David Drummond Pantomime Collection

A black and white photograph of a traditional scene from a panto with pantomime horse!

Image: Drumm 228: A photograph of a traditional scene from a panto with pantomime horse!

Beth Astridge, University Archivist at the Templeman Library at the University of Kent Special Collections and Archives shares the David Drummond Collection and the Beyond the Binary research project.

Beyond the Binary?! Oh yes, it is!!

At the University of Kent Special Collections and Archives, we are in the middle of some hugely exciting work to do with the history of pantomime. We purchased this remarkable collection in 2017 from David Drummond, a prominent bookseller and collector of theatre and pantomime material.

Pantomime is often the first time people experience going to the theatre, which usually results in a very memorable experience!

Beth Astridge

The collection characterises this uniquely British tradition from around 1800 to the early 21st century. It is a highly visual collection. It holds rare photographs of performers, beautiful costume and set designs, as well as materials like posters, flyers and scripts from a truly vast range of pantomimes. And so much more!

Expressions of gender in pantomime

Image: Drumm 199: George Lacy – British Actor (1904-1989)

One area that makes the collection stand out is the possibilities of exploring representations of gender in popular performance. To us, it presents an opportunity to contribute to discourse on gender expression and new audiences with diverse, inclusive histories of performance and gender.

In 2018, we were thrilled to partner with our colleagues at the University’s School of Arts, Dr Helen Brooks and Dr Oliver Double, and Mitch Robertson from Beaney House of Art and Knowledge to co-curate an exhibition and study day called It’s Behind You!

It’s Behind You! led to the research and public engagement project – Beyond the Binary: Performing Gender Now and Then. Here, academic and public researchers to work together to unearth the histories of gender play and presentation hidden within the David Drummond Pantomime collection.

  • Costume designs by William John Charles Pitcher, costume designer known as Wilhelm, for Aladdin 1896

The research team included people from all backgrounds and from across the gender spectrum, including queer, gender-fluid and non-binary people. Throughout 2022 they explored the collections, researched performers and uncovered their stories. In doing so, they shared new perspectives on performance and gender – both in the past and today.   

Image: Principal boys_0029 Helene Cooney performing as The Prince in Sleeping Beauty at the Theatre Royal Nottingham, 1937.

A day in the archive!

In July, we welcomed researchers to the Special Collections and Archives for a hands-on history study day. We demonstrated appropriate handling techniques, embarked on behind-the-scenes tours, and spoke about caring for and listing archives. The following day we held a pop-up exhibition at the Beaney House of Knowledge and Art. Finally, we were able to show off the collections and research carried out so far!

Beyond the Binary culminated on Thursday 29th September 2022 with a spectacular show at the Gulbenkian Theatre – Rowdy Dowdy Boys and Saucy Seaside Girls. Bringing together music, comedy and history, the performance-lecture starred the live art and folk duo the Lunatraktors and comedian Mark Thomas, alongside Dr Helen Brooks and Dr Olly Double.

Watch this space…
Image: Programme for performance of Dick Whittington at the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham 1934-1935

This year, we were also absolutely delighted to succeed in our bid for the Archives Revealed Cataloguing Grants scheme. Our cataloguing project – Oh Yes It Is! – will be starting in late 2022 and continuing throughout 2023.

This funding award will make an enormous difference in how we can make this collection accessible to all. We will unlock its potential for researchers, historians, performers, and all those interested in the history of theatre and pantomime. We cannot wait to get started!