Barry Cryer, who has died aged 86, was a very interesting character in so many ways. Acknowledged to be one of the most consistent comedy writers for over 6O years, Barry was one of the last surviving of the Windmill comics, whose unenviable job was to make the punters laugh between the static nude tableaux, which the censor of the time, the Lord Chamberlain, allowed – because the artistes did not move. The unspoken law was ” if it moves, it’s rude”.
Appearing at the Windmill in 1955, and subsequently appearing on the ailing variety circuit around the UK, including the first of several appearances at the famous City Varieties in his home town, Leeds, Barry had graduated to a role in stage hit EXPRESSO BONGO by 1958 (starring Paul Scofield!).
In his time, Barry wrote for all the top performers as well as performing himself.
As a regular visitor the BBC’s Paris Studio in Lower Regent Street during the seventies, I often went to recordings of the very popular HELLO, CHEEKY which was written and performed by Barry, John Junkin (a respected writer/performer himself ) and Tim Brooke Taylor (who was mid-way through the decade long run of THE GOODIES), along with the Denis King Trio providing musical interjections. The format was quickfire, mostly a collection of one-liners of wildly varying quality, very much harking back to variety and music hall, and as such the performers relaxed into it in an instant. It was interesting to see the easy way Barry and John worked together (having been regular writing collaborators for years). Brooke Taylor’s involvement widened the audience appeal and brought over interested listeners from THE GOODIES. However, writing-wise, the backbone of the show was always Cryer and Junkin.
Barry was very much content to pick up the minor parts to keep the show flowing, with John and Tim leading most of the time. It was interesting to be at the recordings. Two shows were recorded back to back in one session, and in each of the breaks the performer/writers were enjoying interacting with the audience, acting as their own warm-ups at the start with some off-the-cuff material which was sure to raise a few groans in amongst the laughs.
There were very few (if any) retakes, and much-respected producer David Hatch kept things moving from up in the control box.
HELLO CHEEKY ran on radio from 1973 to 1976. After an ill-advised attempt to go to ITV to move into TV in 1976 (the material was steadfastly not visual), and a revived BBC radio series in 1979 being short-lived, HELLO CHEEKY came to the end of its life.
Although it hasn’t worn well across the decades – the team were partial to easy payoffs, topical references and “gay” jokes- HELLO CHEEKY was notable as one of the transitional programmes of BBC radio comedy. The BBC’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 1972 had brought back a lot of old favourites in radio comedy, and what was thrown into sharp relief was just how badly dated they had all become, and how much attitudes and experiences had changed the listening public. The new wave of BBC radio comedy, with THE BURKISS WAY and THE HITCH-HIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY were just over the horizon. HELLO CHEEKY represented a sort of transition- variety’s last gasp, if you like. Indeed, HELLO CHEEKY was one of the last occupants of that revered comedy radio timeslot, 2pm on Sunday, the time when the nation traditionally sat down to Sunday lunch with the radio on to season their food with a few laughs. How times have changed.
Another fascinating time capsule which Barry was involved with is JOKERS WILD, the Yorkshire TV-produced comedy panel game which ran for ten series from 1969 to 1974. Again revealing in retrospect a transition in comedy styles, the show, suggested by two American originals, has Barry Cryer as host/moderator overseeing two teams of comedians telling gags on a given subject. Aside from Barry’s quickfire mind providing interjections, this show is interesting as it sometimes pits comedians against comic performers, most notably Sid James, who although dearly beloved as a comedy actor, was not a comedian or an ad-libber, and reveals himself to be most uncomfortable without a script to work to.