From the Hollywood heights to panto in Southampton

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Dudley Moore, comedian, musician, sex symbol and Academy Award nominee, has signed up for his latest role, playing Buttons, in Cinderella, in pantomime, opposite Danny La Rue, in Southampton.

At 55, it is his first pantomime role, and a distinct change of pace and lifestyle from Hollywood, where he has based his career for the last 18 years.

To add to the bizarreness of the career move, it is not even a pantomime which has secured a West End run. The show will start and finish at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton.

It is 15 years since Moore received an Academy Award nomination for his role as the drunken playboy in Arthur. In 1979, he became an unlikely sex symbol, playing opposite Bo Derek in 10 - itself a dramatic career change for one of the best-known faces on British TV in the Sixties, who had starred with Peter Cook in Not Only But Also - and before that had made his name in Beyond The Fringe, with Cook, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett.

But for the past few years Moore's career has stalled. An American TV comedy show flopped, and the only headlines he has made have related to the traumas in his private life. His former wives include the British actress Suzy Kendall and American star Tuesday Weld. He has now filed for divorce from his latest spouse, Nicole Rothschild, after a stormy relationship.

But while Hollywood audiences have turned from him, the British public retains affection for "Cuddly Dudley" as he has always been known, and Not Only But Also remains one of the most revered television comedy shows. It now seems that Moore sees Britain as the best place to revitalise his career, even if he is beginning the process relatively modestly.

Latterly, Moore has appeared to be returning to his first love, music (he originally won an organ scholarhsip to Oxford), performing Mozart and Gershwin at the Royal Festival Hall and composing a solo album. But his abortive attempts to return to TV and film in the US show that he wants to re-establish his career as an actor.

Last night the Mayflower's director, Dennis Hall, boasted of his coup, saying: "Dudley Moore is the biggest star ever to appear in British panto. I am told that Dudley has always wanted to appear in pantomime and I am glad he has chosen us to achieve his ambition. His style of improvisational comedy is perfect for panto."

A spokeswoman for ENB productions, which is presenting the pantomime confirmed that it would only be staged in Southampton. But she added: "We don't believe this is a come-down at all. The calibre of the people who perform in pantomimes these days speaks for itself. We're just thrilled to bits that Dudley will be appearing."

Cinderella opens on 18 December.