Barry Cryer was born in Leeds. Educated at Leeds Grammar School and Leeds University, he is B.A Eng.Lit. (Failed). Of the latter, this was due to the outbreak of World War II, he says, which was sixteen years before, but upset him very deeply. While appearing in a University revue, he was offered a week’s work at the famous City Varieties theatre, home of the Good Old Days, the longest running television light entertainment show in the world. In later years, he was to appear on the show many times. While appearing there, he was seen by aLondonagent and offered work in variety. He appeared all over the country in what were known as the “Number Three’s” and then auditioned for the Windmill Theatre in London, a legendary school for comedians, whose graduates included Harry Secombe, Peter Sellars, Jimmy Edwards, Alfred Marks and many more. He passed the audition and started work at the theatre an hour and a half later. Top of the bill was Bruce Forsyth, who became a friend and colleague to this day.
After seven months of six shows a day, six days a week, he left to appear in Expresso Bongo, a musical savaging the pop music scene of the day, starring Paul Schofield, Millicent Martin and Susan Hampshire. It was during this period he started making records and had the rare distinction of being Number One inFinland. He believes that this may have had something to do with the fact that they gave a way a car with each record. After this, he commenced writing for revues at the Fortune Theatre, home of Beyond the Fringe. This led to writing and appearing in night club shows for Danny La Rue, an association that was to last for thirteen years.
While still working with Danny, he met David Frost who invited him to join the writing roster on the BBC programme, the Frost Report – an amazing group of writers who included what was to become the whole of Monty Python; Marty Feldman, David Nobbs, (author of Reginald Perrin series and a future writing partner) and may more. One show – “Frost Over England” – won the Golden Rose at that year’s Montreux Festival. Barry has also been associated with Silver and Bronze award winning shows at the Festival.
He moved with Frost to ITV and wrote and appeared in the Frost Programme, Frost on Sunday etc etc, until he returned to the BBC as one of the original Two Ronnies writers. His association with Ronnie Corbett had begun in the Danny La Rue shows and still continues with Barry writing for the last two series of Small Talk. Also around this time, he had become one of the chairmen at the famous Plays ’Theatre Old Tyme Music Hall at Charing Cross. In 1984 he appeared as Dame in Sleeping Beauty at The Shaw Theatre, in 1988 as King in Jack and The Beanstalk inLeicesterand in 1994 as Dame Daisy in Jack and The Beanstalk at the Hackney Empire.
Following his Frost years, he went on to write for practically every top comedian in the country, including Morecambe and Wise, Bruce Forsyth (for The Generation Game), Tommy Cooper, Stanley Baxter, Dick Emery, Dave Allen, Frankie Howerd, Les Dawson (with David Nobbs), the Carry On team on television, Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett, Mike Yarwood, Billy Connolly, Russ Abbot, Bobby Davro, Jasper Carrot and many more. Also during a long association with ATV, he wrote for Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Phil Silvers, Phyllis Diller, Richard Pryor and other visiting stars. He also wrote shows for Tom Jones and Petula Clark (a silver Rose winner) and advised and wrote a musical show for Dennis Waterman. A Harry Secombe show which he co-wrote with Spike Mullins and Peter Vincent (both writing partners for many shows) won the Pye Light Entertainment Award of the year. For eight years he wrote (with Ray Cameron) the Kenny Everett shows for ITV and BBC, which won several awards including BAFTA, the Royal Society, and two special mentions at Montreux. TheEverettconnection yielded nine series, Christmas and New Year shows, two independently made videios and a feature film.
As a performer he moved into TV and radio from theatre and night clubs and has appeared in many panel game shows, including Countdown, That’s Showbusiness, Blankety Blank, What’s My Line, Punch Lines, Give us a Clue, Gibberish, (and on radio) I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, Just A Minute etc. For five years he was the chairman of Jokers Wild on ITV. He wrote and appeared in What’s On Next and The Steam Video Company for Thames TV and also appeared in All Star Secrets for LWT and I’ve Got A Secret for BBC. He hosted a series of Cross-Wits for Tyne Tees TV and was the host for BBC’s Music Match. In 1992 Barry made a guest appearance as Sergeant Sammy Simpson in The Detectives alongside Jasper Carrott and Robert Powell.
He has become one of the country’s most popular After Dinner speakers. He has spoken at tributes for Gene Kelly, Tommy Steele, Frankie Howerd and Harry Secombe. He appeared regularly on Granada TV’s Milord Ladies and Gentlemen, a programme which featured the country’s leading speakers. He has addressed and entertained at hundreds of corporate events and has presided over copious Awards ceremonies. He has spoken before the Prince and Princess ofWalesat both Guildhall and Mansion House, entertained Princess Anne in music hall and shared speaking duties with the Duke of Edinburgh at the Savoy Hotel. He has spoken may times at Wembley Stadium at Cup Finals and International celebrations, and for the Lords Taverners and for the Variety Club he regularly addressed large audiences inLondonand the provinces.
In 1990 Barry teamed up with old friend Willie Rushton in their own show “Two Old Farts In The Night” which they performed to full houses across the country playing at over 50 theatres until 1994. That summer saw Barry and Willie returning to the Edinburgh Festival with their new show, “Farts 2 – The Musical”.
In 1993 Barry started touring his one-man show around theUKand the show continues to delight audiences under the title “The First Farewell Tour”. This show led to a guest appearance on Vive Cabaret, the stand up comedy show transmitted on Channel 4. 1993 also saw Barry playing Louis Blore/King ofFrancein the Cole Porter musical, Du Barry Was A Lady at The Barbican.
At the beginning of 1994 Barry hosted 8 shows of Cryer’s Crackers – a panel game for Yorkshire Television. This was re-commissioned and the second series was transmitted in 1994 and a third in 1995.
In 1995 Barry joined an illustrious list by becoming a “victim” on This Is Your Life”.
Also in 1995, Barry hosted Stand Up, a ten part series for BBC1 showcasing young comedians. The show was re-commissioned and the second series was transmitted in 1996 on BBC1.
“Two Old Farts” continued to tour the country to full houses during 1995 and 96 up and until the untimely death of Willy Rushton. Barry continues to tour nationally with his one man show, “The First Farewell Tour”, and latterly another show, “Still Alive” in which he is joined by his pianist, Colin Sell.
The long running (35 series) Radio 4 show, “I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue” won the 1995 Sony Radio Award for Best Comedy Programme and television’s British Comedy Award for Best Radio Programmme also in 1995. All of these are awards which the programme has won many times since.
Christmas 1997 saw Barry appear as a vicious uncle in “Season’s Greetings” by Alan Ayckbourne. The show opened in Farnham, followed by a short tour.
In 1998 Barry wrote Bruce Forsyth’s 70th Birthday Concert which transmitted live from the London Palladium and he worked on Ronnie Corbet monologues for Ben Elton’s series. Also in 1998 Barry wrote his autobiography “You Won’t Believe This But…” which was a number one best seller. This led to Radio 4 producing several daily programmes in which Barry read his work. The book is now available on a BBC audio C.D.
As part of the Clue team, Barry has been jointly responsible for theLimerickbook, and The Almost Complete I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, which was launched in October 1999.
In 2000 Barry enjoyed a successful run at The Apollo Theatre,Shaftesbury Avenue, playing Snavely T. Bogle in the critically acclaimed musical “A Saint She Ain’t”, directed by Ned Sherrin. This was a transfer from The King’s Head, Islington.
2002 brought Barry into partnership with Ronnie Golden. With their new show “Rock Of Ages” they had a sell out show at The Traverse Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Festival. Barry and Ronnie then returned toEdinburghin 2003 with “Men In Beige” and have continued to take a sell-out tour to the Festival ever since.
Whilst Barry maintains his busy schedule with I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, his one man touring show “Still Alive” and also fulfilling regular after dinner speaking engagements, last year in 2009 he wrote his most recent book, “Butterfly Brain”. This flit through Barry’s incredible working life was published by Orion and proved a popular Christmas read.