Entertainment & Arts

Berwick Kaler: UK's longest-serving panto dame to retire? Oh yes he is

Berwick Kaler Image copyright Anthony Robling

He's such a panto legend that dedicated fans queue through the night 10 months before Christmas to be the first to get their hands on tickets.

But after 41 years, Berwick Kaler - Britain's longest-serving panto dame - is to pack away the gaudy gowns and groanworthy gags.

Kaler has entertained generations of fans at York Theatre Royal since 1977.

Now 72, he has announced he is retiring after this year's Christmas show, titled The Grand Old Dame of York.

Kaler made his York debut playing an ugly sister in Cinderella and now also writes and co-directs the city's festive shows.

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Media captionBerwick Kaler, Britain's longest serving dame, gets panto ready (2016)

But he had heart surgery in 2016. He told BBC Look North he sees the audience as like his family.

"I know it's rubbish... but it took me many years to realise why people are so keen on this pantomime," he said.

"Over 40 years, we now know it's become part of their lives. No-one else anywhere in the country would believe we're talking like this about a pantomime."

Early in his tenure, he shared a stage with a 21-year-old Gary Oldman, who played the cat in Dick Whittington.

Image copyright York Theatre Royal
Image caption Berwick Kaler started his stint as a York panto institution as an ugly sister in 1977

Kaler's catchphrase "Me babbies, me bairns" has become legendary, as have his habits of hurling Wagon Wheels into the audience and handing out bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale.

Kaler also says his panto has the longest run of any in the country - this year it will run into early February.

The only years he missed were in 1986 and 1987, when he was appearing on the West End stage.

Image caption Berwick Kaler (right) appeared in 1990s TV drama Spender with Jimmy Nail (left) and Peter Guinness

He has also appeared in TV shows like Spender, The Worst Witch and Grafters, and has been awarded the freedom of the City of York.

Kaler's panto sidekicks are almost as long-serving as him - Martin Barrass and David Leonard have both been by his side for more than 30 years, while Susie Cooper has done more than two decades.

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