First published in the Saddleworth Independent
KENNETH Alan Taylor thought news of his British Empire Medal was an online scam… oh no, he didn’t!
Actually, ‘oh yes, he did’ but recognition in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his services to theatre and pantomime was quickly confirmed for Springhead-based Kenneth.
“It was all very unexpected, but I am thrilled about it obviously,” said the actor, director and artistic director. “It is lovely to have your name recognised.
“However, when I received an email asking to get in touch I wasn’t sure it was real. I must have been on the phone nearly three minutes saying ‘how do I know this is genuine?’
“But it seemed every person who had been notified had said: ‘Is this a joke?’.”
London born Kenneth, who first arrived in Oldham in 1959, is synonymous with his work at Oldham Coliseum including the introduction of an annual pantomime.
Thousands of Oldhamers down the generations have enjoyed his performances as the Dame in a variety of productions.
Married to actress Judith Barker, Kenneth took the concept and the role to Nottingham Playhouse where he is also revered as a pantomime institution.
Indeed, he has written the script for Beauty and the Beast – this year’s seasonal Playhouse offering.
In 2018 and 2019, Kenneth, now 84, also found time to adapt Christmas productions at Millgate Arts Centre, Delph-A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist. He also appeared in both.
So, he has lamented the unavoidable closures of all theatres during the coronavirus pandemic.
“It has been devastating but let’s hope they re-open in time for Christmas and so they can start to make money again,” he said.
“I want to work but I am 84 so I don’t think they will be banging on the door for any old actors,” he laughed.
“Most people I worked with have left the business or died. I live in hope something will turn up.”
The ongoing pandemic restrictions mean Kenneth is unsure when he will receive his BEM or an invitation to a Buckingham Palace garden party.
However, his place among the Honour’s list is assured.
Writer, Manager, Director and Actor. BEM For services to Theatre and Pantomime
- He played the pantomime dame for 30 years in his own productions at Nottingham Playhouse, where he was also Artistic Director from 1983-1990.
- He was Artistic Director and then Chief Executive of Oldham Coliseum Theatre in the 1990s.
- He is still directing the panto, having previously hung up his dame’s costume in 2012, and his scripts will continue to be used at the Playhouse.
- Along with long serving Theatre Royal York dame Berwick Kaler, he has preserved many of the longstanding traditions of British pantomime and adapted them to serve modern diverse family audiences in the 21st century.
- He has actively sought to pass on the traditional skills he inherited from the likes of iconic dame Arthur Askey to his successor dame at Nottingham John Elkington, to director Susie McKenna and set designer Tim Meacock.
- Elsewhere, his work includes And Then There Were None, Duke of Yorks (1982), The Father, Oldham Coliseum (2017), The Price, Octagon Bolton (2011), Twinkle Little Star, Lakeside Nottingham and international tour (2008) and his television credits are extensive from Coronation Street in the 1960s to Grange Hill, Cold Feet and Heartbeat in more recent years.
- He was also made a Nottingham University Honorary Doctor of Letters in 2011. In 1988 he was awarded the Horniman Award at Oldham for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre.
- In 2019, Nottingham City Transport named one of their buses after him to mark his 36h Nottingham Playhouse pantomime