The old uns are the best | Steve Bennett chats to Barry Cryer

The old uns are the best

Steve Bennett chats to Barry Cryer

At 67, and after a career that's involved just about every comedy legend you can think of, some comics might start thinking about taking things a little easy and cashing in on their hard-earned reputation.

But not Barry Cryer. As we speak, he is reviving a long-held passion for performing rock and roll, touring his stand-up show, about to record a new series of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue and just finished a new sitcom.

"I'm reinventing myself," he says. "If Rolf Harris can do it with the National Gallery and Animal Hospital, then so can I."

"You have to keep frightening yourself with new things - if you fall on your arse, then so what?"

But the comedy veteran declines to recall any such failures in his career, which started when he was a student in the Fifties. "I've erased them from my memory," he protests.

But the successes are much more memorable - he has a CV that is the clichéd who's who of comedy: Dave Allen, Ronnies Barker and Corbett, Stanley Baxter, Jack Benny, George Burns, Jasper Carrott, Billy Connolly, Tommy Cooper - and that's only as far as the letter C.

But of all these - and the likes of Morecambe and Wise and Les Dawson ­ Cryer says his favourite job was working with Kenny Everett.

"They were really happy times - the times at Thames TV where we used to record all day, just a joy. There was no studio audience, when you heard laughter, it was the crew. At the BBC he had a live audience - they tried to mould him into a 'BBC comedian', and it didn't work.

"He wasn't a comedian, he was Kenny. Most comedians, understandably, have a sense of their own identity, but not Kenny - he was up for anything, He had no preconceived ideas about what would work.

"Had things been different - had he not died - I think he would have had a resurgence, especially with the advances in technology."

Barry seems more eager to talk about those he's worked with than he is about himself - and says he never minded comedians getting the limelight for material which he wrote.

"I'm a terrible name-dropper," he confesses. "In Edinburgh the boys in the band used to keep telling me, 'you've dropped one over there'."

Edinburgh was where he premiered his new show, Rock of Ages, a rock-and-roll-and-comedy show he performs alongside Ronnie Golden. And he'll be running it out again at London's 100 Club on November 7, ahead of a possible CD recording.

"It wasn't the first time I'd played the Fringe," he said. "I've been with Willie Rushton, done my own show and judged various things. But this time was very enjoyable."

While up in Edinburgh, Barry was reported as slating newer comics for their overuse of swearing. But he's keen to distance himself from some fellow established stars who moan that all modern comedy is rubbish.

"I was trying to make the point that swearing is sometimes counter-productive. My theory is that some comics do so many gigs in front of a lively, heckling, audience that they can only work in the same way.

"I've no problems with the word 'fuck' itself - and some people, like Billy Connolly, use it immaculately."

And slagging off the younger generation? "I hate that,"he says, citing The Office, Black Books and People Like Us as examples of great comedy on TV.

He's also familiar with the live comedy scene, having hosted BBC1's Stand-Up Show - where he found the respect he had for newer comics was reciprocated.

"The younger ones in this business are enormously respectful of us older ones. I had a marvellous time, and didn't feel there was any generation gap - but then I've always been clean and never racist. I have a decent reputation, I think."

More than 30 years of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue has surely had some part to play in forging that reputation. And Barry has now completed You'll Have Had Your Tea, a series of four 15-minutes radio comedies based on the characters - or silly Scottish voices - that he and Graeme Garden occasionally use in the quiz.

The shows, which also star Alison Steadman and Jeremy Hardy, will go out over Christmas. "They've been a joy," says Barry, "and they had a terrific audience reaction."

So after nearly five decades in comedy, and a list of credits unrivalled in the business, what does Barry consider his greatest achievement?

"Forty years of marriage," he says without hesitation. "You never hear about that."

First published: October 23, 2002

Published: 22 Mar 2009

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