To read Part 1 of this series click HERE

Following on from the Manchester Guardian’s review of Robinson Crusoe, journalist William Wade’s 1886 first pantomime for the Prince’s Theatre, Part 2 examines their review of the pantomime manuscripts for that year at Manchester’s Queen’s Theatre and Theatre Royal.

Edward Francis Fay


A talent for writing for a readership does not always translate into success with writing for the stage.  The author of the pantomime at the Queen’s Theatre that year did not fare so well with the Guardian critic with his manuscript for The Babes in the Wood.

Edward Francis Fay, of Irish descent, was born in Sheffield in 1853.  As a journalist he became one of the four members of the founding board of the Clarion, a socialist weekly newspaper first published in Manchester in 1891.  He enjoyed life and focused his attentions on writing sport, arts and humorous pieces.  When Fay died at the early age of forty-three in 1896, the Editor of the Clarion, Robert Blatchford, wrote a biography of him entitled The Bounder: The story of a man by his friend.  ‘The Bounder’ was the best known of Fay’s pen names.  Of his death Blatchford said:

The Bounder was the best loved of all the Clarion staff.  People of all ages and classes scholars, pressmen, labourers, sportsman, ladies and poor factory girls, and hard-driven wives of Lancashire working men, mourned for him as a friend.’[1]

Fay’s reputation was that of a roguish, but genial character.  Blatchford describes him as being fond of food and drinking and never footing the bill.  When they were raising the money to set up the Clarion, one of the other founders, A M Thompson, who would later go on the write pantomimes himself, recalled the amounts they each put in to the pot and that ‘Fay of course had nothing.’[2]



Discussing Fay’s venture into pantomime, Blatchford wrote:

‘Of course, Mr Fay,’ said the manager, when The Bounder’s pantomime was to be produced. ‘of course, you would like to meet the dramatic critics at dinner.’  ‘No!’ said The Bounder, with a snarl, ‘a dramatic critic is an ignorant, loathsome, gluttonous swine, sir.’

‘But I thought, Mr Fay, that you were a dramatic critic,’ said the manager.  ‘Well, sir, said The Bounder, ‘and in my capacity as a dramatic critic I am an ignorant, loathsome, gluttonous swine myself, sir.’[3]

The review for The Babes in the Wood opened promisingly enough

The Queen’s theatre has long had a good name for pantomime, and the new lessee seems likely to continue the honourable traditions of the house.  Mr. Mansell’s first pantomime was produced in the afternoon yesterday, and again in the evening.  It was received with much favour, and is almost certain, with some careful revision, to be a successful production.[4]

Then the review takes a different direction to describe the faults with the new production, suggesting these lie with the script.

Abundance of rollicking fun and good spectacular effects are the lines on which it is constructed.  [ … ] The spectacular effects are there, and of fine quality, but the rollicking fun as yet is not. [ … ]  Of course, it takes some time to work up this department of a pantomime, but with one exception, the raw materials are not particularly promising.


Whilst admiring some scenes, the reviewer states that

‘Some sort of sequence and point must be given to these scenes before the pantomime can claim the favour at least of little folks anxious about their friends.’

And goes on to conclude that

‘The company includes a number of capable people, but, except in the case of Mr Wainwright, the characters are still in outline.’[5]

It was common at the beginning of the run of a new pantomime for the script to be refined and changes made as actors settled into their roles.  It seems, however, that this pantomime did not go on to be the greatest success, especially when in competition with the successes at the Princes and the Theatre Royal.  For all that he was known for humorous writing, Fay did not go on to write another pantomime.


Thomas F Doyle

The final 1886 Manchester pantomime to be examined here was on the stage of Manchester’s largest theatre, the Theatre Royal.  Its theme was Bluebeard, one of the most popular pantomime subjects in its day.  It was an old but gruesome fairytale where wealthy villain Bluebeard is set to make the unwilling heroine, Fatima, his twelfth bride, but all eleven of her predecessors were the victims of a bloody murder at his hands on their wedding night.  Spoiler alert – Bluebeard gets his comeuppance, but perhaps it is not surprising that this is one of the Victorian themes that faded from the regular cannon of stories familiar to a modern audience.

The libretto was written by Mr T F Doyle, who by 1886, had established a great reputation for himself and was well known as a favourite of Manchester theatregoers.  Thomas Doyle, was born in Carlow, Ireland in 1838 and was one many Irish people doing well in Manchester’s theatrical community.  Throughout the 1880s he was the Stage Manager at the Theatre Royal for its ‘Manager and Lessee’ Captain Bainbridge.  He was also a popular with the Manchester press.  A pantomime with his name on it already had their confidence as a guarantee of quality.  They often referred to him in terms such as Bainbridge’s ‘able lieutenant.’  Doyle’s role was different from that of a twenty-first century Stage Manager.  His was a more senior role, more akin to that of a creative director and technical manager.  He had arrived in England as a comic actor and performed in Manchester and Liverpool, before moving into stage management in Liverpool several years before taking up his post at the Theatre Royal.  Even in this demanding position he continued to perform at times.  After leaving Manchester in the early 1890s, he held similar positions in Sheffield and Bradford.  Throughout these years he continued writing successful pantomimes, with some of them being performed as far away as Australia.  His many years of experience gave him a professional understanding of how to bring a production to the stage and informed how he wrote.  A lack of technical knowledge was perhaps a root cause of Fay’s difficulties at the Queen’s.

The Manchester Guardian reviewer had this to say about Doyle’s work:

‘Blue Beard’ has always been a favourite subject with authors of pantomime, and among the stories to which they seem restricted there is not one more familiar.  When the sequences of incidents is so well known, less confusion arises from the introduction of novel scenes and episodes exacted by the imperative demand for spectacular and humorous effects, and though Mr T F Doyle has dared to be original in the treatment of his subject, he has consistently adhered to the traditional outlines of the story.  The dialogue is always smart and often witty; old puns are adapted very judiciously, and the new ones are after the old pantomime traditions.  Political questions are not more prominently referred to than is customary, and municipal grievances, if not entirely overlooked, are not very severely censured.  In pantomimes we of course expect a richer display of modern instances than wise saws.[6]  In this respect ‘Blue Beard’ is not disappointing, and the least that can be said of Mr Doyle’s book is that it is quite worthy to be compared with its predecessors.[7]

In the above comments, it is possible to see the reviewer’s preoccupations that authors should not stray too far from the original storyline or include too many topical political references, as in similar comments in the review of Wade’s Robinson Crusoe.  Doyle was a reliable comedian and the review concludes with praise for the fun Doyle is able to create from what seems to a modern reader, an unpromising subject.

It is almost unnecessary to add that the author deliberately minimises the horrible features of the story.  He evidently believes that pathos is out of place in pantomime, and no one will call ‘Blue Beard’ either a melancholy or a tearful extravaganza.[8]


Aside from the pantomimes in the three main theatres in central Manchester that year there was Little Red Riding Hood at the Comedy Theatre and Aladdin at the St James Theatre.  Both of these theatres had opened as recently as 1884.  The examples discussed here can be seen as typical of the story of pantomime in towns and cities across the country.

The success of the annual pantomime, financially and in terms of attendance figures, was vital for most theatres to ensure their survival until the following Christmas.  As is often the case today, profits from the pantomime season are used to subsidise leaner times in the theatrical calendar when tickets were not selling so well.  Commissioning an author to write the ‘Book of Words’ was an important decision that the theatres’ managements could not afford to get wrong.  Fay’s pantomime was not a disaster, but the most successful productions in Manchester in the 1886-1887 pantomime season were those at the Theatre Royal and the Prince’s Theatre.

Article © Claire Robinson 

[1] Blatchford, Robert (1900). The Bounder: The Story of a Man by his Friend. London: Walter Scott Ltd. pp. 110-111

[2] Thompson, Alex (1937). Here I Lie: The Memorial of an Old Journalist. London: George Routledge and Sons Ltd.  p. 67

[3] Blatchford. The Bounder. p.160

[4] Manchester Guardian. 28 December 1886. .8

[5] Ibid.

[6] ‘Wise saws’ are the sayings and idioms of experienced older people, whereas the ‘modern instances’ refer to contemporary anecdotes.

[7] Manchester Guardian, 24 December 1886. p. 6

[8] Ibid.