The man behind May McFettridge said that the popularity of pantomime has grown drastically since he first began performing in the “bad old days”.
Seasonal stage stalwart John Linehan, now in his 25th year of performing in Belfast, said the numbers coming to the Grand Opera House’s annual run of shows is far greater than he remembers it during the turn of the ‘1990s.
A bronze bust of his character has been unveiled in recent weeks inside the opera house to mark his quarter-century of pantomime.
In addition, one of the stars’ dressing rooms has also been named after him.
Speaking about the audience numbers, Mr Linehan, 63, said yesterday: “It’s unbelievable. It just seems to be a full house nearly every night and day.
“Compare that to when I first started out, when they were still blowing up and shooting and killing.
“At some of the matinees you’d only have had 200 to 300 at it in the bad old days, but the show still had to go on.”
By comparison, they are probably getting in about 950 at the moment for the Aladdin shows.
He also moved to quash any rumour that he was to leave the limelight.
He has a line in this year’s production, telling the audience that while he usually mocks them during the performance, he will not being doing it again next year.
Some misconstrued this as a retirement announcement, but he said: “I’m definitely staying put for the foreseeable future.”
His current rota sees him perform two shows a day, six days a week, and asked why he continues to do it, he said: “Anything to get me out of the house”.
Paul Johnson, manager of the Qdos theatre company, told the News Letter: “He’s been here such a long time, he’s a sort of fixture.
“I don’t know what we’d do with the pantomime without him to be honest...
“He’s the kingpin of the pantomime.”
According to Mr Johnston, ticket sales have probably grown on a decade ago, with roughly 70,000 sold for this year’s run of 86 shows (of which there have so far been about 35).
He said they have now begun selling tickets for next year too.
“I think it’s because a bit of fun still goes down doesn’t it?” said the 56-year-old from Lowestoft, Norfolk.
“The pantomime here is always much more popular than when I’m back home in England.
“We get people from Derry, people right down from Dublin, people come from all over the place.”
The run continues to Sunday January 18, and began on November 29.