BRITAIN’S longest serving panto dame says he aims to put the smiles back on people’s faces after almost two difficult years of Covid when he returns to the stage in York later this year.

Berwick Kaler will don his frock to take part in Dick Turpin Rides Again at the Grand Opera House, after four decades as dame at York Theatre Royal.

He says a trip to the panto will prove a tonic for many families who have struggled through 21 months of lockdown, loss and loneliness.

“It’s fun, it’s a laugh, it’s a chance for everyone in the family to enjoy themselves,” he said. Families have been through some difficult times but for a couple of hours, they can smile again.”

He said his pantos were ‘lighthearted anarchy without hatred,’ which could be enjoyed by people of all ages. “A child of three or four might not understand something but they can see their parents and their grandparents laughing, and get joy out of that. It’s about happiness.”

Berwick, who turns 75 next week, retired as a dame after the Theatre Royal’s 2018/19 panto but says he now feels ‘rejuvenated mentally’ and ready to face the punishing schedule of two pantos almost every day from December 11 to January 9. “I just hope my physical energy holds up!

The dame, who is double jabbed and waiting for his booster, said he thought audiences would feel reassured by the Grand Opera House’s Covid policies, under which everyone attending aged 18 or over should be prepared to show proof they currently do not have Covid-19, are fully vaccinated or have had Covid-19 in the last six months.”It will make people feel safe,” he said.