Dear Reader: Even charities have PR + putting gender in panto

Fantastic panto at Harrogate Theatre - Jack and the Beanstalk stars Harriett Hare, Howard Chadwick and Tim Stedman.
Fantastic panto at Harrogate Theatre - Jack and the Beanstalk stars Harriett Hare, Howard Chadwick and Tim Stedman.

A personal column by the Harrogate Advertiser's Graham Chalmers

Everyone, it seems, has a PR department these days.

From small businesses to schools, minor sports clubs to hospitals, the obsession with marketing has spread far and wide since the turn of the millennium.

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When I started in journalism in the era of Thatcher, it was possible to walk into the offices of almost any organisation and have a casual chat with staff, as long as you were nice and offered a cheery smile.

Not any more. The barriers are up.

Now even local charities in Harrogate doing great work for the community feel the urge to create and maintain a strong public profile at all times.

People with the best of intentions are now quick to complain to the press if they feel in any way left out or let down.

I don’t blame them.

At a time of austerity when funds are shrinking, it only makes sense.

Such attitudes are a sign that the effects of restrictions on the public purse may be going beyond the actual physical belt tightening in schools and hospitals, social care and the welfare system.

They’re turning into a mindset.

If the reckless boom of the early Noughties was fuelled on optimism for the future, the more cautious era of austerity is built on just the reverse.

In that sort of atmosphere, who can afford to leave their reputation to chance?

I saw the first half only of Harrogate Theatre’s wonderful Jack and the Beanstalk in the first week of December.

I returned to enjoy the second half of this masterclass in panto the other Thursday, January 10.

Talking to one of its stars afterwards, the always hilarious Tim Stedman, he laughed that it had been the longest interval in history.

What can I say? I’ve been a bit busy.

This year’s production by the talented team at Harrogate Theatre was, perhaps, their most brilliant effort to date.

I did hear that one customer among the tens of thousands who bought tickets for this very family-friendly show’s eight-week run which ends this Sunday had expressed 'utter disgust' that for the first time Jack was not a girl playing a boy but a girl playing a girl.

But this minor shift towards 21st century attitudes on gender didn’t seem to effect the fun at all.

It also felt like a step in the right direction, in my opinion.

One thing which nearly did distress me, however, as a Scotsman, was the character of Morag the cook who, from her voice, was clearly meant to hail from north of the border.

One member of the cast after another kept going on about how they couldn’t understand a word she was saying.

The big-bloused Dame Trott (a man playing a woman) even suggested at one point Morag might be Latvian!

Grrrrrrr.

Then I remembered this is a panto and it’s called comedy.

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