Barry Cryer's comedy still alive

Angi KennedyHe has been making people laugh for more than half a century. Now Barry Cryer is coming to Norwich to prove that he and his comedy are still very much alive! He told ANGI KENNEDY why old comedians never retire.Angi Kennedy

Which comedy great is your favourite? Whether you still love Eric and Ernie, think Tommy Cooper was a legend or if the anarchic comedy of Kenny Everett was more your style, the man who would have got you giggling is Barry Cryer.

The irrepressible Barry has written for so many comedy heroes - from Frankie Howerd to Richard Pryor, George Burns to Rory Bremner - as well as performing his own material, in a career than spans 50-plus years.

He's been called 'the king of the one-liner' and is known as Uncle Baz at the Edinburgh Fringe, where he still performs every year. To the many fans of radio comedy, Barry is synonymous with the cult series Just A Minute and I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.

Now, with his 74th birthday on the horizon, he is coming to Norwich Playhouse with his show, Barry Cryer: Still Alive. With him at the piano will be his radio chum, Colin Sell, the butt of so many jokes by the late Humphrey Lyttelton who hosted I'm Sorry . . . on Radio 4 until his death last April.


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The show promises to be filled with jokes, songs and highlights from Barry's long career, plus audience participation in the form of a bucketful of suggested topics for him to wax lyrical upon.

'Every night is different,' he comments. 'That's the best bit - I love that spontaneity.'

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Barry's quick wit gives the lie to anyone who thinks these sort of larks are for younger minds. 'We don't retire - old comedians never retire, the phone just stops ringing,' he laughs.

The son of his old writing partner, Ray Cameron, summed up Barry's attitude recently. 'Michael McIntyre was watching me the other day and said 'You're still hungry, aren't you? You still enjoy it'.'

Michael - who was just a child when Barry and Ray were writing for The Kenny Everett Show - is, of course, now a celebrated comedian, frequently on TV in panel shows like Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You. He is one of today's comics who wins Barry's admiration.

'The current crop are brilliant,' says Barry. 'I wouldn't like to be starting out as a stand-up now, because there is so much competition. I think Ross Noble is great, and Bill Bailey, who is almost an elder statesman of comedy now.

'The only thing that I do miss about comedians nowadays is the warmth. Peter Kay and Ross Noble have it, but sometimes with the others it is all a bit cold and sneering.'

Barry is currently pondering the possibility of resurrecting the humour of the unforgettable Kenny Everett. 'He was a joy to work with. It was back in the days of Thames TV. There was no audience in the studio, so any laughter you could hear was the crew -it was the only show where no-one ever said 'Quiet!' We used to laugh all day long.

'I'd like to get a stage show together about Kenny. I'm meeting up with Arlene Phillips, who used to be on the show with the dancers then, and some others next month to talk it through.'

The range of comedians he has written for is testimony to Barry's versatility 'I like the one-liners that you can deliver very quickly, but I also like a story,' he says. 'I guess my favourite is the 'Two men go into a bar with an ostrich . . .' type of joke.

'I always liked to write in partnership, such as with David Nobbs, who did Reggie Perrin and who I worked with on shows for Les Dawson.'

Other productive partnerships included John Junkin, with whom he wrote for Morecambe and Wise in their Seventies' hey-day, Dick Vosburgh (The Two Ronnies) and, of course, Ray Cameron.

Barry also had some great collaborations in his early years. While writing for and occasionally appearing at Danny Le Rue's London nightclub, he was spotted by David Frost and joined the team writing for A Degree of Frost, which included John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman. He went on to write for the Frost Report and various other ventures with Frost.

'I am a news junkie. I devour TV and radio, newspapers and magazines, and I think that habit began because I was a David Frost writer,' he explains.

'I don't write for other people now, but I'm still performing because that is the way I started - I'm a ham.'

But the showbiz career came unexpectedly for Barry, who was born in Leeds in 1935. 'I was 'Blue Eyes', who got into university and blew it,' he recalls. 'Nothing changes; I chased girls and drank a lot in the bar, and my first year results showed it. A guy, who had come up to Leeds to see someone else, heard me telling jokes and booked me. So I had my awful results in one hand and a future in the other.

'My first job was at the Windmill Theatre, off Piccadilly Circus. We didn't call it stand-up then - although that is the best definition - it was an act or a turn. We were doing 36 shows a week. But people hadn't come to see me, they'd come to see the strippers! It would go quiet when I came on and people would get their newspapers out . . . But I loved it and I got lucky and moved on to other things.'

Those other things memorably included his recording of Sheb Wooley's Purple People Eater, which reached number one in the charts in Finland!

But probably today Barry is best known for his sterling work on I'm Sorry. . . 'the antidote to panel games'. The team - which includes former Goodies Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden - is soon to return to the studios to record a new series, the first since Lyttelton's death.

Although Barry is the only other person to have hosted the show, he harbours no ambitions to do so now, and a series of guest hosts will take the chair for this series, beginning with Norfolk's own Stephen Fry. 'If someone really shines at it and would like to do it, we will be looking for a permanent host,' he said.

Tickets for Barry Cryer: Still Alive with Colin Sell at Norwich Playhouse on Friday February 20 are available, priced �17.50, from the box office on 01603 598598, or online via www.norwichplayhouse.org.uk.

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