Of all the stories of ghostly happenings in the Theatre, the Butterfly phenomenon is the most authenticated and amazing.
Its weird happenings and prophecies have been witnessed by hundreds of people, including stars, audience and staff.
The butterfly made its debut in 1948. Part of the pantomime that year, Little Red Riding Hood, was a butterfly ballet with dancing girls dressed as butterflies and a glittering butterfly backdrop. During the rehearsal a dead butterfly was found on stage and shortly afterwards, while theatre manager and pantomime producer Reg Maddox was lighting the scene, he dropped dead of a heart attack. The scene was promptly withdrawn as an omen of bad luck. Just before the pantomime was due to open a live butterfly was seen fluttering around backstage. The butterfly ballet was restored to the show which went on to be a huge success. Ever since this time the butterfly has been the sign of a successful pantomime. Sightings have been extraordinary. The most memorable occurred on the opening night of Aladdin in 1979 when Leslie Crowther was playing Wishee-Washee.
“I must say that nothing was further from my mind when I prepared in the wings to make my entrance in the Boxing Day matinee, but then a miracle happened. After Reg Maddox had allowed me sufficient time to establish rapport with the audience he fluttered down from the spotlight in the form of a tortoiseshell butterfly and alighted on my left shoulder! I gently scooped it/him up and then released it/him into the wings, meanwhile telling the audience that I would tell them at the end of the performance why I was looking so gob-smacked – which I did.
Dear old Reg – he stuck around for days and days. Sometimes we spotted him in the front of the house and sometimes back-stage, but I’ll never forget the first time he fluttered down from the spotlight. And yes! The pantomime was a big success.”
(extract from The Bonus of Laughter by Leslie Crowther & Jean Crowther)
Since then, the butterfly scenery has hung constantly in the fly tower. During the 1981 renovation it was removed from the site by members of Bath Operatic & Dramatic Society in order not to tempt bad luck for theatre staff. It was reinstated before the 1982 re-opening and remains high in the flies to this day. While it was absent from the building in February 1981 members of the stage crew had begun to sort through a collection of theatrical debris in an old store cupboard when they came across a heavy wooden box. When the box was opened six tortoiseshell butterflies flew out and away. Inside the box was a photograph of Reg Maddox. In more recent years the butterfly fluttered in to greet Honor Blackman due was doing a press call in October 1985 and was photographed with the would-be Demon Queen. It was outside tapping on the window the day the Box office reached £100,000 another year. Few years pass without it being sited at some apposite moment.
Photo credit: Reg Burnard
Join the ‘Ghost Walk’ which runs every weekday evening from 8pm, starting at the ‘Garrick’s Head’. It takes you on a fascinating tour of Bath’s most haunted places.