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The Panto season is back...

... cue the boos, hisses, bad jokes, dodgy dames and thigh-slapping boys

Given its status as Britain's one truly original art form, and its noble antecedents – commedia dell'arte, Georgian theatre, Victorian music hall and variety – you might think that pantomime would be paid more respect. Good panto is one of life's great pleasures, but it's still dismissed in some quarters as a "low art", whatever that may mean.

Much of that is snobbery from theatre itself, where some "serious" actors can barely hide their disdain. But most of the blame must go to those producers who maximise ticket sales by casting soap actors, reality-television stars or minor celebrities, who are having their 15 minutes of fame even though they have no discernible talent for acting, dancing or singing.

In the hundreds of shows around the UK this year, Americans are noticeable by their absence, even though David Hasselhoff (not great, but he gets the joke) is back for a second helping. Long gone from cast lists are Australian soap stars, who have been replaced by any number of former participants in reality TV shows, and the odd ex-MP. (Fill in your own joke here.)

Also missing this year is the £100,000-a-week superstar. Cilla Black and Joan Collins were rumoured to have commanded that figure last year. The biggest stars, the ones with their names above the title, usually earn anywhere between £5,000 and £50,000 a week, depending on their pulling power.

Much of panto's appeal lies in its predictability: we know the stories and characters, and indeed can often mouth the punchlines. But it's a poor show that doesn't include topical jokes about notorious names in the news. Expect lots of references to Liam Fox, Silvio Berlusconi and the Greeks, while I'm betting that at least a few Ugly Sisters will be named Beatrice and Eugenie (those royal wedding hats) or even, with a hint of irony, Kate and Pippa.