He’s behind you! A young Ant and Dec plus 11 other surprising Mackem panto stars

Ant and Dec cuddling up to a dame in a dress in the Empire panto Snow White in 1998.
Ant and Dec cuddling up to a dame in a dress in the Empire panto Snow White in 1998.
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A galaxy of stars have shone in Sunderland pantos over the years... Oh yes they have!

From Basil Brush and a haunted Les Dawson, to Mickey Rooney and Ant and Dec - all have taken part in festive frolics at the Empire.

Mark Little, from Neighbours, auditioning dogs to play Bouncer in the 1991 Empire panto Snow White.

Mark Little, from Neighbours, auditioning dogs to play Bouncer in the 1991 Empire panto Snow White.

Do you remember any of these stars or shows?

1: Ant and Dec crossed the Tyne/Wear border in 1998 to appear in Snow White - and won the hearts of Wearsiders with their jokes and slapstick routines, despite their Geordie roots.

2: Film star Mickey Rooney swapped Hollywood for Sunderland in 2007, making his panto debut as Baron Hardup in Cinderella - at the age of 87. He died in 2014.

3: Sale of the Century star Nicholas Parsons joined forces with Geoffrey Hughes, perhaps better known as Corrie’s binman Eddie Yeats, for Jack and the Beanstalk in 1983. The pair were snapped browsing for bargains at Sunderland’s fish quay.

Sunderland Empire panto stars Nicholas Parsons and Geoffrey Hughes pictured at Sunderland Fish Quay in December 1983. The pair were appearing in Jack and the Beanstalk.

Sunderland Empire panto stars Nicholas Parsons and Geoffrey Hughes pictured at Sunderland Fish Quay in December 1983. The pair were appearing in Jack and the Beanstalk.

4: Les Dawson - forever associated with droll mother-in-law jokes and deliberately bad piano playing - left audiences rolling in the aisles when he starred in Jack and the Beanstalk in 1989. But he never forgot his visit to the Empire - as he claimed he was haunted by the ghost of Carry On star Sid James.

5: The stars of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum pulled in the crowds in 1982, when Melvyn Hayes and Windsor Davies took to the stage in Babes in the Wood. The actors also “starred” in the annual Jopling’s Santa Parade that year, with thousands lining the streets to see them.

6: Perhaps one of the most unlikely of panto performers was Sixties singing superstar Frank Ifield, but his appearance in Babes in the Woods in 1977 brought the crowds flocking.

7: Are You Being Served actor Reggie Dixon not only had a whale of a time as the dame in Humpty Dumpty in 1973 - but he also managed to get up close and personal with Sunderland’s FA Cup.

Empire panto star Reggie Dixon, who was appearing in Humpty Dumpty, pictured with Sunderland's FA Cup in 1973.

Empire panto star Reggie Dixon, who was appearing in Humpty Dumpty, pictured with Sunderland's FA Cup in 1973.

8: Basil Brush starred in the Empire’s 1979 panto Dick Whittington and broke Box Office records - Boom Boom!

9: Only Fools and Horses star John Challis made a truly evil Captain Hook in Peter Pan back in 2009. But, as kids hissed and booed, so his witty one-liners reduced adults to fits of laughter.

10: Hi de Hi star Su Pollard swapped Peggy’s nylon cleaning overall for a posh frock when she took on the role of the Wicked Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 2014.

11: Comedian Mark Little left a Christmas “down under” with the Neighbours cast to perform in Snow White in 1991. He even got to star alongside a “Bouncer the dog” look-alike - after auditions were held for local canine stars.

Mickey Rooney with his co-stars in the 2008/9 Empire panto Cinderella, plus Barbara Windsor and Steve McFadden.

Mickey Rooney with his co-stars in the 2008/9 Empire panto Cinderella, plus Barbara Windsor and Steve McFadden.

12: Heartbeat and Carry On actor Bill Maynard performed in panto at the Empire in 1958 - but spent his spare time visiting those in need, such as entertaining patients at Havelock Hospital.

Only Fools and Horses star John Challis as Captain Hook in Peter Pan in 2009.

Only Fools and Horses star John Challis as Captain Hook in Peter Pan in 2009.

The stars of It Ain't Half Hot Mum - Melvyn Hayes and Windsor Davies - meet with panto dancers from the Kathleen Davis Dancing School in 1982. Left to right:  Kristy McDonald (9), Claire Bramley (8), Kim Dormand (8) and Kelly McDonald (11). The panto that year was Babes in the Wood.

The stars of It Ain't Half Hot Mum - Melvyn Hayes and Windsor Davies - meet with panto dancers from the Kathleen Davis Dancing School in 1982. Left to right: Kristy McDonald (9), Claire Bramley (8), Kim Dormand (8) and Kelly McDonald (11). The panto that year was Babes in the Wood.

Panto star Frank Ifield at Sunderland Empire in 1977, when he was appearing in Babes in the Woods.

Panto star Frank Ifield at Sunderland Empire in 1977, when he was appearing in Babes in the Woods.

Panto stars Bill Maynard and David Hughes entertain patients at Havelock Hospital in 1958.

Panto stars Bill Maynard and David Hughes entertain patients at Havelock Hospital in 1958.