IT’S the unmistakable face of John Inman.

The star of the popular TV show, Are You Being Served?, was in Oxford in December 1979 to take the lead role in Mother Goose, the pantomime at the New Theatre in George Street.

For several years, the Oxford Mail had run an appeal for new or good secondhand toys, to be given to needy children as Christmas presents.

The reward for handing in a toy was a free ticket to the panto’s first night or dress rehearsal.

Readers would besiege the Mail’s tiny city centre office in New Inn Hall Street with all manner of toys, and every seat in the theatre would be taken.

John Inman is pictured with some of the audience and a selection of the hundreds of toys that were donated.

It was the second time in 10 years that he had appeared in panto in Oxford – he previously played one of the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella, featuring Roy Castle, Nicholas Parsons and Basil Brush.

He broke box office records when he appeared in Mother Goose in successive years from 1976 at Wimbledon, Bristol and Nottingham.

And he did it again at Oxford.

When the show opened a week before Christmas 1979, 47,000 seats had already been booked.

General manager Jo Weston said: “It has broken all advance box office records for the theatre and has assured us of the biggest pantomime success Oxford has ever seen.”

Oxford Mail theatre critic Don Chapman was full of praise for John Inman and the show. He wrote: “It suits his warm personality and delicate throwaway style of comedy, his obvious talents as a character actor, and gives him plenty of opportunities to indulge his skills as drag performer and quick-change artist. His performance is in the classical pantomime dame tradition and it sets the tone for a show that, for once, does genuinely deserve the label of family entertainment.

“If it has a weakness, it is that singing is not Mr Inman’s strongest point. But what it lacks in vocal power, it most than makes up for in spectacle and comedy.”

  • The Oxford Mail will not be published next Monday, Boxing Day, so Memory Lane will be back on Monday, January 2.