, because afterwards you’re typecast,” she says. “What I did was loads of theatre: playing Miss Hannigan in Annie; Salad Days; Miss Mona in The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas; Don’t Dress For Dinner; loads of Ray Cooney farces.”

You can add to that list Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest, a 2008 tour of ‘Allo, ‘Allo! and more television too, from playing Patricia Foster in the Yorkshire soap Emmerdale to competing in Celebrity Master Chef in 2009 and heading into the Aussie jungle for the 2014 series of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here!.

Vicki returns to the Grand Opera House after earlier appearances as Jacqueline in Marc Camoletti’s boulevard comedy Don’t Dress For Dinner and, in June this year, the humorous three-hander Hormonal Housewives, a no-holds barred romp through the joys of being a fabulous 21st century woman.

The tour schedule left room for only two days off in a 68-show run, but Vicki loved the script and ended up delighted she said yes to the invitation to join Hormonal Housewives co-writer Julie Coombe and Josephine Partridge on the road.

“It went fabulously well, doing a show, then a four to five-hour drive, but the show was such a joy to be in,” she says. “I’d never heard such howls of laughter.”

There was another benefit from Hormonal Housewives too. “People would come up afterwards and say they’d lost someone, and this was the first show they’d come out to since then as they wanted some laughter,” reveals Vicki.

Returning to York for a wicked winter in pantoland, Vicki has plans for Christmas Day. “I want to get home for Christmas, which is always at my place; three sisters and their families,” says the Essex-born actress, who has Snow White performances on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day either side of that family celebration. “Christmas morning is always something sparkly and a salmon and a smoked cheese bagel.”

What may 2020 bring Vicki? “There are a few things that are bubbling under, but first I’ve got this panto to enjoy,” she says.

Vicki Michelle stars in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Grand Opera House, York, December 12 to January 4 2020. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at

Charles Hutchinson

Did you know?

Vicki Michelle calls herself “Vix Mix” on her social media.