A YORK Theatre Royal boss has hit back amid a growing furore over its panto’s future - saying there WILL be a pantomime next year but changes are needed after "collapsing" ticket sales.

However, executive director Tom Bird also made it clear today (Monday) that there would be no part in the show for legendary dame Berwick Kaler, who retired last year but said recently he would like to make a return.

Mr Bird told The Press that no stars from this year’s panto had been "sacked"- as was reportedly suggested by Martin Barrass in announcements on stage at the weekend - because the cast was "obviously" on new contracts year by year.

“What I’ve said to them is – there’ll be a new writer and director, and we have to give that person the chance to work with who they want, so the current team won’t get an automatic offer, as they normally do,” he said.

“If the new director says to me, we want David or Martin or Suzy or AJ, I will say hooray and make them a great offer, as we always do.

“But we have to let someone come in and reboot it, and give them some degree of autonomy to do that, as Berwick had.”

Mr Bird said that only 30,000 tickets had been sold for this year’s pantomime Sleeping Beauty, compared with 55,000 for Dick Turpin in 2008. "It is collapsing before our eyes,” he said.

He told BBC Radio York he was aware of the importance to fans of York’s panto tradition and he was acting with "such a heavy heart".

However, other cities smaller than York had audiences of 90,000 for their pantos and change was needed to try to attract more people. "We cannot leave it alone,” he said. “We cannot leave it to decline unchecked.”

He added: “York deserves a rip roaring full-house panto. We have to try and do something that is even more fabulous than what we already do.”

He claimed that he "loved the show... it’s a fantastic night out...a joyous piece of work".

His comments came after more than 1,400 panto fans had signed a petition "to stop the Theatre Royal axing the Pantomime with this cast," and after fans took to social media to say how upset they were, with some suggesting they might stage a demonstration or a sit-in at the theatre.

One fan posted on the York Pantomime (Berwick Kaler) Appreciation Society’s Facebook page: “Woke up this morning and literally burst into tears today coz of the news. I just wanted to thank the cast for bringing so much happiness into my life.” Another posted: "Right babbies, we need a co-ordinated campaign. We need to organise protests, letters, emails ...even sit ins!”

A third fan said they wanted to "set up some sort of trust and raise funds from early ticket sales, patrons & donations to simply take the same cast and put the show on elsewhere".

Another one posted it had come as a shock at the end of a show when Martin announced "they weren’t wanted any more by the theatre," adding: "At first every one thought he was joking. In the last song Martin, Suzy, AJ and David were all holding back tears. The panto has brought so much joy to people over the years and the cast, especially the regulars, feel like extended family.”