As a youngster growing up in Whalley Range, comedian Jason Manford admits that Christmas ‘was everything’.

“It was the biggest thing when I was a kid,” said the star of the region’s biggest pantomime this festive season – Jack and the Beanstalk at Manchester Opera House.

Lancashire Telegraph: Jason Manford in Jack and the Beanstalk (Picture: Phil Tragen)

“It’s only now looking back that I realise that my mum and dad got everything from the catalogue. “My mum would sign up for things on an 18 month deal and, of course, the year only lasts 12 months so it was all done on the never never.

“But you know what? We had a great time. We’d just make the most of it. Christmas was all about family; it was all about food.”

But for the young Jason it wasn’t about pantomime until he was part of a school trip so see a local Christmas show.

“Unfortunately as a kid the theatre wasn’t ever in my realm,” he said. “It didn’t cross our minds that it was for people like us.

“But one year at school, I think a charity paid for us all to go. It was the first introduction to a pantomime and it just blew my mind. You were allowed to shout out and join in. It wasn’t stuffy theatre watching Hamlet. It was just stupid, you could shout out and the people on stage would shout back at you - it was just a revelation.”

Fast forward some 30 years and Jason is preparing to star in his second panto in Manchester having played Captain Hook in The Pantomime Adventures of Peter Pan last year.

“Michael Harrison who runs Crossroads, the company behind the show had asked me to do one for a few years and I nearly did one but lockdown struck so that never happened,” said Jason.

“When he asked me again last year I just thought ‘why not? It might be fun’.

“And I loved it. Someone had told me it’s somewhere in between doing stand up and doing musical theatre, a sort of halfway point and that’s definitely what it was. We just had such a great time that while we were still doing Peter Pan and I’d already signed up for this year.”

Lancashire Telegraph: Jason Manford as Jack and Ben Nickless as Silly Simon. Phil Tragen

Jack and the Beanstalk will see Jason reunited with his comedy partner in crime, Britain’s Got Talent star Ben Nickless.

“Ben’s done hundreds of pantomimes,” said Jason, “and he took me under his wing last year. We just got on so well from the start, it was such a laugh.”

Jason, 42, is one of the UK’s most popular entertainers, having first come to public attention as a stand-up. He recently announced a new stand-up tour – Manford for All Seasons - becoming the first comedian to schedule a date at the new. multi-million pound Co-op Live Arena in Manchester in October 2025.

He has also developed a career in musical theatre starring in several West End and touring shows including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Producers.

And he is a regular presenter on TV, having had a spell on the One Show as well as hosting the quiz show Unbeatable and the BBC’s Big Night of Musicals.

But you get the feeling that his new-found love for pantomime has got him genuinely excited.

“You become part of people’s tradition which is really special,” he said. ““This year my son started at infant school and I bumped into some of the parents and they said ’oh we saw you in the panto last year’.

Lancashire Telegraph: Myra Dubois, Ben Nickless, Jason Manford and Emma Williams  and ‘friends’                       (Picture: Phil Tragen)

“When you’re in the show you forget there’s 2,000 people twice a day coming to the show.

“I live round here and I’ve just been spending the year bumping into people who went to the pantomime.

“I was even on a stag do in Vilamoura in Portugal recently when some fella came up to me at two in the morning, absolutely hammered, saying ‘I saw you as Captain Hook’. It’s amazing.”

Given his new-found love for pantomime, it’s surprising that it took Jason so long to do one.

“One of the reasons I haven’t worked over Christmas in the past is because of the kids,” he said. He has four children from his first marriage and two with his second wife, TV producer Lucy Dyke.

“Last year there was a bit of umming and aahing about doing the Opera House but actually as hard as the schedule was it meant I was still around for drop offs in the morning and then they could come and hang out in between shows with me and could come in the evening to watch.

“They were part of the reason too why I agreed to do another. They were like ‘go on, do it again dad’.”

The Opera House pantomime is recognised as being one of the biggest, most extravagant in the country and Jack and the Beanstalk will enhance that reputation.

“I think at one point there was a little stigma attached to doing panto,” said Jason.“But the team at Crossroads have wanted to change that. They wanted people who were current so that, for the audience, it feels like a treat, they are getting to see people they have just watched on a TV show.

“That is really important to me as well. And the production values are amazing.

“When you see the show and the money they spend on it, it’s amazing.

“This is a full blown West End show in Manchester. We’ve got Vegas-level special effects – in Peter Pan we had this crocodile that was the size of a house and this year we’ve got a giant you just have to see.

“But I think my costume is a bit of a come down this year from Captain Hook. But then again, at least I’ve got my arm back this Christmas!”

Jack and the Beanstalk also stars the self-declared ‘Siren from South Yorkshire’, the larger-than-life Myra DuBois, West End star Emma Williams as Princess Jill and Samara Casteallo as The Spirit of the Beans.

Jack and the Beanstalk is at Manchester Opera House from December 2 until New Year’s Eve. For details visit