University of Liverpool: A Brief History of Panto Day

The University of Liverpool has rich history of charitable events and endeavours. One of the most amusing ways the University has raised money in the past is the annual Panto Week, founded accidentally in 1897 when students ‘processed’ down from campus to a local theatre to catch the winter play. After the roaring success (and rowdiness) of the first ‘procession’ the day steam-rolled into an annual Panto day, filled with elaborate costumes and designated marching routes. And later (when a day just wasn’t enough) it became a fully fledged, ball-filled Panto week.

Students swiftly took over the organising of this event in 1901 and, during the 1906 Panto Day, the Student Guild started a Panto Committee which was solely responsible for the organising of the Panto every year. The annual day became as much a part of the academic year as any lectures or exams, as can be seen through a review of the 1908 Panto Day in Sphinx, the student magazine:

“So Panto Night has come and gone – it always does that; and this year everyone had good reason to be pleased with the Committee’s efforts…It need only be said that it was no better or no worse than it is accustomed to me. Some of the gags were good; some were not. I only heard the latter. But people seemed to enjoy themselves. Everybody was pleased. Everybody was rowdy; and after all that’s the object of Panto Night. Roués of four panto nights standing (ought it to be sitting?) and green freshers like myself, all of us did our best to proclaim the fact that a year is no year without a Panto night, and that after all it is Panto night which is the typical student event much more truly than the Soiree or even a lecture.” -The Sphinx: Feb 19 1908 p141 Ref: SPEC R/LF3795.5.u55.

Initially the annual Panto day was merely for the amusement of the University and those (unfortunate) members of the public who watched in bemusement as students marched down the hill to the Shakespeare Theatre on Fraser Street, rather than to raise money for charity. It continued this way until World War One, when the annual Panto day was suspended. After the war, the Guild President (a medic who had served in the war) decided that the profits of the Panto Day should be given to the Liverpool Hospitals. In 1925 Sphinx began releasing an annual special edition entitled Pantosfinx. These were sold from a week before Panto Day and all profits also money went to the Liverpool Hospitals:

“Although she has condescended to be comic she has withal a very good business head, and is never so persuasive as when she goes collecting for the Hospitals. So we send her down to you in the hopes that you will buy, even unto a second or third edition. The greater the circulation the greater our contribution. You may think it is not worth sixpence. It may not be, to you; but it certainly is to the Hospitals. If, on the other hand, you think it is well worth sixpence, don’t let it stick at that but hand the seller a shilling, or even a pound note – there are no limits to what a seller will take, and the Hospitals will certainly be grateful for it.

From cover to cover this is a student production. We have pulled many people’s legs, and must confess that we have rather enjoyed doing it. There is satisfaction, as in Rugger, in ‘bringing one’s man down’ – it is all in the game. Nor do we make apologies for anything. If we once started to apologise we should never end. Our advertisers, our printers, prominent citizens, the police, and the general public all suffer us gladly. Their patience is exemplary: and that, as the guide remarked, ‘brings us back to the Liver Building, Ladies and Gentlemen’ – and to what we were saying at the beginning.

It only remains, therefore, to issue this IMPORTANT WARNING to all Merseyside:
PANTO DAY IS ON FRIDAY FEBRUARY 3RD.

With your co-operation, and a clear sky, we shall double last year’s collection.”- Panto Sphinx: 1928 p3. Ref: R/LF379.5.p19.u55.

Pantosfinx was filled with amusing articles and curious items. All advertisements were paid for by local businesses but produced by students, often leading to witticisms, cartoons and innuendo, rather than professional adverts. However, this was in keeping with a broader style and tone, evident in its comedic guides to Liverpool, free ‘gifts’ and short stories. Pantosfinx was a magazine filled with joyful enthusiasm, all the more obvious for the fact it was for a good cause.

sphinx upload

Pantosfinx: Top Row Advert and article from 1928 Pantosfinx, Bottom Row Article from 1929 Pantosfinx. Ref: R/LF379.5.P19.U55

The University, and its students especially, took pride in the charitable aspect of Panto Day. Happily shown in the 1931 Pantosfinx is an article showing the new ambulance some of the money had helped to procure for the city:

Article from 1931 Pantosfinx. Ref: R/LF379.5.P19.U55

Article from 1931 Pantosfinx. Ref: R/LF379.5.P19.U55

Students also took these magazines and, in the name of good fun and charity, wandered around the city dressed in ludicrous costumes selling Pantosfinx, thus raising vast amounts of money for the Liverpool Hospitals (averaging over £4000 a year in the 1930s).

Students collecting money for Panto Day and the Liverpool Hospitals. Top left: 1923 D411/2/1, Bottom left: 1950 D784/1/5, Right: 1949 D784/1/2.

Students collecting money for Panto Day and the Liverpool Hospitals.
Top left: 1923 D411/2/1, Bottom left: 1950 D784/1/5, Right: 1949 D784/1/2.

Then came the day itself: a day generally filled with departmental floats and costumes processing throughout town before finally making it to the theatre for the pantomime. Each department would be judged on its designs and how much money it had raised for charity before one would be chosen as winner.

Panto Route from 1928 Pantosfinx, ref: R/LF379.5.P19.U55

Panto Route from 1928 Pantosfinx, ref: R/LF379.5.P19.U55

Initially the University would pile into the Shakespeare Theatre on Fraser Street to watch the annual Panto. However, when the Liverpool Empire Theatre opened the Panto Committee started renting out the entire theatre for the night, where the students would put on their own spoof panto alongside the theatre’s annual pantomime. With this came the annual panto programme, a hilarious parody itself of the theatre programme structure:

 

Various Pages from the Panto Programmes, 1929-1931. Currently unlisted.

Various Pages from the Panto Programmes, 1929-1931. Currently unlisted.

In 1933 the annual Panto Day became Panto Week and the necessity of panto attendance was lost (though many balls and events were added to the itinerary). The panto spoof continued, and Pantosfinx was still well sold. After the formation of the NHS proceeds were donated to a children’s medical charity instead of the Liverpool Hospitals. Panto week later became known as ‘RAG’ (‘raise and give’) week. The University of Liverpool still has an annual charity Panto hosted by Liverpool RAG society, a student society at the university, that still fulfils the need to do ludicrous and brilliant things to raise money for charity (https://www.facebook.com/LiverpoolRAG/) .