Panto king Eric is potty about Dick Whittington

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MOST of us don’t start thinking about the festive season until December dawns, despite the efforts of the grocery giants and other retailers to make us start our Christmas shopping early.

But pantomime writer Eric Potts spends his whole year gearing up for Christmas, creating hilarious scripts and rehearsing his own performance as the panto dame.

This year Eric has been busy writing 14 scripts for panto company Family First Entertainment, and one of them is Dick Whittington, this year’s seasonal show at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre.

“It’s tough to follow on from Cilla, but we’ve got Jonny Wilkes who is absolutely great,” said Eric.

“He’s a song and dance man in the old vaudeville style, the audience will love him.

“It’s going to be totally different from last year, but Dick Whittington is my favourite panto as it is such an adventure and it’s the only one we know of that’s based on truth.”

Eric tailors his panto scripts so the jokes are specific to the town they are performed in and the stars acting in them.

Big names he has stitched into his scripts have included the likes of Henry ‘The Fonz’ Winkler, Pamela Anderson and Mickey Rooney.

Jonny Wilkes is joined in Dick Whittington by Gillian Wright, who plays Jean Slater in EastEnders.

“I work with the stars to make sure they are happy with the jokes,” he said.

“I’ve just been in a meeting with Dame Edna, so Barry Humphries. We discussed the first time she appears – she’s going to fly in on the back of a giant wombat!

“I met with Jonny last week to discuss which songs to use.

“He’s good friends with Robbie Williams so we’re going to get some Take That songs in there and one from the Disney film Tangled to keep it topical.”

“As we’ve got Gillian in the cast we’ve got some EastEnders references in the script as well.”

Eric has also visited Aylesbury to make sure his gags play to the local audience.

“I’ve had a look around and worked with the Waterside team to write some topical and local jokes.

“It’s important to give each town a sense of ownership so they know it was done especially for them.”

Despite having a reputation for being a bit cheesy, pantos still put bums on seats every Christmas.

“People love panto as they want to take their kids to them so they can have the same fun experience they had when they were young.”

“That means we have to have the same routines and jokes about: ‘He’s behind you!’ as that’s what people expect to see.”

As well as writing pantos, Eric works as an actor and director and is probably best known for his role as baker Diggory Compton in Coronation Street.

“I got into writing pantos by accident,” he said. “Over the years as I starred in panto I found myself writing more and more jokes and realised I was helping do a lot of it.”

“I joind FFE as part of the creative team about six years ago and now panto is a massive part of my life, and I am glad it is.”

Dick Whittington is on at The Waterside from December 9-31. For tickets call 0844 871 7615.