Mental note to self: do not make any more jokes about people you admire in pop culture dying whenever a new mix in my Friday Night Music Club series is released.
Two weeks ago, on the eve of me dropping the first in the current series, Ronnie Spector died. Last week, it was Meat Loaf.
And this week, it was Barry Cryer.
The word ‘Legend’ is bandied around far too much these days, to the point when a genuine legend passes, the phrase is diluted. But make no mistake, Barry Cryer was a comedy legend.
It would probably be quicker to write a list of all the acts that he didn’t write for rather than all he did, but a quick role call shows the following sample: Dave Allen, Stanley Baxter, Jack Benny, Rory Bremner, George Burns, Jasper Carrott, Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, Dick Emery, Kenny Everett, Bruce Forsyth, David Frost, Frankie Howerd, Bob Hope, Richard Pryor, Spike Milligan, Mike Yarwood, The Two Ronnies and Morecambe and Wise. Alright, a bit 70s, but not a bad CV, right?
That’s not to mention the countless panel shows he has appeared on over the years. Here he is cropping up on Would I Lie To You? a few years ago, back when they all sat a bit nearer to each other and neither team captain had grown a beard:
Nor does it even begin to scratch the surface of the many, oh-so many appearances he has made on Radio 4’s anti-panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, a show which he says he has been doing since “before the invention of sound.” If you ever have 30 minutes to idle away, then pop over to the BBC Sounds app, there’s usually a few editions there for you to dive into, I really cannot recommend it highly enough. Just don’t try to understand the rules of Mornington Crescent (spoiler alert: you’re not supposed to).
Oh, and he even had a hit single once. Yes, his version of The Purple People Eater reached the #1 spot….in Finland:
More recently, Barry had, like everybody else in the world it seems, started doing a podcast with his son Bob called Now Where Were We…?, available through all the usual places you get your podcasts from. The premise is simple: Barry and Bob take a highly regarded friend (Stephen Fry, Miriam Margolyes, Danny Baker, Sanjeev Bhaskar) to the pub (or, in Margolyes’ case, pops round to hers for a cup of tea) and just has a chat. Cunningly disguised as an interview, it’s really just a ruse to allow Barry and his guest to trade anecdotes and jokes (Bob doesn’t really join in that much, to be honest, except to remind his father of a joke or story he knows).
Here’s one of my favourites, which Barry tells in one of them:
A man is driving along a country lane late one night. It’s dark, and he doesn’t see the bird in the road in front of him until it’s too late. He gets out of his car after he’s hit it, and finds it’s a cockerel, and he’s killed it stone dead.
He looks around and sees a nearby farmhouse, and decides it must have escaped from there. Full of remorse, he picks the bird up in his arms and walks towards the farmhouse.
He knocks on the door, which is answered by what he presumes to be the farmer’s wife, dressed in a nightie, curlers in her hair. “I’m very sorry,” he says, “but I’ve killed your cockerel and I’d very much like to replace him.”
“That’s very kind of you,” says the farmer’s wife. “The chickens are all round the back, be my guest.”
In actual fact, more often than not you find on Now Where Were We…? that it’s Barry being interviewed by the guest rather than the other way round, the guest gently steering him towards recounting a particular anecdote or joke they love. It’s an absolute joy, a testament to the warmth felt towards him, the high regard in which he was held – but with only six episodes released so far, and with presumably a few more in the can to drop, it’s likely to be one of the shortest-lived podcast series ever.
Time for a song, and the title of this one springs to mind, not least because the title is a play on words, which Barry loved:
Great though that is, it’s a little sombre, while Barry was all about the laughs, and was magnanimous enough to not care whether it was him or somebody else providing those laughs – he didn’t care, as long as the laughs kept coming.
So, to finish off, a song written by one from that list of names I gave you right at the top that Barry had written with. My Dad had a copy of this on 7″ single, and it was compulsory (but voluntary, I should add) listening when I was a kid, 3 1/2 minutes of utter lunacy and silly voices. I’m sure Barry would approve:
Cheers, Barry. Thanks for all the laughs.