Years of hard work culminate in the Banbury Millennium festival this weekend. A pageant, entitled Merrie England, illuminates Broughton Castle - and marks the Queen Mother's centenary.

The open-air show is staged in the castle courtyard, generously donated by the Lord and Lady Saye and Sele. A 250-strong cast is joined by hunting dogs, scuba divers and Sea Cadets.

The comic operetta, written by Edward German, is set in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and is packed with intrigue, romance, witches and yeoman. It contains many well-known songs, including Oh Peaceful England and Jerusalem.

"We decided four years ago to do this production. By sheer coincidence, the opening night is the 100th birthday of the Queen Mother," explains assistant director Janet Bishop.

The Queen Mum's banner and coronation song have been woven into the elaborate performance, which also includes an Elizabethan Fair on Saturday and Sunday. "There will be strolling magicians, mummers, Shakespearean actors, madrigal singers, falconry and a band," she says, " as well as picnic space and carnival rides."

Director Andrew Wilson Jenner adds: "This has been an extensive project, involving at least 600 people and the Banbury Operatic Society, Banbury Symphony Orchestra, Banbury Cross Players, Banbury Lions Club, the Rotary Club of Banbury Cherwell and many other groups. Sponsors include Chiltern Railways, the National Lottery and the Cherwell District Council.

Any profits left - after paying the 60,000 production bill will go to a charity chosen by Lady Saye and Sele. "It's essentially a Banbury production, so it should be a Banbury charity," she reflects, "perhaps Horton General Hospital Children's ward."

For further information, visit or telephone 07020 936882. Tickets range from 8.00 to 15.00, with family passes available. The castle is five miles from Junction 11 of the M40, or two miles west of Banbury Cross on the B4035 Shipston-on-Stour road.

**Broughton Castle is open until 14 Septemeber. Ring 01295 262624 for further details.