27 January 2022

Decades of laughter came from the pen of Barry Cryer

27 January 2022

Veteran comic Barry Cryer provoked laughter for decades, whether his jokes came from the pen or from the stage.

The writer, comedian, and actor, was a prolific talent and a presence on many treasured shows in his long career.

Cryer, a long-serving panellist on I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, wrote jokes for a generation of British comedians, including Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett, and Tommy Cooper.

I haven't had a career, just a series of incidents. I've been dogged by good luck all my life

From his pen also came quips for American great Bob Hope and Richard Prior, with countless performers benefiting from the wit of the Yorkshire comic.

He was plucked out of theatre and thrust into TV writing by David Frost, a chance occurrence in a nightclub that audiences and comedians would benefit from.

Cryer said in 1998: “I haven’t had a career, just a series of incidents.

“I’ve been dogged by good luck all my life.”

(from left) Comedians Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Barry Cryer, and Nicholas Parsons at Mornington Crescent underground station in London, unveiling of a comic heritage plaque to Willie Rushton 2002 (John Stillwell/PA) (PA Archive)

The writer was born in Leeds in 1935, and began in variety theatre after a spell at university in the city.

Cryer began writing in the theatre for Irish performer Danny La Rue after a move to London.

On an evening at a nightclub performance, Frost arrived and snatched the services of the talented writer.

He said: “You can’t cater for that. It’s serendipity.

“It just happened, and I’ve been in the right place at the right time quite a few times in my life.”

Joanna Lumley and Barry Cryer during the service of thanksgiving for the life and work of Ronnie Corbett in 2017 (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

Cryer went on to work on numerous Frost shows across BBC and ITV for years, including Frost Over England and Frost On Sunday.

His early TV appearances were bolstered by a string of panel shows, with Cryer’s comic timing being witnessed on That’s Showbusiness, Blankety Blank, and What’s My Line.

This was while penning material for the most recognisable names in British comedy.

The list of comics to benefit from his talent includes Mike Yarwood, Billy Connolly, Russ Abbot, Bobby Davro, Jasper Carrott, Morecambe and Wise, Stanley Baxter, Dick Emery, Dave Allen, Frankie Howerd, and Les Dawson.

Cryer also had a bizarre addition to his long and distinguished CV with a surprise number one hit.

Novelty song Purple People Eater had already become popular after its release in 1958, but a cover version by Cryer achieved sudden success in the Nordic countries.

It became number one in Finland.

Barry Cryer, Roy Hudd and Ronnie Corbett leave the funeral of Danny La Rue in 2009 (Ian West/PA) (PA Archive)

It was another serendipitous success in which Cryer triumphed, as he did throughout his career.

But his long career did not come without talent and effort, and his reputation will live on.

Giving advice to young comic writer Cryer said: “You’ll get knocked back when you start, but keep coming back.

“Dust yourself down and pick yourself up.

“We all had it to start with and it will happen.

“But the good ones survive.”

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