Me and my Pets - Berwick Kaler

That smile says it all – Berwick Kaler with his friends Ruffuss and Barnaby Photo: Hannah Carter-Bro

That smile says it all – Berwick Kaler with his friends Ruffuss and Barnaby Photo: Hannah Carter-Brown - Credit: Archant

York panto dame Berwick Kaler tells us about his four-legged ‘babbies and bairns’

Berwick says he writes the York Theatre Royal panto – now we see its actually Ruffuss and Barnaby sl

Berwick says he writes the York Theatre Royal panto – now we see its actually Ruffuss and Barnaby slaving away in his office! Photo: Hannah Carter-Brown - Credit: Archant

If I ever get around to writing my biography, the chapters will be named after my dogs. They have all played their part in giving me wonderful memories in my 72 years – and some heart-wrenching moments too.

In the late 1960s, when I was living in a tiny flat above the Phoenix Theatre on the Charing Cross Road in the heart of the West End, a 12-week-old ruby cavalier King Charles called Schnook came into my life.

The name came from a German girl who used to call me her ‘little schnook’, apparently it meant small and cute. I had hair in those days, but I was never small and cute.

My 12 ‘Schnook Years’ were a very busy period for me as an actor. I was either appearing in the West End, on television, in films, touring the country in rep or in the York Theatre Royal panto. Schnook went everywhere with me, including the sacrosanct environment of rehearsals, where some actors judged their performances on if the dog stayed awake.

He never needed any form of training. The only time he misbehaved was when he chewed the corners of a book, entitled How to Train Your Dog. I still have it. The longest time we were apart was when I toured Japan for three months and he stayed with my sister in Fulham. On my return, I was convinced Schnook would have to be cajoled into leaving with me but, when I opened the front door, he was at my side in a flash.

Like me, dogs don’t sing, but Schnook got close with his version of Neil Diamond’s ‘Crackling Rose’. His ears would prick up and, dead on cue, he would join Neil on vocals and howl his way to the end. He truly was the Clown Prince of Dogs and I miss him to this day.

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Next came a cross springer spaniel pup called Geordie (all my dogs have had seven-letter names) bought by two misguided friends who couldn’t stand to see me without a dog. He was bred to be a gun dog but was scared of gun shots.

He quickly outgrew my accommodation, so I found a house in Chiswick. His back garden was Richmond Park and his swimming pool, the Thames. A couple of years later, along came Kaleigh, a Blenheim Cavalier. Geordie taught her everything, including back-flips (his party trick).

Geordie was 15 when we lost Kaleigh and met Jessika (Jessie), another Blenheim. He helped her learn the house rules but was too old for back-flips. He died a week before his 18th birthday.

In 1999, I move to York and Jessie became a Yorkshire lass. Later came a true Yorkshire lass, a tri-colour from Pontefract named Annieka (Little Annie).

My adoration of cavaliers continues to this day with the addition of a tri-colour called Barnaby and a Blenheim named Ruffuss. They are both five and, although they are brothers, the only trait they share is thinking they are rottweilers when you take them out.

As a footnote (or should that be ‘paw-note’?), let me tell you about a lady who once held up a panto performances by insisting her cavalier King Charles be allowed to sit on her lap and watch the show. She claimed King Charles II issued a royal decree granting cavaliers permission to enter any establishment in the UK. It took 25 minutes for me and an agitated audience to convince her it was a myth. I wouldn’t have minded but she hadn’t even paid for a seat for the dog!

Berwick Kaler’s 40th anniversary pantomime, The Grand Old Dame of York, is at York Theatre Royal from December 13th to February 2nd.

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