He’s best known as York Theatre Royal’s vet­eran panto dame, so what does Ber­wick Kaler do dur­ing the sum­mer months? Ju­lian Cole finds out.

Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Front Page -

OME­TIMES the mid­dle name tells a hid­den story. Ray­mond Ber­wick Kaler was born in Sun­der­land in 1946, the youngest of seven. The boy who would grow up to be the highly re­garded pan­tomime dame at York Theatre Royal did not have a gilded start in life.

“I was born to a dif­fer­ent fa­ther to the rest of my broth­ers and sis­ters,” says Ber­wick. “There’s a touch of Cather­ine Cook­son there and in those days that wasn’t great.”

Ber­wick had al­ways as­sumed that his fa­ther was Wil­liam Kaler, who died when he was two. Then in his mid-twen­ties he looked at his birth cer­tifi­cate and un­der “fa­ther’s name” there was just a stroke of the pen. Ber­wick’s eldest brother, Fred, who looked af­ter him from the age of 11 af­ter their mother died, had to ex­plain that Ber­wick had a dif­fer­ent fa­ther. He had of­ten won­dered about the name, but no one would tell him any­thing.

“Then when I found out about my real fa­ther, he was a Ge­ordie and he was called Ber­wick. Iron­i­cally, Wil­liam Kaler, who I thought was my fa­ther, and my real fa­ther died within six months of each other.”

At the age of 15, Ber­wick went to Lon­don. Did he know that he wanted to act? “I had an inkling of want­ing to be an ac­tor, but I was so naïve. Naivety is a great thing. All I had at 15 was a like­able per­son­al­ity and it got me through ev­ery­thing.”

He had trained as a pain­ter and dec­o­ra­tor, so did that in Lon­don while look­ing for stage work. Ber­wick’s first act­ing job was at Dream­land in Mar­gate, which co­in­ci­den­tally has just re­opened as we speak.

“It was an old-time mu­si­cal and I was ex­pected to dance, sing and feed lines to the co­me­dian. I’d never been in public in my life and I had no train­ing. All I had was the con­fi­dence of naivety.”

He soon lost an ac­cent that most peo­ple couldn’t un­der­stand and even be­gan turn­ing up at au­di­tions pre­tend­ing to be a Cock­ney.

Ber­wick also writes and co-di­rects the Theatre Royal pan­tomime, has had his name up in lights in the West End and hap­pily de­scribes him­self as a job­bing ac­tor.

He has lived at Acomb Green in York for 17 years. He shares his life with a part­ner and two Cava­lier King Charles spaniels. The house was built in 1750 and was once called Daneb­ury House, when it was the only one on the hill. In its time this tall house with fan­tas­tic views has been an

ALL CHANGE: Main pic­ture, Ber­wick Kaler at home in York and, above, pre­par­ing for The Rail­way Chil­dren at the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum.

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