Panto legend Berwick Kaler bows out after 40 years

Berwick Kaler – the Grand Old Dame of York. Photograph: Anthony Robling
23 Nov 2018 @ 7.43 am
| Entertainment

Berwick Kaler is to make this year’s York Theatre Royal panto his last.

Oh no he isn’t!

Oh yes he is. The man who writes, stars in and co-directs one of the country’s top pantomimes is stepping down after his 40th show, The Grand Old Dame Of York.

The Theatre Royal team has today (November 23) paid tribute to Berwick – and pledged that the panto will continue.

“Though our Dame is hanging up his wig, York Theatre Royal will continue to produce a spectacular panto that adheres to our passionate faith in pantomime as an art form,” said theatre executive director Tom Bird.

‘Putting the country first’

The York panto gang… (L-R) Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper, Berwick Kaler and David Leonard. Photographs: Richard McDougall
The York panto sells out tens of thousands of seats every year. Many families have grown up going to see it, and have taken their children to watch it too.

Berwick first put on a wig and frock for Cinderella, playing one of the Ugly Sisters, Philomena, in York Theatre Royal’s 1977 panto.

He began writing the pantomime because he felt the scripts being used were awful and had been around for years.

Berwick said today: “I’ve always put York first but now I’m putting the country first and putting myself up for the job of Prime Minister representing the Monster Raving Loony Party.”

He told YorkMix:

  • About two or three weeks ago I thought, ‘oh my word – I’ve forgotten to write the script’.

    I’ve had three weeks to write the script before rehearsals start. I just thought, ‘what excuse am I going to give the cast, more importantly the audience, the management…’

    So I decided to retire!

There are no upcoming events at this time.

‘As good as it gets’

The cast assemble at York Theatre Royal as panto rehearsals begin
Artistic director Damian Cruden, who has co-directed the panto for the past 21 years, paid tribute to Berwick: “Berwick has served the people of York and York Theatre Royal with absolute commitment for 40 years. He is due a rest.

“The pressure to recreate the panto each year is unrelenting and he takes making the ‘rubbish’ seriously.

“I have seen many great Dames – Jimmy Logan, Stanley Baxter, Kenneth Allen Taylor to name a few – and Berwick is as good as it gets. He has a sixth sense as a performer that is most rare.

“That he hangs up his boots this year is sad for us all. It is like a family here at York Theatre Royal and Berwick will be greatly missed.”

Theatre boss Tom Bird said:

  • Berwick is a phenomenon. He has made the people of York and the region laugh away their winters for 40 years with the theatre’s extraordinary pantomime.

    His achievement in engaging a vast section of the community is unparalleled: the city comes en masse to the pantomime.