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Empire Pan-to fun for Benidorm's Kenneth

Tony Maudsley is coming full circle this Christmas, returning to spend the festive season at the Empire – more than 40 years after he saw his first panto at the Lime Street theatre.

Then it was Cilla Black as the principal boy, while another year Rod Hull and Emu trod the boards.

“Rod Hull and Emu – how exciting was that?!” he laughs. “I was desperate to meet Emu, desperate. But I was on a school trip so I was ferried straight back on to the bus.”

Even then, the youngster from Kirkby was more interested in what went on behind the scenes, or “around the corner” as he puts it.

“I could never imagine what was around the corner, this whole other world,” he says. “Of course, it’s sorely disappointing when you become an actor. The Wizard of Oz having a fag in the corner!”

That early panto experience certainly fired the young schoolboy’s interest in theatre, which was “properly ignited” a few years later when he saw Andrew Schofield and Mickey Starke – two actors from Kirkby and Halewood respectively – in No Holds Barred at the Everyman.

Benidorm Live. Photo by Paul Coltas

While he’s best known for playing camp crimper Kenneth Du Beke in Benidorm – the character informing his Kenneth the Cabin Boy role in this year’s Peter Pan – Maudsley has forged a much wider career on stage and screen.

He played Stefan Kiszko in A Life for a Life (parts of which were filmed in the court room at St George’s Hall), and has enjoyed screen roles in Sleepy Hollow, Bright Young Things, The Royal, Being Human and Summer of Rockets as well as appearing as Edna Turnblad in the stage musical version Hairspray on a tour which brought him to the Empire.

And in 2004 he played hapless Joseph Sedley to Reece Witherspoon’s Becky Sharp in the film of Vanity Fair.

Maudsley, a tall bloke, laughs in recollection: “I thought – she’ll never reach me. She’s very petite. She came up to my left nipple! We had a lot of problems getting us both in the same shot.

“I had a lovely time on that and got to go off to India to film the final scenes for it. Originally, they were filmed in Luton Hoo, but when we filmed those final scenes where Reese and I go off in a carriage, it was a horrible overcast day and it didn’t match the colour of the rest of the film.

“I got called a couple of months later and they said: ‘we’re going to reshoot that last scene’ and I said OK, fair enough. And they said: ‘we’re going to film it in Rajasthan’. I was like – you’re joking. ‘And we’re not doing it in a carriage, we’re doing it on an elephant’.

“It was fantastic.”

Peter Pan is the actor’s third pantomime in four years (last year he was on tour with Benidorm) and he reveals he usually persuades his family to join him wherever he is so they can have Christmas together.

It’s a long time since he enjoyed a Liverpool Christmas, although he reveals the first thing his mum said was ‘oh we won’t all fit round the table’ “because she and my dad have moved into a little bungalow. They’ve downsized, moved to a little housing village in Childwall.

“So I’ve rented a house down in Otterspool where the whole family can fit, just for a few days over Christmas so we can all squeeze in together.”

Peter Pan cast Asa Elliott, Tony Maudsley, Louise Emerick, Niki Evans and John Evans

There are also plenty of familiar faces in the Peter Pan cast, not least Benidorm compatriot Asa Elliott, playing Tiger Billy, and Louis Emerick who also appeared in the Spanish-set soap.

And with more fellow Benidorm alumni like Crissy Rock at the Epstein and Claire Sweeney at the Floral Pavilion, he says a gathering is in order during the festive runs.

“I’m going to try and organise that,” the 51-year-old promises. “We might even let Claire come from over the water!”

This isn’t Maudsley’s last appearance here too – after appearing on stage at the Empire, Playhouse, Unity and Epstein (when it was the Neptune) over the years, next spring he’s going to make his Everyman debut as part of the cast of Jonathan Harvey’s new play Our Lady of Blundellsands.

Before that though, there’s panto, oh yes there is. And on ‘home’ turf.

“I always say I’m coming home even though I haven’t lived in Liverpool for 30 years,” he smiles. “But I still call it home.”

Peter Pan is at the Liverpool Empire from December 7-29. Tickets HERE

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