A profile of the prolific comedy writer and performer.
Barry Cryer could be considered a comedy heavyweight as he has been writing (and to a lesser extent) performing for over half a century. Despite being part of the old guard that preceded the 'alternative comedy' of the 1980s, Cryer didn't become an outdated dinosaur and moved with the times.
Born in Leeds in 1935, he studied at Leeds Grammar School and Leeds University before the showbusiness bug bit. He was offered a week's work at the City Varieties theatre, by someone who'd seen him in a university revue. Barry would revisit the Varieties stage many times later on in his career, as a performer on "The Good Old Days".
Barry in "The Good Old Days" (1975)
After his university graduation he transferred professionally to London, impressing impresario Vivian Van Damm, who put Cryer on the bottom of the bill at the Windmill Theatre in London, a slightly disreputable club which showed comedy acts in between nude tableau shows.
However, Cryer suffered severely from eczema, and after a number of hospitalisations the work dried up. Concluding that concentrating on performing wasn't a good career move because of his skin condition, Cryer chose to focus on his writing.
One of his last acting jobs of this period was when he joined the theatrical cast of "Expresso Bongo" in 1957 alongside Susan Hampshire, Millicent Martin and stage legend Paul Scofield. At the same time he expanding on his range of talents, recording a version of Sheb Wooley's comedy song "Purple People Eater". For contractual reasons, Wooley's version was never released in Scandinavia, but Cryer's was, and it made number one hit record in Finland!
Cryer's first writing credits were four sketches for "The Jimmy Logan Show," co-written with Douglas Camfield. Cryer also became head writer for Danny La Rue's London nightclub, where he was spotted by David Frost. This led to a writing role on the variety special "A Degree Of Frost" and the rather more cutting edge "Frost Report" alongside future comedy greats John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman. Frost was clearly a fan and continued to employ Cryer on a number of subsequent shows.
"I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue"
Cryer prefers to write in partnership and during the 1970s he joined forces with John Junkin to write for the foremost comedy act of the day: Morecambe and Wise. Cryer continued to keep his hand in as far as performance was concerned, appearing with Tim Brooke-Taylor and Junkin in the BBC radio series "Hello, Cheeky!" and TV sketch show "The Steam Video Company".
As the 1970s gave way to the new decade, new comedians appeared who wrote their own material, and feeling his age as well as a desire to perform, he toured the country with raconteur and fellow David Frost alumnus Willie Rushton, in "Two Old Farts In The Night".
After a brief stint as chairman, Cryer has been one of the panellists on the BBC radio comedy programme "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue" which began in 1972, but whose future is indeterminate after the death of popular host Humphrey Lyttelton in 2008.
He published his autobiography, "You Won't Believe This, But..." in 1998 and followed that with a compendium of showbiz anecdotes, "Pigs Can Fly" in 2004. Awarded an OBE in 2001, he still tours and remains a popular after-dinner speaker.
last updated: 15/05/2008 at 11:44
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