The Krankies

Dick Whittington - Wolverhampton 2007-2008

The Stage

 

Just exactly what do you do with all these one-time fairy tale characters lost in a highly-coloured world happily without logic? You mix them up together and just hope that the resulting gallimaufry works.

 

Well, in this case it does, and the evening is glitzy and great fun, thanks to those brilliant comedy drolls, the Krankies, without whom the evening would be bereft of comic emphasis.

 

One of the great highlights of the evening is the Krankies and their hilarious ventriloquist act (with Janette Krankie lurching backward and forwards as the doll) which is in a direct line back to the fifties and the old twice-nightly music halls, and thus is a collector’s item in its own right.

 

Here, these inspired drolls practically stopped the show, which was the case with everything else they did. They are one of the last of a great line of theatre comics in the tradition of Joey Grimaldi and the Lupinos - they are a national treasure and thus I designate them.

 

Elsewhere, the extremely likeable Sam Kane (who sounds American the moment he opens his mouth to sing) is Dick Whittington, the honcho with the faithful moggie and he knows how to work the house.

 

Brian Godfrey, working with a set of dud gags, is merely twinkly as the Dame. Dani Harmer as the good fairy element must learn immediately how to manage her legs when flying - kicking a la breast stroke simply will not do - sorry.

 

Leslie Grantham looks more maudlin than mean as Dirty Rat in a wretched  Victorian tailcoat, while everybody else is roughly dressed in medieval gear, in sets of some beauty by Hugh Durrant, which I cheered in the same panto a decade or more ago.

 

Grantham was also denied a costume and headdress for the splendid final walkdown, which is inexplicable and may well have accounted for his disgruntled demeanour.

 

Production information

Management: Qdos Pantomimes Ltd

Cast: Dani Harmer, Leslie Grantham, The Krankies, Sam Kane, Brian Godfrey, Lora Munro

Director: Kenn Oldfield, who also choreographs

 

 

BIRMINGHAM POST

Wee Jimmy a stage survivorDec 21 2007

 

It is not easy being small, but Janette Tough has built a successful career playing naughty schoolboy Jimmy Krankie. Alison Jones reports. Journalism is a peculiar sort of a job, one day you might be down a mine peering at 420 million year old fossils embedded in limestone, the next looking at Jimmy Krankie's fake inflatable boobs.The breasts in questions, which look like the remnants of a rubber balloon from a long forgotten party, are being held by Jimmy's alter ego Janette Tough, who is describing how tying the cotton to keep the air in has cut husband Ian's fingers to ribbon.Apparently Ian is suffering because he has been messing with garlic all morning which has left his fingers split."He does all the cooking," says Janette. "I'd be lost without him that way. Every morning he will cook for the day and bring it into the theatre so we get home made food, and he makes soup every day."

 

It is her failure to get to grips with some traditional wifely duties that is one of the reasons, she says, that the couple have repeatedly turned down invitations to go on Celebrity Wife Swap. "I've had no children, I cannae cook. All I can do is drive my Mini Cooper, play golf and go shopping. That would be me." There is also the fact that they're not desperate for that kind of fame. The Krankies' time in the television sun may have been over by the early 90s but they are not about to throw themselves to the wolves of reality TV. "I'm not really interested in celebrity," says Janette. "When we were brought up in the business your performance was the main thing. And with me being my height and with my voice I get spotted anyway, I don't need it to keep my profile up. "I can go down the street and be recognised. I still have builders up on scaffolding shouting 'Hello Jimmy. Fandabidozi'. And more than 30 years of hearing her famous catchphrase is not about to reduce her to Alan Davies's ear-biting level of agitation. "I don't mind. I don't like when they lift me up and pat me on the head, if you get guys who maybe have a bit to drink. That can get a wee bit frightening."

 

Apart from the Scottish brogue and familiar impish grin there are very few traces of Jimmy in the offstage Janette, who is dressed in smart sweater and skirt, sparkly tights and heeled Mary Janes, her hair neatly bobbed. The only difference between her and any other woman of her age is her doll size proportions. But over the years Janette has developed an armour-plated tolerance to jibes about her lack of inches (she is 4ft 6in), after all she and Ian have built their comedy careers around it.

She points to the inflatable bed in the middle of her narrow dressing room backstage at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, where she and Ian are performing in Dick Whittington. Decorated with a High School Musical quilt, she can use it to rest up between performances. "One of the dancers said 'that's brilliant, we should get one for our room'. I said 'it is only for ages six to 11.'," she says, breaking into a ready giggle. Pantomime is the Krankies most regular gig. They spend the early part of the year relaxing at their second home on Australia's Gold Coast and then might do summer seasons in various luxury holiday resorts.

 

 

Reading past reviews it becomes clear that 40 years of experience has given them such faultless comic timing it usually results in them stealing the show from under more famous stars' noses. She accepts that many youngsters in the audience have no idea who the naughty schoolboy on stage is or where mum and dad learnt this peculiar new word Fandabidozi. "The parents remember us and they are amazed that their children laugh at the same things they laughed at. Although they don't know me I think children accept the character. They love anarchy." Ian and Janette have up-dated the act by acknowledging that they know that the audience knows that Jimmy is really Ian's 60-year-old wife dressed up like Just William. "It's how I get half the laughs. When Ian throws me about as the ventriloquist's dummy it really is quite physical. I say 'how many more years of this have I got?' then I look at the audience and go 'and me with my bus pass'." Back in the late 70s and early 80s the Krankies were a sensation on shows like the Royal Variety Performance and Crackerjack, but by the the early 90s their brand of end of the pier, knockabout humour was passe. Suddenly admitting you found them funny would have been as embarrassing as confessing to a teenage crush on Keith Chegwin. Janette says she didn't mind as the television work gradually faded, but admits that Ian was concerned lest their livelihood should disappear while they were still only in their 40s. However, an apartment in Australia and house in Torquay are evidence that they have more than managed to scrape by. In fact Janette admits she has just spent her fuel allowance on a nice new coat  "When you have been around so long you have to accept that things change. They go through attitudes. I think what helped is I have done quite a lot of French and Saunders, that's good television because although they are taking the mickey out of me it's good humoured." However, the Krankies almost came to an abrupt end three years ago when Janette was seriously injured in panto after a beanstalk she was climbing collapsed beneath her and a co-star. Janette crashed to the stage, fracturing her skull and breaking her collar bone and ribs. "I remember falling and Ian saying 'don't touch her, don't move her' but I don't remember the ambulance and the first hospital I was in. "The children in the audience must have heard it because Ian said I screamed and then I just went quiet and there was a loud bang when the beanstalk collapsed. "Luckily it was just after the first half finale so there was a blackout. It could easily have gone the other way and fallen in the audience." She received a six-figure insurance payout but was off work for seven months as she struggled to cope with the after effects of her head injury. "The first time I went back on stage. I wasn't quite right. You are frightened in case your energy value is not there but it is fine now." Apart from her accident Janette has had few health scares. She says they probably wouldn't have been able to spend as much time performing and living in Australia if they had family commitments. Their home there is only 20 miles from the I'm A Celebrity camp and Janette and Ian were persuaded to visit when one of the producers came across them strolling along the beach."It was the year Wayne Sleep was on they made me a little safari suit and had me trying to break into the camp."It was all ad lib and Ian said 'Right Jimmy, you get in there because nobody from Scotland has ever been in this and this could boost your career'. Then he left me."There was this guard with corks in his hat who spotted me and I said 'I am looking for my brother Wayne Sleep, cos I am his wee brother, Cannae Sleep', then we had a wee chase.

 

"They played this on ITV2 and a reporter from the Sun phoned me up and said 'Did you really think that would boost your career?' and I said 'No. It was a joke. Moi, with a three bedroom, two bathroom, double garage apartment on the Tweed river, I don't think so.' and put the phone down," she adds, giggling again. These days the Krankies only accept the engagements that appeal to them and Janette says they will know when the time is right to call it quits. We'll stop when the energy values have gone. I won't be one of these old pros who wants to die on the stage, 'I must do this or my life has finished'. I'll just play more golf."

 

 

BIRMINGHAM POST REVIEW

Krankies star as panto hits the right buttons

 

Dick Whittington at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton. Reviewed by Terry Grimley.

 

The pantomime tradition is in rude health in the Black Country with this gaudy knockabout show. It features Dani Harmer of Tracy Beaker fame flying prettily as the Good Fairy, contrasted with a thoroughly greasy Leslie Grantham as the villain of the piece, Dirty Rat. And Sam Kane, once the camp hairdresser of Brookside, is an emphatically masculine Dick. But the best thing in the show is veteran comedy duo The Krankies as Captain Krankie and Jimmy the Mate. I have to admit I'd never been a fan of their television work, but seeing them in the theatre is a different matter altogether.

 

What you can't miss about Jeanette Krankie in particular is the sheer buzz she evidently gets from being on stage. Nothing is too corny to laugh at when delivered with her infectious joi de-vivre, and what a consumate mistress of comic timing and ad-libbing she is. At various points, and under the most flimsy pretexts, she impersonates Barbie, Ozzy Osbourne and a balloon-breasted, Dolly Parton-like diva. It's the kind of performance that could give vulgarity a good name. The show looks pretty good, too, starting with an impressive panorama of London on the curtain. There's the standard panto collision of Olde England and raucous modern pop, with local children supplementing the small company of dancers.

 

 

As Sarah the Cook, Brian Godfrey gets through the required wardrobe of outrageous costumes, with the fish-and-chip hat particularly inventive. But it's Jeanette Krankie who takes the comedy laurels, with even her famous and serious accident in Jack and the Beanstalk last year providing gag material.

 

Pantomime

   Reviews part 2