Video: Why I’m leaving the panto, by Berwick – plus great pictures of the dame down the years

Berwick the ballerina

Panto in York will never be the same again.

As we reported on Friday, Berwick is leaving the York Theatre Royal pantomime after this year’s show.


His starring role in The Grand Old Dame of York will be his 40th appearance and his last.

Here’s our hilarious video interview with the 72-year-old stage legend – and some pictorial memories of shows past.

Berwick through the years

Who would have known this innocent boy would become Britain’s best panto dame?
In his first ever panto appearance: Cinderella in 1977

Berwick first put on a wig and frock for Cinderella, playing one of the Ugly Sisters, Philomena, in York Theatre Royal’s 1977 panto after making his York debut earlier that year playing Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. His panto experience before that had been playing villains in commercial pantomimes.

Apart from two years (1986 and 1987) when he was appearing in London’s West End, he has been York’s Dame ever since. His opening words “Me babbies, me bairns” have become his catchphrase along with hurling Wagon Wheels into the audience and handing out bottles of brown ale.

And here it is again, with the programme
Meeting the front of house as Queen Victoria

He began writing the pantomime because he felt the scripts being used were awful and had been around for years. The script is now written by the audience and Berwick.

An absence of plot has become one of the hallmarks of his scripts. “Plots are for cemeteries,” he once joked. As well as variations on regular panto titles such as The Lad Aladdin and Robin Hood & His Merry Mam, he has created original shows including Dick Turpin The Panto and Old Mother Millie.

A classic Berwick dame moment
David, Martin and Berwick take to the seas
Relaxing at home with friends Ruffuss and Barnaby. Photograph: Hannah Carter Brown

What has kept him as York’s Dame for 40 years is his relationship with the audience and their reaction to his pantos. “The audience have always given me the nod and the wink, saying that’s great or you’ve gone too far. Every line is written with them in mind. It’s just become a unique part of their life and my life,” says Berwick.

“This year’s original panto The Grand Old Dame of York is a culmination of every pantomime I have ever done at York in as much as it has no story, no plot – and it’s absolute rubbish.”

Mother Goose… Photograph: Anthony Robling
All aboard… From Dick Whittington And His Meerkat, 2015. Photograph: Anthony Robling
Berwick and Martin in Sinbad The Sailor, 2007
Remember the Walnut Whip dress?
This one’s from York Family Robinson, 2011
The solar system in a dress… From Jack And The Beanstalk 2010
This is Berwick’s Sydney Opera House costume from 2011
As a Viking in Robin Hood And His Merry Mam, 2012
Another chance to enjoy the Viking costume
In Dick Turpin The Panto, 2008
Last year’s fun in Jack And The Beanstalk. Photograph: Anthony Robling
Comforted by a cow in Jack and the Beanstalk