EVERY pantomime is a challenge, but children’s TV presenter Chris Jarvis is particularly excited to be starring in and directing Dick Whittington this year at Lighthouse, Poole.

For not only does it bring him back home to his beloved Dorset for a few weeks, it’s the first time he has played the title role on stage.

“I’ve done television, radio and amateur, but never on the stage,” he says. “It makes a great experience because I’m coming to it so fresh. All pantos have a formula, but it’s great to get your head around something new.

“And it was a lovely surprise to be asked to come back to Dorset because at the moment my dad has been quite ill and I’ve relocated to Surrey, but Bournemouth is still home.”

This is also Chris’ first pantomime at Lighthouse, although he is very familiar with the venue as patron of Wessex Youth Orchestra.

“This is such an intimate venue – you can see every face and hear every voice. The crew, some of them have been here for decades, and they know every inch of the building so you’re ahead of the game.”

Chris has written the script with fellow TV presenter and actor Peter Duncan who, with his production partner Darren Reeves, has co-produced panto at Lighthouse since 2016.

“It’s a scream,” he grins. “Peter is wonderfully bananas. He is a great one for going off on tangents and that’s exactly what you need in a panto because it makes it different. I think the trick is to tell the story that everyone knows and wants to hear, but to go off on tangents which are surprising, funny, engaging and use the cast well.”

Chris discusses the lengthy writing and pre-production process, the hoops he has to jump through and logistical challenges he must overcome. It’s obvious though that he is relishing the prospect of simply getting on with the show.

“I spent a lot of time on this show and I’m not regretting it,” he says. “It’s a silly show, a daft show and we decided on calling it a feel-good pantomime because of the story – it’s rags to riches, it’s about being resilient, it’s about all the things that a lot of the children and grown ups are talking about. It’s also feel good in terms of an alternative to what’s going on in the real world, which is a lot of people arguing, a lot of fake news, a lot of posturing and although we’re not at war actually we are hearing those drums and this is a real escape.”

Chris is particularly thrilled to be working with Richard Gibson (familiar to many as ‘Allo ‘Allo’s Herr Flick) who he first met in panto in Guildford in 1995.

‘That was my first panto and we had a great time. If we’d lived in the same town we’d have been bosom buddies, he’s a scream, such a funny guy. I don’t know whether people quite realise how much of ’Allo ’Allo was him – David Croft saw him messing around with that character and wrote it in. He has written bits in this script as well.”

Chris hasn’t missed a panto season since that first one in Guildford, and for all his success in television following his debut in The Broom Cupboard on Children’s BBC in 1992 and CBeebies’ long-running Show Me Show Me with Pui Fan Lee, it all comes back to working in front of a live audience.

“As a kid I did amateur pantomimes and I remember we had a lighting guy who used to work for BT who took two weeks off work to do the panto and here I am lucky enough to do it for a job – how privileged is that? I never forget that.”

* Dick Whittington opens tomorrow with performances running at various times until New Year's Eve.