I first entered the city walls in 1977 and I was instantly impressed with everything that was Yorkshire. I’ve always felt at home here but it wasn’t until 1999 I was able to buy a hovel and become an adopted son of York.
What do you like most about the city?
For me the glorious architecture and spectacular countryside surrounding York is a huge bonus and I adore it, but it is people who create atmosphere, community spirit, and give a place its heart. I have never met such wonderful characters anywhere else. Their mannerisms, quirks, and sayings are usually incorporated into my panto scripts.
Where are your favourite places to eat and drink?
We have an abundance of first rate restaurants catering for all tastes and occasions, so I hope they will all forgive me if I have to choose just one. For over 37 years I have regularly eaten at ‘PLUNKETS’ restaurant on High Petergate. In all that time I have never been let down by their exceptional standard of food and friendly service. It’s also located just round the corner from the theatre, which is handy for this old pensioner!
Do you have any top tips for tourists?
Yes. Stop loitering on the corner of Bootham and Gillygate when I’m trying to get through! Seriously, I’m the first to admit to the value of tourism and its vast input to the economy of the city. We have everything here to entertain tourists from all over the world and these days people choose to go where the natives are friendly; a simple welcoming smile costs nothing and the rewards are enormous…they’ll return!
Is there anything you’ve been meaning to do in York but haven’t got round to?
I’m determined to get on The Great Wheel and see the city from a great height. I’d also like to sit in the audience at the Theatre Royal and watch myself playing the Dame!
York’s hosting le Grand Depart in 2014. How’s your cycling?
Unfortunately my penny-farthing has a puncture and I’m told it can’t be fixed until the day after the race. However, I will be there watching in the crowd, trying to get noticed in my lycra bloomers!
What’s so special about the York panto audience?
I’ve grown up with them; they’re my extended family and the most loyal audience you can possibly imagine. We share the same anarchic sense of the ridiculous where comedy is concerned. They return year after year in the full knowledge that we will never drop our production standards. They expect spanking new sets and costumes, brilliant lighting, inventive choreography & music choice, and a script that is accessible to all but as ‘Made in York’ stamped all over it.
First night, last night, New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve: which night of the panto do you like best and why?
The last night and for this reason – it’s sheer terror for me! During the whole run the actors/chorus/crew never quite know what I am going to do or say (nor do I for that matter!), but they can all get their own back on me on the last night when I must stick to the script (if I can remember it) and they are free to say and do what they like. I’m also a bit miffed that some of the stunts the crew get up to are hysterical and make me think “why didn’t I think of that”?
Over the decades many of our pantos have been original both in title and content, but the one that stands out for me is Dick Turpin. It was also chosen as the only panto in the UK to be filmed by the V & A museum in London to represent the best of panto. It’s in their archives now for future generations to view.
Any advice for budding actors and actresses?
Here’s a reality check – it is one of the toughest professions you can enter, so be prepared for hard work, constant rejection, humiliation, negative criticism, lousy digs, and even after three years at a reputable drama college there is no guarantee you will ever get a job on the professional stage. If this doesn’t deter you then go for it! There’s a great line in The Rocky Horror Show – ‘don’t dream it…be it’! Best advice you could ever get when choosing a career.
What would you do if you were Lord Mayor of York for the day?
This question is a gift for a comic response, but you’re not getting one! Instead I would beg everyone who drives any form of transport to sign up to the York Pledge for Road Safety. This is a council backed campaign which I am seriously passionate about, and reminds people of the dire consequences of driving a vehicle or bicycle whilst speaking or (unbelievably) sending a text on their mobile phones. By asking drivers and cyclists to put their signatures on a piece of paper and send their pledge off to the council we are hoping that this commitment may live in their memories long enough until not using a mobile while driving becomes the norm.
Describe York in three words.
Home sweet home!
Finally, any top tips on how to bag ourselves a Wagon Wheel? We go to the panto every year and never get one!
You should write to me telling me why this biscuit is so important to you and how would it change your life to receive one. In the songsheet I shall read out the best story (you have my permission to fib a bit) and I will guarantee you’ll get the Flying Wheel. Otherwise I suggest you book a different seat for every performance of ALADDIN AND THE TWANKEYS and keep your fingers crossed!
You can see Berwick in the UK’s – no, the world’s – best panto at York Theatre Royal from 12th December 2013 to Saturday 1 Feb 2014. Book soon to avoid disappointment through the Theatre Royal’s website.