Berwick Kaler’s York panto frock finds a new home – in a London museum!

Berwick Kaler in his ‘final’ panto, The Grand Old Dame of York. Photograph: Anthony Robling
9 Oct 2019 @ 6.13 pm
| Entertainment

He’s a York national treasure – and now Berwick Kaler is set to feature in a top museum.

Not the legendary panto dame himself, but one of his amazing frocks.

A dress that he wore during his final pantomime at York Theatre Royal has now been donated to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London for its theatre collection.

Berwick retired as the panto dame in February after 40 years at the end of the last panto run earlier this year.

To mark the milestone a costume from his final show The Grand Old Dame of York will join other York pantomime material in the V&A collection – including a limited edition candlesnuffer in the shape of the dame, backstage photographs of his last pantomime and a DVD copy of his pantomime Dick Turpin along with costume and set designs.

The donated dress is Berwick’s ‘script costume’ – designed by Mark Walters – worn in the opening scenes of the show.

Colourful and witty

‘The costume really is great – so colourful, witty and well-made’

Catherine Haill, Curator of Popular Entertainment at the V&A, said:

  • Of all the costumes we could have wished for, this is absolutely the one that tops the list. It is such a witty – with its Elizabethan ruffles and jaunty ink-pot and quill fascinator – and elegant summation of Berwick’s last pantomime and its 39 forebears.

    It will be a great addition to our collections. We also have the backstage photographs to add to our record of the momentous last production, along with the programme and poster.

    The costume really is great – so colourful, witty and well-made. It’s fantastic to know that Berwick’s incredible career will be represented in the V&A by a costume that reflects his 40 years of scriptwriting, and includes the iconic boots.

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Photograph: Diliff / Wikipedia

Berwick has donated the boots he’s worn in every pantomime. He said: “They are the original boots I bought in an Army and Navy Store in York 40 years ago. I knew then my Dame was never going to wear high heels!

“They have never been polished, probably out of laziness at first and then grew into a superstition. I first walked on stage as Dame wearing these boots and 40 years later walked off wearing the same boots.”

Berwick’s wig and trademark tights – one red leg, one yellow leg – have also been donated to the V&A.

The dress was transported free-of-charge to London by York courier and haulage company D.A.W. Logistics, based on Full Sutton Industrial Estate, because owner David Wright is a pantomime fan.

And although Berwick is not on stage in this year’s York Theatre Royal panto, he is still writing and co-directing it.