THE MAIN DRAG:
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.
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.