A Cultural History of English Pantomime, ca. 1820 – 1910

Reporter: Simon Sladen

Dateline: 3rd October, 2012

Study of panto "a waste of taxpayers' money"? (Daily Mail)

Three years ago, when it was announced that two of the UK's leading Universities had been awarded £330,000 to create an academic study of the cultural history of English pantomime, the Daily Mail described the project as “bizarre” and a waste of taxpayer’s money.

Quoting Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Tax Payers’ Alliance, the paper wrote, “It is cause for concern that so much money is being diverted to research that is of only fringe benefit when times are so tough.” Now, three years on and as the project draws to a close, I caught up with Professor Jeffrey Richards and Dr Peter Yeandle to learn more about their findings.

As self-declared fans of pantomime, Richards and Yeandle were shocked that their project should receive such a negative reaction. Titled ‘Taxpayers fund £330,000 grant for a panto PhD’, the scathing piece in the Daily Mail was full of inaccuracies and left Yeandle “pretty dumbfounded [...], especially at the deliberate mistruths told”. Richards even wrote to the editor to complain about the paper’s “clearly philistine and anti-intellectual rabble-rousing agenda”.

As Richards clarifies, “The money was not awarded solely to a PhD student. It was awarded to four people: two senior scholars, the Professor of Drama at Birmingham University (Professor Kate Newey, the Principal Investigator) and myself, the Professor of Cultural History at Lancaster University, a junior research associate (Yeandle) and a PhD Student.”

The money was also to be used for the organisation of three conferences and three books, which Richards remarks, “seems to me a good return on the investment.”

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