Berwick Kaler

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Berwick Kaler
BornRaymond Berwick Kaler
(1946-10-31) 31 October 1946 (age 76)
Occupation(s)Actor, writer, director
Known forYork Theatre Royal's annual pantomime
Berwick Kaler, York Theatre Royal 1992

Berwick Kaler (born 31 October 1946)[1] is a British actor most famous for playing the dame in York Theatre Royal's annual pantomime, which he also wrote and directed until 2020. In 2021 he parted ways with York Theatre Royal and took his brand of traditional panto to the York Grand Opera House. He has been awarded the freedom of the city, and in 2002 received an honorary degree from the University of York.[2] Having grown up in "the slums of Sunderland", Kaler left school at 15 to seek success on the London stage. He got taken on at Dreamland Margate to learn his trade.[3] He has had TV roles in such shows as The New Statesman, Crocodile Shoes, Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and Spender as well as steady theatre work.[2] However, it is his role in the York pantomime that has won him the most acclaim.[4]

Many pantomimes in recent years have relied heavily on celebrity guest stars and risque humour. Kaler's pantos reject this and hark back to a more traditional form of pantomime. Kaler comments: "I want everyone to laugh at the same joke".[3] Kaler's central role in writing, producing and directing has led Dominic Cavendish of The Telegraph to call him the "panto's biggest asset and its biggest liability."[5] Kaler has assembled a cast of actors who regularly return to the panto.[3]

Towards the end of each pantomime at the York Theatre Royal, Kaler throws Wagon Wheels, as one might a Frisbee, to the audience, as well as handing out a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale to a father seated in the stalls.[6]

In November 2010 Kaler followed in the footsteps of actress Jean Alexander and TV presenter Harry Gration in switching on the Christmas lights in the village of Burn. In recognition of the village's Victorian market he dressed as Queen Victoria, something he often does in each pantomime. During the event, he was appointed Honorary Dame of Burn.[7]

In 2012, he was featured on the documentary Michael Grade's History of the Pantomime Dame, which also featured clips from the 2011 pantomime The York Family Robinson, a parody of the novel The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. The programme aired in December 2012 on BBC Four.[8]

He officially retired from the York pantomime in February 2019.[9] His 'glitterball' costume from the final performance, was donated to York Castle Museum and went on public display on 1 May 2019.[10] Despite retiring, Kaler was still heavily involved in the 2019 panto Sleeping Beauty, as he wrote the script, co-directed (with Matt Aston) and appeared via films that were screened on stage. The panto was poorly received and led to the Theatre Royal seeking a new change of direction for their future pantomimes, citing poor ticket sales as the main reason (something Kaler disputed).[11][12] This led to an acrimonious split with the Theatre Royal which became known as 'Panto Wars'.[13]

Berwick left retirement in 2021 to reunite with his cast members for Dick Turpin Rides Again at a new venue, The Grand Opera House, York, after changes to the York Theatre Royal creative team. However, he was forced to pull out of the production after testing positive for Covid-19 and wrote a letter, read out during the final performance, by stand-in dame Alan McHugh.[14]

Selected appearances[edit]


  1. ^ Hutchinson, Charles (2 December 2016). "Sister act! Berwick and AJ turn Ugly in York Theatre Royal's Cinderella". York Press. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Actors, craftsmen, scholars, campaigners and leaders of industry to be honoured by York". University of York. 5 June 2002. Archived from the original on 4 June 2008. Retrieved 11 March 2009. 11 March 2009.
  3. ^ a b c Koenig, Rhona (30 December 2004). "Berwick Kaler: Grand old dame of York". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 21 August 2008. Retrieved 11 March 2009. Archived 11 March 2009.
  4. ^ Rees, Jasper (14 December 2005). "Panto's merriest widow". The Times. London. Archived from the original on 27 December 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2010.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link) 11 March 2009.
  5. ^ Cavendish, Dominic (5 January 2006). "When the star is the problem". The Telegraph. London.
  6. ^ "Old Mother Goose, York Theatre Royal, review". The Independent. 18 December 2014. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  7. ^ Fifield, Nicola (29 November 2010). "Christmas lights switched on around North Yorkshire". York Press. Retrieved 25 July 2017.
  8. ^ a b "BBC Four Michael Grade's History of the Pantomime Dame". BBC. Retrieved 27 December 2012.
  9. ^ Hutchinson, Charles (3 February 2019). ""If the theatre needs me, I'll be back like a shot," says departing dame Berwick". York Press. Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  10. ^ Dodd, G. (2 May 2019). "Berwick Kaler's 'glitterball' costume on show at York Castle Museum". York Press.
  11. ^ "THEATRE ROYAL PANTO REVIEW: "Awkward, uncomfortable, indulgent"". Retrieved 24 March 2022.
  12. ^ "Berwick disputes claims of panto 'collapsing' ticket sales". Retrieved 24 March 2022.
  13. ^ "Axed after 41 years: 'Devastated' panto stars told they won't be back at York Theatre Royal". 12 January 2020. Retrieved 24 March 2022.
  14. ^ "This is what Berwick Kaler told the audience at the last night of the panto". 10 January 2022. Retrieved 24 March 2022.
  15. ^ "A Knight's Tale (2001) – Full cast and crew". Retrieved 27 November 2010.
  16. ^ "Nightbirds Story: Nightbirds Plot, Check out the plot and story details of the movie Nightbirds – Piczo Movies". Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  17. ^ "Nightbirds: Nightbirds Movie Reviews, Nightbirds Reviews, Nightbirds Story, Plot, Cast, Photos, Wallpapers and Videos – Piczo Movies". Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  18. ^ "Berwick Kaler Information, Photos, and Trivia at MovieTome". Archived from the original on 28 March 2008. Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  19. ^ "Berwick Kaler". Retrieved 8 September 2009.
  20. ^ "First Night Records Online Store, Annie Get Your Gun – 1986 London Cast". London, United Kingdom: First Night Records. Retrieved 3 June 2012.

External links[edit]