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I was Audrey Hepburn; Barry Cryer is one of Britain's top comedy writers and after-dinner speakers. He tells Peter Elson about his `accidental career'.

Byline: Peter Elson

THESE days, Barry Cryer, BA Eng Lit, Leeds (Failed), is probably best known as a panel list on Radio 4's anarchic panel game I'm Sorry IHaven't A Clue.

Yet in a career covering more than 50 years, he has collaborated as aco-performer or scriptwriter with all the comedy greats including Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Tommy Cooper, John Cleese, Bob Hope, Frankie Howerd, Spike Milligan, Morecambe and Wise and The TwoRonnies. A particular favourite is Ken Dodd. Cryer says: ``Doddy is a giant, never seen to best advantage working on t elly. Doddy still talks about a world that doesn't exist any more or never did in quite that way. It's almost Dickensian, but cleverly injected with new stuff. ``There's a lovely story of him and Eric Sykes, who is registered blind and deaf,and therefore has a minder when performing.

``Doddy told me `I stood with Eric in the wings and he said to me, `We're a lovely couple. I don't know when to go on and you don't know when to come off!' ``The thing that all these guys have in common is that they have nothing in common. They a reone -offs. One of the happiest periods of my life was working with Kenny Everett at ITV and the BBC. He wasn't even acomedian, he was just Kenny Everett.

``Whereas writing for Jimmy Tarbuck, you're thinking both Jack the Ladand elder statesman of comedy.'' Cryer's life is littered with fascinating coincidences and an ability to be in interesting places at the right time. He persuaded his friend, Dame Judi Dench, to appear on I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue and loved staging stand-up lovers' tiffs with the late ThoraHird as a jolly jape in public. He's wrapped up these anecdotes as a sort of show biz memoir called Pigs Can Fly.

``Some of the stories sound farfetched but all are absolutely true. Somebody said you seem to have a knack of bumping into people. I don't drive so I'm always on the train or a Tube. Of course you won't bump into people if you're in the car all the time,but I'mdown on the streets. ``I stood next to Cary Grant at Paddington station buffet. There was a white-haired guy with horn-rimmed glasses and a great coat on drinking half a lager. I thought `That's Cary Grant!' and it was -off to see his family in Bristol.

`MY ENTIRE career has been an accident, Blue Eyes here got to university and blew it. I didn't bailout, they bailed me out. ``I discovered girls and shows. A talent scout saw me in a student show and, with his offer of work in one hand and my first year's results in the other, there was no contest.'' Like his peers, Cryer began as a stand-up comic between scenes in nude shows with titles like Nudes of the World, Nothing On Tonight, or Fanny Get Your Fun. ``I finished up in London at the Windmill. It wasn't seedy, I was in show business and loving it. Everybody came that route in those days,it was great training.

``I started writing when I was out of work and an upstairs neighbour who was a BBC TV assistant producer asked for help in writing sketches for the Scots comic Jimmy Logan. All four were accepted which has never happened since. Suddenly I was a television writer. It's all been an accident. My life's been an accident.

``When I was a young out-of-work comic, I had the same agent as Frankie Vaughan and was in the office answering mail. Frankie had done a film called Let's Make Love with Marilyn Monroe and she was doing some press interviews. ``The phone went and I picked it up, the voice said, `It's Miss Monroe for you.' Then she came on and said `Hello, whoa re you?' ``I answered, `I'm Barry Cryer', which didn't change her life very much. She asked, `What do you do Barry?' to which I replied, `I'm an out-of-work comic.' This went on for about three minutes until I attracted the person who was handling the calls. It was wonderful.''

Cryer has a great rock and roll voice and in the 50s he recorded a cover version of the joky classicPurple People Eater. ``I was No. 1 in Finland, for three weeks -mustn't exaggerate.

``This is a name-dropping book that's not in alphabeticalorder. Mind you, I'm not a name-dropper, I'm just old. Life is badly written, the script is amess. With no malice intended I instinctively tidy it up. I'm a sort of bridge generation. I caught other Liverpool greats like Arthur Askey and Ted Ray towards the end of their careers.

``Then there was a grinding gear change and it was David Frost and Monty Python. I was grateful to catch twogenerations.

``There again, right place right time.''

These days, with the dearth of light entertainment and comedy sketch shows, he does very little writing for others, his last major commissions being for Russ Abbott. ``The phone stopped ringing. I thought, the world's changing, the tide's going out. I love what's going on. I hate people of my age who knock the younger generation on principle -either frightened of them or never heard of them.''

Undeterred, he now performs his one-man show all over Britain and is among the top after-dinner speakers. ``As I say, there's been no planning, the whole thing is an accident.''

MY PROUDEST MOMENT

``MY PROUDEST moment was when I was Audrey Hepburn. I was writing all the compering stuff for a Baftas award and was told Audrey Hepburn was flying in to give a lifetime achievement award to Fred Zinneman, the director of The Nun's Story andHigh Noon.

``So I was told `Write something for Audrey',I said that's ridiculous. The woman worked with him, she must speak from the heart.'As I was being paid I wrote half a page trying to be Audrey Hepburn.

``My wife and I went on the night,I'd written for the Muppets and everyone else (it was a good ego trip), so on she comes and did it word for word. They handed her a script and she had obviously said, `Ohgood'.

``The sequel was that I met Fred Zinneman in the bar. He said: `Wasn't Audrey wonderful?'I buttoned my lip. The urge to say I wrote that would have ruined everything. I wanted him to think that was her. I was proudest of that more than any of the comedy.''

SPIKING HIS GUNS

``I GOT my comeuppance doing the warm-up of a Spike Milligan television show called Oh! In Colour. Spike suddenly appears and with due deference I handed him the microphone.

``He said: `VanGogh was Jewish!'You expect any comic to do the punchline,but not Spike. He handed me the mic back and walked off. In that case, theRabbi must have had a very bad sense of direction,''I replied.Oh,boy! I got a laugh. Spike turned those death ray eyes on me. I just had to say it to finish the joke off. But doing half a joke was Spike's mischief.

``Another time,I was doing a chat show at Thames TV and I walked into the dining room and Spike jumped out of his seat and spread- eagled himself against a wall as if being frisked, shouting:``Cryer's here, take my jokes,but don't hurt me!''

8 PIGS Can Fly,by Barry Cryer, Orion, pounds 9.99

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MAESTRO OF MIRTH: Barry Cryer has been tickling us with his wit for 50 years -now we can read about his success in a new; book
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Words:1277
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