When Grant Stott met Stanley Baxter

On Friday 9 November 2018, broadcaster and panto villain Grant Stott fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition to meet pantomime legend, Stanley Baxter. Here Grant tells the story of that meeting, and reveals we’ll all get a chance to hear from Stanley in the forthcoming BBC Radio Scotland special about the King’s Theatre Edinburgh  - The Old Lady of Leven Street - going out on Christmas Day at 12.30pm.

"When BBC Radio Scotland asked me if I’d be interested in presenting a programme on the history of The Kings Theatre, I was obviously delighted but immediately had one thought.  We MUST try and get Stanley Baxter to be a part of it.

It’s well documented that Stanley rarely gives interviews these days but it would have been a travesty not to try.  When we finally received confirmation that the interview was on, I hadn’t been so thrilled since David Gray nodded in a certain last-minute winner at Hampden. 

So, on the Friday before rehearsals for Beauty and the Beast began, I jumped on an early train to London and shortly afterwards found myself knocking on Stanley Baxter’s front door. A real “pinch me” moment if ever there was one.

I spent nearly two hours in his company, occasionally losing my composure as I would suddenly remember where I was and what I was doing.  He’s perhaps not as nimble as he once was, but once he gets going, the stories are all there.

Stanley’s first ever panto at the Kings in Edinburgh was Aladdin in 1951 and it was far from a happy experience for him.  He was lined up to appear as Wishee Washee alongside English star of the stage George Lacy who was playing Widow Twankey.  Stanley was told that such was George Lacy’s star power, he had little chance of making an impact.  Lacey was far from pleased then when the Edinburgh crowd absolutely lapped up Stanley’s brilliant Scots patter and he totally stole the show.  He still thinks “Edinburgh audiences are every bit as good as Glasgow audiences. Perhaps even better”. Unsurprisingly, I agree.

Stanley’s star soon rose and the bright lights of London beckoned and he decided to walk away from the Kings.  Stewart Cruickshank, the theatre manager at the time, told him if he left, there was no guarantee he’d ever be welcomed back.

Thankfully, in 1966, after huge successes in London and on TV, he WAS welcomed back and starred in Cinderella, alongside a then little known entertainer called Ronnie Corbett.  Stanley went on to star in six more King’s pantos over the next 23 years, taking his final bow on the Edinburgh stage in Cinderella again in 1990.  He remembers the Kings fondly and to hear him talk so passionately about panto and how it should be done was like listening to the master.  And to be honest, that’s exactly what he is.

Stanley will be just one of many voices explaining why the Kings Theatre Edinburgh is so special in the BBC Radio Scotland documentary that I was so proud to be asked to present. My thanks to them for this unforgettable opportunity to meet Stanley and please tune in on Christmas Day if you can, to hear some of his stories from the King’s."