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Thirty years youn ng; They have been a partnership for 30 years and now Maxie and Mitch are starring in their 25th pantomime together. Entertainment Editor GORDON BARR went behind the scenes of Dick Whittington, which opens next week at The Journal Tyne Theatre in Newcastle.

WHEN Maxie and Mitch take to the stage of the Journal Tyne Theatre next week it will be their 25th pantomime together.

Few showbiz partnerships enjoy a longevity like that, but Maxie and Mitch, aka Peter MacIntyre and Billy Mitchell, have been a duo for even longer ... three decades to be precise.

Audiences know them best these days as stalwarts and co-founders of the Newcastle Pantomime Company, alongside Brendan Healy. Their latest festive treat, Dick Whittington, in which they play the parts of Little Johnny Underpants (Mitch) and Captain Scuttle (Maxie), opens at the theatre on December 9 for a three-and-a-half-week run.

I catch up with them during the first week of rehearsals and early indications are the now-famous Geordie panto will be as much fun as we've all come to expect. The pair have unforced, terrific banter both on stage and off ... something that comes from working 30 years together.

It was their love of music that first introduced them to one another. They both came up on the folk music scene in the region in the 70s.

Both played in a band called Meat and Two Veg.

Maxie takes up the story: "There were nine people in the band. Sometimes nine turned up and sometimes only two, and one night it was just Maxie and Mitch, "We were just as loud and got more money, so we decided to become Maxie and Mitch."

Backtrack a little further and Mitch, who was born in Dilston, near Hexham, and lived in West Wylam, then Newcastle and North Shields, was making something of a name for himself in a band called The Canny Families.

In 1971 he emigrated to Vancouver, Canada, staying for a couple of years before hearing Lindisfarne were splitting up, encouraging him to come back to join the offshoot band, Jack The Lad. He laughs: "I gave up a promising career in ovens, and joined Jack The Lad. We made four albums over five years then I met Maxie."

His new pal was born in Gateshead and grew up in Hebburn. Leaving school he went to play football in Carlisle before returning to work as area manager for a steel company. "I was interested in folk music with a bunch of friends, all pals, and we set up our own folk club in Jarrow and formed a band and started singing around the clubs," recalls Maxie.

"Many years later when Jack The Lad formed, a couple of the guys who had been in my band as well, left to join them.

"That is where Mitch and the connection became stronger."

Maxie and Mitch became a talked-about comedy music duo, popular both here and abroad.

"Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Europe. We travelled the world," Mitch remembers.

After five years they got their first panto.

An agent in London suggested going into panto and managed to persuade the Theatre Royal in Lincoln to take them on as the double act Ping and Pong in Aladdin.

"It was a wonderful experience that we both loved. We were away form home about seven weeks," says Maxie.

"It was just a wonderful company and we had a great time."

More pantomimes followed and after the then-Newcastle Opera House went into the doldrums for a period, they decided it needed life put back into it and, along with Brendan Healy, formed Newcastle Pantomime Company.

"It was very Cliff Richard ... 'let's do this show together!' " laughs Mitch.

Their pantomimes have become some of the most popular of recent years in the region. "The idea was always to try and set this thing up as a true, traditional, clean, family fun panto," explains Maxie.

"Keeping all those elements in and building it up and not having to bring people in. We always maintained you could put a pantomime on and you could always get people here in the North East as good as anywhere in the country.

"We also didn't fancy paying pounds 25,000 for someone!" Mitch continues: "The whole point of getting soap stars was to get bums on seats. We couldn't afford to bring those people in and, to be brutal, most couldn't do the job."

Maxie adds: "With Brendan and ourselves, when we do this panto we can see what works and we change things as it settles in to suit.

"People like the fact we stay true to tradition. Some pantomimes don't bring the kids on stage now, but audiences love seeing the children on stage getting interviewed and having a bit of fun.

"All those ingredients keep people coming back year after year and say it was so much fun."

With so many years in the business - and so many pantomimes - do they have a favourite? Mitch says: "Favourite parts for ers, as you can be as funny possible."

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VETERANS Maxie and Mitch have played a whole host of characters in panto over the years
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 2, 2011
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