BERWICK Kaler is returning to the York Theatre Royal pantomime. Oh no he isn't.

Well, no, he will not be on stage, but the newly retired dame will be writing the script for Sleeping Beauty. Oh yes he is.

Dame Berwick, who hung up his boots after 40 years on February 2, will be providing his customary mix of verbal wit, visual gags and anarchic slapstick for the familiar Theatre Royal pantomime family of Martin Barrass, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper and A J Powell, whose roles are yet to be announced.

Kaler had been the longest-serving dame in British pantomime, leaving the stage last month, at the close of The Grand Old Dame Of York, with the open invitation: "If the theatre needs me, I'll be back like a shot."

Now he returns at the first opportunity, although he definitely will not be performing in the December 7 to January 25 run. Meanwhile, following artistic director Damian Cruden's imminent departure this summer after 22 years, the director's post for Sleeping Beauty is yet to be filled. Cruden and Kaler had co-directed the show for two decades.

Executive director Tom Bird said: "We are delighted that Martin, Suzy, David and AJ will return to York Theatre Royal for Sleeping Beauty this Christmas. The pantomime ‘family’ mean a huge amount to our community and have provided so much joy to the people of York for so many years.

"We are also thrilled that Berwick will continue his association with the theatre by writing the script. Here’s to a wonderful winter at York Theatre Royal."

Tickets go on sale on Friday from 9am for those booking in person at the St Leonard's Place box office with a special Earlybird offer until April 15. Dame Berwick and pantomime stars Barrass, Leonard and Powell are expected to be at the theatre to meet and greet early bookers.

Online booking for the 68 performances opens at 3pm that day at; telephone bookings from 9am on Saturday on 01904 623568.

Dame Berwick will be completing a hattrick of Sleeping Beauty scripts, having written the Theatre Royal's shows in 1994 and 2004.