Renowned for its glittering array of star name headliners in spectacular, innovative productions, Qdos Entertainment had already had an impressively succesful line-up for 2016/17 but things were about to hot up as a new wind was blowing in panto land. Their 2016/17 season included Paul O'Grady, Brian Conley, David Hasselhoff, Marti Pellow, Duncan James, Julian Clary, Amanda Holden, John Barrowman, Craig Revel Horwood, Shane Richie, Gok Wan, Lesley Joseph, Lisa Riley, Linda Robson, Pauline Quirke, Steve McFadden, Nigel Havers, The Chuckle Brothers, Simon Webbe, Joe Pasquale, Lee Mead, Jodie Prenger, Joe McElderry, Jaymi Hensley, Jessie Wallace and Gareth Gates. 2016 also saw Qdos Entertainment bring the tradition of pantomime back to the London Palladium in a spectacular production of the Fairy Godmother of all pantomimes, Cinderella, the first to play the venue in almost 30 years.
Qdos released audience figures that saw the company welcome over 1.6 million theatregoers to the 2016/17 pantomime season, a new attendance record for company its 35th year of producing pantomime.
As the 2016/17 season came to an end rumours started to trickle through the internet that First Family Entertainment pantomimes was no more, a week or so after the initial rumours started to spread the news would be confirmed that ATG had indeed dissolved their own pantomime division. It was hard to imagine that pantomime giant Qdos Entertainment could get any bigger and more successful than they already were, they already dominated the panto world but the departure of First Family Entertainment would lead to Qdos having an even bigger hold on the industry.
After twelve successful years, Kevin Wood, Chief Executive of First Family Entertainment, stepped down from his position to enable him to return to independent producing. At the same time it was announced that Associate Producers Laura Taylor and George Wood would also be leaving their roles. The ATG group quickly announced a brand new partnership with Qdos Entertainment but this would not be the first time that the two companies had collaborated, prior to the forming of First Family Entertainment in 2005 ATG had regularly partnered with Qdos. When Clear Channel Entertainment and the Ambassador Theatre Group first joined forces to launch First Family Entertainment some industry publications thought it would be a big blow to Qdos and that this new company would take the crown as the industry leaders, fast forward 12 years and Qdos is still standing tall, crown intact.
Quickly following the announcement of Qdos taking over the former First Family venues concern was raised from dwarf actors who feared this move would hinder them in finding work over the pantomime season. FFE had regularly cast dwarf actors in their pantomimes whilst Qdos had opted to use children in the roles instead as they were cheaper to employ. It was estimated that dwarf actors were paid around £1200 per week compared with other performers who received between £450-£750 per week. Qdos were quick to point out at the time that they did not have a ‘corporate view’ on the casting of any parts in their productions and that each production is considered individually as part of the creative process. Dwarf actors had started hitting out at Qdos during the previous year with one actor dubbing Qdos ‘The Enemy’ because they were putting dwarfs out of work. Panto is not exempt from the anger of the dwarfs and in 2012 they were also out in force when movie producers Universal cast fully sized actors in the movie Snow White and the Huntsman.
For the 2016/17 season Qdos produced 26 pantomimes which rose to 35 productions for the following year's season having taken on the ATG venues. Qdos also took this opportunity to give their pantomimes a fresh new look and in late January 2017 they unveiled all new logos for all of their pantomime productions, the previous designs had been in place for the five years prior to the change. We had most certainly entered a new and exciting period of pantomime as the 2017/18 season approached.
Let's take a moment to look back at First Family Entertainment...
Who were the FFE team?
Associate Producer / Head of Marketing
Head of Wardrobe
Deputy Head of Wardrobe
Office and Production Assistant
Their panto logos.....
With the Qdos 2017/18 season fully announced possibly the most notable shift from the days of First Family Entertainment was the disappearance of the US star turn, one of the signature features of FFE pantomimes. Performers had included Henry Winkler, Verne Troyer, Steve Guttenberg, as well as Mickey Rooney, Priscilla Presley and Pamela Anderson.
“There was never a conscious decision not to hire American movie stars to feature in our pantomimes,” Qdos managing director Michael Harrison said. “I think FFE had to book that calibre of star simply because Qdos had booked so many of the popular British stars.”
He continued “We were all past the stage of hiring an Australian soap-star or a Gladiator and it seemed like a natural progression for FFE.”
The panto impresario would not rule out Qdos bringing in US performers but adds: “When it comes to star casting, we have found that the most successful pantomimes we produce – with the longest runs and most performances – don’t rely on celebrity.”