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Jan Hunt in a big red hat, dress and gloves with her hand to her mouth as if whispering.

Sixty years in Music Hall

Next month, Paper Moon Theatre Company takes us on a gloriously nostalgic trip back to the golden days of traditional Music Hall and Variety with their performance of The Magnificent Music Hall on Sat 11 May at The Varieties. We spoke to producer and director Jan Hunt about her 60 years in showbiz as a Music Hall star.

Written by Jan Hunt


Jan Hunt

Please tell us about yourself and your career

Oh my, how do I put over 60 years in showbiz into just a few paragraphs?!

All I know is, from the moment I stepped onto the stage at The King’s Theatre, Hammersmith at the tender age of 12 in my first professional pantomime, I was well and truly hooked on wanting a career in showbiz! The lights, the magic, and the audience all set my heart and soul alight.

Even from the age of two, my mother noticed I responded to music coming from our very large wireless set. I ‘danced’ everywhere rather than walking, so, from the age of three, mum sent me to dance classes. ‘Baby June’ was on her way (June being my birth name – it changed to Jan when I became part of a double act in the 60s).

Regular dance classes and shows followed over the years until my first audition resulted in my becoming a Graham and Nelson Juvenile in Aladdin at the aforementioned theatre. From Juvenile to playing Boy Babe in Babes in the Wood, Goldilocks, Fairy, Principal Girl and Principal Boy,  I have now performed in 41 pantomimes.

Jan Hunt performing in a red dress, hat and gloves, holding her hand up to her mouth as if whispering.

Jan Hunt performing onstage.

My career has been so exciting – being a Lionel Blair dancer, a comedy feed, part of a comedy vocal double act Jan and Kelly, West End Musicals, worldwide cabaret and stage productions, radio, TV, films, a recording contract – and I am still here! As a lucky octogenarian still working, I’m still performing, producing, directing, coaching, driving the van, sewing costumes, making props, abseiling, and Wing Walking (the latter two for charity).

Over the years, I have worked with amazing stars in amazing theatres and on TV, and I still get the same buzz as when I was 12. I have played some wonderful roles and had my name in lights, but I have also had my share of disappointments and lows in the profession. Not being successful in an audition, not always getting the audience reaction I wanted – but these moments have been few and far between, and, having been blessed with ‘staying power’, I have ridden the mercurial pathway and survived. I am known in the business, although not the star I always wanted to be, but I have travelled the world performing (and been paid for it most of the time) and have loved every minute!

A City Varieties Music Hall programme from1962 listing Jan and Kelly as a double act.

A City Varieties Music Hall programme from 1962 listing Jan and Kelly as a double act.

Jan Hunt smiling and holding her hands up while abseiling down a building.

Jan Hunt abseiling down a building.

Jan’s career highlights

What are your career highlights? 

Appearing in 41 pantomimes. The 41st was in 2022 playing the Empress in Aladdin with the wonderful Bobby Crush as Dame.

Two and a half years run at London’s Adelphi Theatre in the stunning Harold Fielding production of Show Boat, playing Ellie May Shipley

Seven years working with the wonderful Eric Sykes, in six pantomimes and Ray Cooney’s great farce Run For Your Wife where we played the West End and toured across the UK and Canada

Becoming a mum in August 1981 to my wonderful son (my best production!)

Playing The London Palladium six times

Touring Australia with the double act and being on the bill with the silver screen star Mickey Rooney!

Becoming ‘The Crackerjack Girl’ for eight years on BBC TV

Twenty years of appearing on BBC TV’s The Good Old Days at my favourite venue, City Varieties in Leeds. Plus being involved in their in-house productions of the stage version of this TV show

Jan Hunt pulling her dress up to kick out her leg onstage while performing.

Jan jiggling!

Do you have any favourite characters/routines you’ve done over the years?

I adore doing comedy so playing Mrs. White in Cluedo was a favourite. I decided I wanted to play Mrs. White with a pet that would appear attached to a different part of my body every time I entered the stage, i.e. over my shoulder or clinging to my leg and so on. The director kindly agreed, so I had a glove puppet of a ferret made. I had such fun with this and, after the opening night, the reviews said: ‘The ferret almost stole the show!’

A favourite Music Hall character was, of course, playing Music Hall star Marie Lloyd in the stage version of her life story. I was so proud of the lovely reviews I received for this portrayal that I framed them! Marie had the biggest heart and cared so much for people. She once even gave the shoes off her feet to a young girl she met in the street one day. After she died at the very young age of 52, the streets of London were lined with 100,000 mourners on the day of her funeral. All the pub landlords in London covered the beer taps with black cloths as a note of respect. It is sad that, as the genre and history of Music Hall is not taught as much these days, many know nothing of Marie Lloyd, which shows how ephemeral fame can be.

Another Music Hall character was my big-busted clog-dancing Dutch lady singing By The Side Of The Zuyder Zee. The character was based on the adorable headmistress at the college I went to. However, I can do serious, heartstring-pulling as well. Such monologues as Castles in the Air and songs such as When I Leave The World Behind.

The Magnificent Music Hall

How would you describe ‘music hall’ for anyone who has never experienced it?

Music Hall is the most wonderful genre of entertainment – a long, heart-warming, and educational part of our heritage. Music Hall produced many magnificent, hard-working performers, doing anywhere between six to eight shows per day. The songs and the monologues mirrored the stories of everyday life in those dark and sometimes glorious times, all wrapped in music, comedy, magic and dance, and washed down with a joyous pint of ale. It brought joy to life in some hard times. Music Hall songs have stood the test of time because they were well-written and had captivating tunes that were memorable. However, sadly, traditional Music Hall does struggle to bring in large audience numbers nowadays, as its appeal has always been to the older generation who are now not our biggest theatre-goers. Music Hall is not seen on TV anymore and is not taught in stage schools as abundantly as it used to be, but there are still many of us who fly the flag!

Jan Hunt and Doreen Hermitage in matching grey dresses and top hats standing back to back and holding canes on the City Varieties stage.

Jan Hunt and Doreen Hermitage performing a double act at City Varieties.

A row of people in colourful costumes linking arms and smiling for the camera.

The Ally Pally Group.

How did Paper Moon Theatre Company and The Magnificent Music Hall come to be?

The company was formed in 1989. I had just done two Players Theatre Music Hall shows at The Pier Theatre in Bournemouth with my dear friend and the hugely talented Dudley Stevens, who appeared many times on The Good Old Days. He asked if I’d ever thought of running my own Music Hall company. At that point, I hadn’t, but I liked the idea and we decided to form a company together. Now, we needed a name! It was a beautiful night; we had each bought a glass of wine and were sat outside on the pier. The moon was glistening like diamonds over the water and Dudley just started singing It’s Only A Paper Moon! There it was, the name of our new company! Very sadly, Dudley passed away after a long illness, but he asked me to promise that I would always keep Music Hall and Paper Moon Theatre Company alive.

What is it like to perform at City Varieties? 

An absolute joy and honour! This venue has my heart and always will. All the treasured memories I have of performing in TV shows with many of the great stars who graced those boards [make me realise] how very lucky I have been. To walk out onto that stage is just magical and still sets my heart and soul alight. I still consider myself lucky as Ian Sime (General Manager) and Andrea Wadsworth (Programming Manager) – two people who are very special to me – have kindly given me the chance to bring Paper Moon Theatre Company‘s The Magnificent Music Hall to this truly glorious venue. I want to raise the roof with song and laughter with two hours of truly traditional Music Hall entertainment.

Jan Hunt with her arms out-stretched standing on the City Varieties stage with the auditorium in the background

Jan Hunt at City Varieties.

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