HE may have hung up his boots after 40 years, but retired dame Berwick Kaler was still the talk of the York Theatre Royal pantomime launch.

Berwick, 72, is to write the script for Sleeping Beauty, and today executive director Tom Bird confirmed Britain’s now former longest-reigning dame would be co-directing the show too, with Bird still working on who will join him.

In attendance too yesterday were pantomime regulars Martin Barrass, David Leonard and A J Powell, signed up for their 33rd, 30th and 14th year respectively from December 7 to January 25.

“Retired? I’m working for the council now,” joked Berwick as he led the 3-2-1 countdown to tickets going on sale at the St Leonard’s Place box office at 9am yesterday morning.

First in the queue, as she has been been for three successive years now, was Sharon Smith, who had arrived from Middleton on the Wolds at 11.15am on Thursday: the first of 70 who slept overnight in the Keregan Room and theatre and marketing department.

She may have been queueing for 27 tickets for the January 4 matinee of Sleeping Beauty, but did Sharon manage any beauty sleep? “No, I don’t sleep,” she said. “I just sit and enjoy the moment and watch the clock countdown.”

She was delighted that post-dame Berwick would still be involved but vowed her allegiance to the Theatre Royal panto too.

“He hasn’t gone, he’s writing the show, but even if Berwick hadn’t been writing it, we would still come because this pantomime is like one big, beautiful, happy family,” she said.

Berwick agreed. “We can’t to let this pantomime go.

"We must do everything we can to keep its momentum.

“In fact, this show is going to be so good, I wish I was in it!”