It was watching comedy legend Les Dawson and his dancing sidekicks The Roly Polys, with the then-Bergerac star John Nettles in Babes In The Wood in pantomime that the penny dropped for a young Ed Petrie.
‘It doesn’t get much better than that, I just remember sitting there and going: “This is amazing!”’ recalls the CBBC star with a chuckle of the show at Mayflower Theatre in Southampton.
‘That could even be why I wanted to get into this whole business. I remember looking at my dad laughing, my granddad laughing, and my mum laughing – I’d never seen everyone laughing at the same thing before. If me and my dad were laughing at something, you could guarantee my granddad wouldn’t be. Or the two of them would be laughing and I didn’t get it. But to see us all laughing, it really hit me. I think that was rare then, and even more so now – I love that idea of bringing everyone together.’
As the former continuity presenter on the children’s channel he is one of its best-known faces as he is also the host of two long-running shows, All Over the Place and Marrying Mum and Dad, among others.
Ed is clearly someone who loves the day job – and sees it as a perfect fit with panto.
‘It’s genuinely the most fun job in the world.
‘A lot of performers can still be a little bit sceptical about panto. I did a drama and theatre arts degree up at Goldsmiths College, and my final project was on panto – everyone sits around asking how do we get people into theatres? And every Christmas theatres are full with people coming to pantos, so I thought, why don’t I study this? I found it fascinating. Panto is something that’s genuinely important in people’s lives, they do it every year, and it can be some people’s first experience of going to a theatre.
‘That’s what I love about kids’ TV – it has a genuine worth to it as well. We do a show where kids plan their parents’ wedding, and you end up thinking, how on Earth did I end up here?
‘We’ve done nearly 100 weddings now, and every time, there I am at a strangers’ wedding dressed as a chicken or something, and it’s amazing – it’s going to go down in this family’s history. It’s such a lovely, heartwarming thing to do.
‘And then my comedy travelogue show, we’ve gone all over the place, and we’ve shown kids that whether you go to China, Mongolia, Australia, everyone’s as bonkers as each other and they’re all just trying to get along with each other.
‘It’s a nice, life-enhancing thing to do, I’m very lucky.’
While he loves being part of the CBBC stable, he thinks it’s a shame that children’s shows are no longer part of programming on the main channels. ‘I don’t think it’s changed how the kids perceive the shows. But it has changed how the adults perceive it, as they don’t stumble across it in the way they used to.
‘I think it’s a shame where there isn’t an hour a day on BBC1 where they showcase it and can highlight the fact that your licence fee is being spent on these great programmes.
‘It’s something that you’ll see trotted out every now and then in a magazine or newspaper article: “Oh, kids TV now isn’t what it used to be.” I can say this because I’m nothing to do with them, but shows like Horrible Histories, they’re the best kids TV shows ever made – this is the absolute golden age of children’s TV now, what the BBC is producing at the moment. I’m really honoured to be part of it.
‘When you do have kids and you sit down and see the quality of it, I’m so confident to leave my kid in front of CBeebies and the stuff he’s learned from it is mind-boggling.
‘He’s three and he was telling me why alligators are different to crocodiles – I didn’t know what the difference was!’
Ed, who grew up in Rustington, near Littlehampton, is becoming an experienced hand at panto. In Ferneham Hall’s Cinderella he is playing Buttons, a role he is already familiar with.
‘I was Buttons in the first panto I ever did, so I’m really excited to be doing it again. It makes me feel quite nostalgic to be putting this silly hat on again. And I always felt as a kid that he was one of the more interesting characters, because you’re never quite sure whether he’s happy or not at the end because he’s totally in the friend-zone with Cinderella.
‘I’m normally the idiot in panto. I did Jack and The Beanstalk up in Liverpool and I was Jack, and I didn’t enjoy that as much. I’m much more comfortable being the idiot – that’s what I’ve tried to be my whole life and get paid for it.
‘Every now and then I’ll get someone come along and want me to play an heroic part, but no…’
And Ed's looking forward to being close to his family this Christmas.
‘It’s nice to be down here for Christmas because my parents live about an hour’s drive away and we used to come down this way. I’ll actually be able to be at home for Christmas doing panto, and I kind of feel like I know what it is to be a south coast person. I know what it’s like to live somewhere where everyone comes down in the summer going: “Oh, this is lovely!” And then in the winter when you’re getting battered by the wind and the rain, you really need something to cheer you up – like a panto.’
Cinderella is at Ferneham Hall in Fareham from December 14-January 5. Adult tickets from £14.50. Go to fernehamhall.co.uk.