Chris Harris

Reporter: Simon Sladen

Dateline: 1st May, 2014

Chris Harris has died aged 71 after a theatrical career spanning over fifty years.

Harris was born in Bridgwater, Somerset and trained at Rose Bruford College, Jacques Lecoq Mime and Theatre School, Ladislav Fialka's Pantomime Company and the Moscow State Circus School.

His love of physical comedy prepared him well for a career in pantomime, with Salisbury witnessing his pantomime debut in 1965 when he played Jack Stevens in Dick Whittington and his Cat. A year later in 1966 he made history as Salisbury's first male Principal Boy when he played Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk alongside a young Christopher Biggins as PC Boggins.

Like Biggins, Harris went on to become one of the UK's leading pantomime practitioners and Dames, spending almost a decade at the Bristol Old Vic co-writing with Chris Denys as well as playing Dame and directing. His Bristol pantomimes were awarded a citation by the Bristol Chamber of Commerce for services to the life of the City of Bristol and between 2001 and 2013 Harris directed and appeared in every pantomime at the Bath Theatre Royal for UK Productions.

A talented actor, Harris toured the world with his many one-man shows focusing on the history of a variety of popular entertainment forms. With his production of Kemp's Jig, Harris visited a total of 57 different countries in a period of 30 years, each time returning to the UK for his beloved pantomime season at Christmas.

As well as spending many seasons performing in Bristol and Bath, Harris also worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the New Shakespeare Company and at a number of regional repertory theatres.

Harris's extensive knowledge of clowning, Shakespeare, pantomime, mime, movement and comedy made him a much in demand after dinner speaker, workshop leader and lecturer. He was also a published author, having written The Alphabet of Pantomime and Will Kemp: Shakespeare's Forgotten Clown.

On television, Harris appeared in a number of documentaries and dramas and had his own radio programme on BBC Bristol. In the 1970s and 1980s he presented children's television series Hey Look That's Me and it was here where he stumbled across his particular style of Dame when asked to come up with new characters for the show.

A director of over 50 productions, Harris was a much loved man of the theatre and an ambassador for pantomime. A strong traditionalist, his last pantomime in 2013 saw him appear in his first and UK Productions' only ever Dame in Peter Pan with The Stage dubbing him "the doyen of the species".

As the subtitle to his Alphabet of Pantomime rightly states, "There be nothing like a Dame" and Harris's legacy of laughter and contribution to the genre will never be forgotten.