COMEDIAN Ted Robbins has apologised amid claims he upset a child with learning difficulties on stage during panto.
The 55-year-old funnyman, who lives in Rossendale, said seven-year-old Sebastian Pautsch, who suffers from autism, was in a group of children who were invited on stage during a performance of Aladdin at Preston Guild Hall last month.
Mr Robbins admitted suggesting the little boy’s behaviour was unusual, but said staff had failed to mention that he had autism.
He said he was ‘mortified’ and ‘genuinely sorry’ that he had upset the child, and that he had personally apologised to the family.
Mr Robbins, who presents a show on Radio Lancashire, said: “I always have a bit of a laugh and a joke with the kids, but I think his mum thought I was mocking him.
“My first thing was that I was mortified because I would never purposely upset a kid. I have kids of my own and have spent my life working with kids in pantos.
“This little boy, looking back now, did behave in a certain way and I said ‘have you had a lot of additives?’ or something like that.
“I think I said something along the lines of ‘there’s 500 kids in this theatre and I get this one’.
“He wasn’t upset on the stage. If I’d have known he was upset I wouldn’t have used any lines of jocularity.
“There have been times when I have thought a child was upset and I have said ‘do you want to go back to mummy and daddy?’ and made sure they got back with some sweeties.
“I’m not a cruel comic and I never have been. Anyone who knows me will tell you that, if anything, I’m overly soft.”
Following the incident on December 22, theatre bosses yesterday confirmed the boy’s mother, Rowena Face, had lodged an official complaint about comments made by Mr Robbins.
The comedian, who played Widow Twankey, said he had since contacted the family to apologise.
He said: “I said to his mum, perhaps I should have known he had learning difficulties, but little lads act differently all the time, especially if they’re nervous or overwhelmed.
“I have personally apologised to Rowena and asked if there was anything I could do, so I have left that with them.
“I would like to think Sebastian’s family and myself are on good terms now.
“I’m genuinely sorry that I upset him. If I’d have know he had learning difficulties I wouldn’t have set about things in the way I did.
“I’ve been in this business for donkey’s years and this is the first time anybody has ever complained about anything like this.”
Bernard Hayes, Preston City Council’s deputy chief executive, said an investigation into the incident was under way.
The family has been offered a free family ticket to attend next year’s panto at the Guild Hall, he added.
A spokesman for the Guild Hall said manager Chris Haylett had also written a letter of apology to the family.