THE last thing David Slattery-Christy expected when he took his family to a Christmas pantomime was to find the perfect solution to a problem which had been nagging away at him for years.

But that visit has directly led to the world premiere of Dan Leno - a Royal Jester which forms part of next week’s Lytham Festival.

“I’d been researching Dan Leno for a number of years but I never thought I would find anyone who could play him on stage,” said playwright and author David.

“I’d known Steve Royle who was starring in the panto for years from when we worked at Granada together but I hadn’t seen him for ages. The moment I saw Steve on stage, all I could think of was Dan Leno. It was spooky in a way.”

Leno was the foremost comedian of the age - a music hall star who packed out theatres around the country in the 1890s and around the turn of the century. His blend of physical comedy and routines have inspired every generation of comedian since - starts such as Stan Laurel and Peter Sellers have acknowledged their debt to his style.

“When you look at his routines now as words on paper they don’t automatically strike you as hilarious,” said David. “But it wasn’t what he said, it was his physical comedy. I have read accounts of people seeing him stage and he would have a whole theatre in fits of laughter without saying a single word.”

Having seen the man he knew could play Dan Leno, David had to set about writing the play.

“I saw Steve in the middle of December and from that point over Christmas I wrote the script. I took it in for Steve to look at a couple of days before he finished the panto,” he said.

“Initially he thought I was completely mad to walk in and put a script in front of him but he then said that several people over the years had said that he reminded them of Dan Leno.”

Steve showed the script to Peter Kay, a good friend, who told him that he should get involved in the project.

“I took that as a major complement,” said David.

Dan Leno - a Royal Jester is set in the final weeks of the comedian’s life, the second time he had been in the Camberwell Asylum.

“At the time people assumed that he had either gone a bit mad or had syphilis,” said David. “But now it is fairly well accepted that he had a undiagnosed brain tumour which is what killed him. He was only 42. Sadly at the time they didn’t understand these things. If anyone went a bit weird they would put it down to syphilis.”

In the play Dan Leno looks back on his life from his early days touring the music halls with his family to topping the bill at the Drury Lane Theatre.

“We see some of his original sketches which Steve and I have worked on and brought back to life,” said David, “and also hear music hall songs that would have been very popular at the time.

“It’s a very funny play but it has a real poignancy to it too.

“I am sure there are generations of comedians who don’t realise how much they owe to Dan Leno.”

Dan Leno - a Royal Jester, Wesley Hall Theatre, Lytham, Wednesday, July 18 to Sunday, July 22. Details from