BERWICK Kaler is not retiring.

However, Britain’s longest-running pantomime dame has confirmed that tomorrow night’s performance of The Grand Old Dame Of York will be the last time he pulls on the dame’s trademark boots and red and yellow stockings after 40 years at York Theatre Royal.

The Sunderland-born actor, adopted son of York and Freeman of the city, will be the subject of a series of presentations, from the Lord Mayor of York, Councillor Keith Orrell, among others, before making his farewell speech as the climax to the Songsheet routine.

Speaking to The Press, 72-year-old Berwick confirmed: “I still want to be the dame, but I think it’s time for the dame to move on, even though I still get ideas in my head for the next show and I love the process of writing.

“I still get a kick out of it and I absolutely adore every performance. I’m tired at the end of each show but I still feel such joy doing the shows.”

Berwick had a double heart bypass in the summer of 2017, returning to the stage in time for last winter’s pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, and again focusing all his energy on writing, co-directing and playing Molly Motley in his 40th anniversary pantomime this winter.

“The heart is holding up well and people are saying ‘Don’t leave’; I’m getting laughs like crazy, and the energy is still there,” he said. “Yes, it takes its toll on me a little bit, but that’s because it’s a long run [from December 13 to February 2]."

At each performance, Berwick has made an emotional valedictory speech, thanking the Theatre Royal audiences for their laughs and their love, “but I also keep saying to them, ‘I’m not quite dead yet’!

“I’m not retiring. I’m not turning my back on anything. I’m not finished yet and that’s for definite,” he said.

What might Berwick do next? “I have three ideas already, but I’m not sharing them yet,” he said. “All I want right now is to say goodbye to the dame, and if I don’t write another pantomime, I’m thinking I’ll do my autobiography.”

Given that Berwick is not exiting stage left permanently, might he be interested in taking on classic plays such as Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser, in a possible continuation of his partnership with comic stooge Martin Barrass, or Shakespeare’s King Lear or The Tempest or John Osborne’s The Entertainer? “Yes, yes, yes,” he said enthusiastically. Such possibilities are for future discussion. In the meantime, he wants to put the good health of the Theatre Royal first. “I just wanted to leave the pantomime with everyone happy and leave the Theatre Royal in a healthy position, and this show has taken more at the box office than any other I’ve done."

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed that, in a break with tradition, next winter’s pantomime, the first of the post-Berwick era, will not be announced at the conclusion to tomorrow’s sold-out show. Instead the focus will be on Berwick’s pantomime departure.