TAUNTON Wayfarers have won the top pantomime award from the Somerset Fellowship of Drama – for the second consecutive time.

Sleeping Beauty, staged at Taunton Brewhouse in January, was best overall pantomime in the Cinderella Trophy Competition.

The society also won a string of individual prizes during an awards’ evening at Taunton Rugby Club.

Director Chris Holman-Holmes said: "I’m so proud of people’s efforts, time and contributions. It just shows the arts are at the forefront of everything we do."

The panto was praised as "spectacular, colourful and magical".

Playing Old King Cole in Sleeping Beauty was Ray Jarvis, the troupe’s longest-performing member.

The Wayfarers started in 1962, performing sketches and concerts before their first pantomime in 1969.

Ray, who joined as a dancer for Robinson Crusoe in 1975, remembers when they produced their shows at St Andrew’s Hall, Rowbarton.

Behind the stage was a drill hall along with a kitchen divided by a washing line which doubled as the changing room, the sheets separating the men’s area from the women’s quarters.

There was always a barrel of beer in the corner.

For their last show there, Dick Whittington, not everything went to plan. At the opening of Act Two, all the dancers were supposed to be on stage. But when the curtain went back, only Ray and his partner were in view, so they had to commence until the others gradually came on.

In 1978, the Wayfarers moved to the Brewhouse with Cinderella.

The following year, Ray played the title role in Jack and the Beanstalk.

The Wayfarers staged a summer show in 1985 with Half a Sixpence, shortly before Ray's wedding. He posed with bride-to-be, Wendy, in the production’s vintage car.

In 1987, for the society’s 25th anniversary, Prince Edward sent his congratulations. The Wayfarers cast Ray as Buttons in Cinderella, but cancelled the opening night after heavy snow.

When the pantomime was revived eight years later, Shetland ponies took part.

"I’ve had the opportunity to play so many different characters, from link man to one of the ugly sisters. But I never dreamed I’d ever be dame until asked to play Madame Fifi Camembert for Beauty and the Beast in 2001," Ray recalls.

He was the first person to fly at the Brewhouse as Mabel the housekeeper in Peter Pan (2005).

Other roles have included Mama Macaroni in Pinocchio (2009), Captain Cuttlefish in Dick Whittington (2013) and Hans Christian Andersen in The Snow Queen (2019).

Ray has also beavered backstage as assistant director, wardrobe assistant, dresser and make-up artist and served as chairman of the society.

"The Wayfarers is a family and I’m almost the patriarch," says the former travel agent and dealership accountant.

"Many different families are still involved - three generations on. In our last production, we had a fourth-generation member. Albert Hacker, who was in the chorus, is the great-grandson of Pearl Churchill who appeared in many of the early shows."

For a number of years, Ray and Wendy ran their own costume business, providing attire for pantomimes and musicals across the country.

The Wayfarers Pantomime Society's next production is Dick Whittington in January, and Ray, 71, has no intention of hanging up his costumes just yet.