Peter Pan

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In 1902 J M Barrie wrote a book entitled The Little White Bird. Hidden within its pages was a character who became something of a favourite with Barrie - and the rest of the world - Peter Pan: 'the boy who wouldn't grow up'.

By 1904 Barrie had perfected the character and written a play using Peter in the title role. Despite early rejections on the grounds that the play was too difficult to produce, it was accepted by a good friend of Barrie's, Charles Frohman, who agreed to stage it at the Duke of York's Theatre in London. It opened on December 27 of that year and was an instant success.

Unaware of how popular the play (and character) would become, this early production set a precedent for the future. The title character was played by a woman, Nina Boucicault, a tradition which would continue well into the 1980's1. Two actors were required to take double roles: Mr Darling/Captain Hook and Nana the dog/the crocodile. Although written as a play, it was soon established as a 'pantomime' in the eyes of the British with the introduction of familiar phrases such as: He's behind you' and 'Oh no I didn't - oh yes you did'

By 1905 Peter Pan had flown the Atlantic, debuting in New York. It was to remain and enjoy consecutive performances in both countries for the next 50 years, featuring such well-known thespians as Gladys Cooper, Haley Mills, Elsa Lanchester and Jean Arthur in the role of Peter and Charles Laughton, Allastair Sim, Ron Moody, Boris Karloff, Danny Kaye and Joss Ackland as Hook.

Although the part of Wendy was secondary to that of Peter Pan, the name2 was to find fame both as a new name for girls3 and also as the 'Wendy' of 'Wendy House' - a house in miniature, the equivalent of a 'den' for boys. Other popular characters, apart from the Darling children and lead roles, include Tinkerbell the fairy - If you believe... clap your hands; don't let Tink die', Smee, the inept pirate bosun, Tiger Lily the 'redskin' and the Lost Boys.

In 1953 Disney produced a full-length animated feature film. The outcome was a much lighter, humourous version which included slapstick sections and was less dark than the original. It is difficult to know whether the mention in the song refers to the Disney film, the original stage play or the book, Peter and Wendy, written in 1911.

Further Reading: Edited Guide Entry Peter Pan

1Although a German production cast a man in the role as early as 1952.2Which Barrie invented.3The name Wendy regularly appears in the top one hundred baby names, peaking in the 60s and 70s.

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