Dame and fortune – dare you miss Duncan’s panto trip down memory lane

WHO remembers Christopher Cullen in Coronation Street?

Probably only the keenest of soap infatuated fans can recall Chris was a 16-year-old paperboy who worked in the Kabin.

Fast forward some 46 years and Peter Duncan, aka Chris, is poised to step out on stage at the Millgate Arts Centre, Delph (February 15).

More recognisable for his double stint as a Blue Peter presenter and predecessor to Bear Grylls as Chief Scout, Peter is appearing in the acclaimed one-man show, The Dame.

Written by daughter Katie, The Dame recalls a lost world of seaside entertainment, piers and promenades brought to life when seasoned Pantomime Dame Ronald Roy Humphrey returns to his Northern roots.

Peter Duncan preparing for The Dame

As the curtain falls on the last show of the day, Roy is in a wistful, melancholic mood.

However, as the years fall away, ghosts and memories from the past confront him with what he has spent his whole life trying to forget.

The Dame is a journey inside an entertainers mind to expose the fragile creature beneath the make-up, bluster and bravado.

“My pal Tim Vine came to see a production and was very upset at the end and said ‘I never realised you had such a tough childhood,” laughed Peter.

“He is such a lovely bloke and I had to set him straight.”

But being the son of variety artists, Alan Gale and Patricia Kaye, it was perhaps inevitable he would follow them into the world of entertainment.

“Just after the war my father would build stages on the beach, set-up deckchairs and charge people for watching the show,” explained Peter.

“That was before my time but travelling up and down the country, like a child gypsy, became my world.

“Katie has made my childhood darker and more dramatic than what it was actually like.

“It wasn’t in my mind to do what they did,” Peter added. “I went to a fairly dodgy secondary modern.

“However, those influences are quite powerful. Being around that stuff comes back to haunt and consumes you.

“When it works, it is a joyous old profession, but it is a tough old game.”

Peter wasn’t short of work as a teenager including his brief appearance in Corrie.

“I had about three episodes as a paper boy,” he recalled. “They offered me a six-month contract and like an idiot I turned it down.

“Things could have been so different. People would bite your hand off now.

“I did lots of TV jobs and was a busy working actor in the 1970s.

But I threw it all away to become a Blue Peter presenter,” he laughed.

“But, as with being a former Chief Scout, I quite like the labels.”

The Dame previously played successfully at Edinburgh Festival and also at the Park Theatre in London.

“Tim (Newbold) and Michael (Powis) saw the show at the Park and wrote to me saying ‘please, bring it to our theatre. So, they were actually part of the inspiration to tour it,” Peter explained.

“They run a fantastic theatre and want to put on different stuff.  So, I am looking forward to coming up.”

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