BERWICK Kaler is bringing down the final curtain on his reign as Britain’s longest-serving pantomime dame after 40 years at York Theatre Royal.

The February 2, 2019, evening performance of The Grand Old Dame Of York will be the last time he pulls on his trademark wig, boots and leggings, one yellow, the other red, and shouts out “Me babbies, me bairns".

At the age of 72, Mr Kaler, who writes and co-directs as well as stars in each pantomime, has called time on his damehood. “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 Looney Party,” he said in a prepared statement.

“This year’s original panto, The Grand Old Dame Of York, is a culmination of every pantomime I have ever done at York in as much as it has no story, no plot – and it’s absolute rubbish.”


Artistic director Damian Cruden, who has co-directed the pantomime for the past 21 years, paid tribute to Mr Kaler, the Sunderland-born actor who has become York’s best known adopted son. “I’d normally say something daft; we always joke about the relationship between the ‘manager’ and the ‘dame’, however today is a little more serious,” he said. “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 re-create the panto each year is unrelenting and he takes making the ‘rubbish’ seriously.

“I have seen many great dames – Jimmy Logan, Stanley Baxter, Kenneth Alan Taylor, to name but a few – and Berwick is as good as it gets. He has a sixth sense as a performer that is most rare. He has eyes in the back of his head for a joke and understands timing better than Big Ben. That he hangs up his boots this winter is sad for us all. It is like a family here at York Theatre Royal and Berwick will be greatly missed.”

The Grand Old Dame Of York’s farewell runs from December 13 to February 2, and both Mr Cruden and executive director Tom Bird stress that pantomime will remain the winter staple at York Theatre Royal beyond Mr Kaler’s grand exit. “Berwick’s legacy is pantomime,” said the artistic director. “Here at York [Theatre Royal], we see it as a theatrical form of the highest order and we will continue to produce pantomime of the highest standard that is made with love, affection, care and skill. No, we can’t replace him but we can take his passion forward and honour his work in doing so.

Mr 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.

“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. In the meantime, I can only express the theatre’s boundless gratitude to Berwick’s work in our city for 40 years.”