A GIANT gorilla has helped a panto smash box office records.

Little Ernie has emerged as the unlikely star of the show in Aladdin, this year’s pantomime at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle.

The seven-metre tall animatronic ape has fully moving hands, arms, face and legs and requires seven people to operate him.

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Creators Gary and Paul Hardy-Brown took seven months to complete their handiwork, but the results have helped make Aladdin the best-selling panto in the theatre’s long history.

Halfway through the season, 82,000 tickets have been sold for the show, up five per cent on last year when Sleeping Beauty set the Theatre Royal’s existing record.

Organisers say they have also broken the record for advance ticket sales with 30,000 tickets already snapped up for next year’s offering of Jack And The Beanstalk.

Philip Bernays, chief executive of Newcastle Theatre Royal, said: "We are very pleased with how well Aladdin and Jack and The Beanstalk are doing.

"It just goes to show what a powerful pull our pantomimes have on audiences - every year people seem to come straight out of a show and into the Box Office to buy their tickets for next year."

Produced by Michael Harrison and starring father and son comedy duo Clive Webb and Dannny Adams, Aladdin runs until January 19.

Tickets priced from £11 to £28 are available from theatreroyal.co.uk or 08448 112121.