PANTO lovers queued outside York’s Grand Opera House from the early hours this morning to buy tickets for next Christmas’s show - and meet Dame Berwick Kaler and other stars.

Peter Newton, of South Bank, was at the front of the queue, having arrived at 3.40am to buy tickets for himself and his grandson Kyle Ward. Next was Linda Grimes, of Flaxton, who arrived at 6am.

They said it was a long-standing tradition for them to come and queue overnight for the panto, for many years at the York Theatre Royal and now at the Grand Opera House, following Berwick and his fellow stars’ move across the city centre.

They hoped Berwick - Britain’s longest serving panto dame - would be able to complete next year’s run of The Adventures of Old Granny Goose unhindered by Covid.

Berwick and sidekick Martin Barrass had the frustration of missing the last few days of last Christmas’s show after testing positive, even though they felt fine and had no symptoms.

Berwick, who thought he was given the virus by Martin -’it’s the only thing he gave me at Christmas!’he joked - echoed the panto-goers’ hopes for an uninterrupted run.

He also hoped that people who had felt unsafe to go to the theatre last Christmas as the UK was swept by the latest - Omicron - wave of the coronavirus would feel safe to come again during the next festive season.

He said he had hugely enjoyed being back on stage after retiring three years ago. “I loved every minute of it,” he said.

“It’s the bond you have with the audience, and the love you feel. And the Grand Opera House is a great theatre for it - I always thought it was a better theatre for panto.”

He said pantomime provided a great chance for families to escape their worries about the pandemic and have a laugh.

Meanwhile, there was more good news as Martin and Berwick confirmed that Suzy Cooper would once again be joining them, along with ‘deliciously devilish’ David Leonard and ‘Brummie’ AJ Powell, to make up the full traditional panto team at Christmas 2022.

Doubts were raised over whether Martin and Suzy would be involved when they weren’t mentioned in a press release issued by the theatre last week, but Martin said this was simply because of delays in getting contracts sorted.

*The Adventures of Old Granny Goose will run - Covid permitting - at the Grand Opera House in Cumberland Street from Saturday December 10 to Sunday January 8, 2023.