There are many phases of life we all pass through. First steps, first days at school, graduation, jobs, weddings, work, kids, (divorces), grandkids, retirement…
I find myself increasingly writing memorials these days – not a phase to welcome perhaps and once it arrives, I expect it is here to stay. Oh, well…
The latest calling is for the great Barry Cryer who died this week at 86 – a ripe enough age for a man who embraced his alcohol so fondly. It is customary to say nice things of course about anyone who has died – that the person was kind and talented, the life and soul… and even when such platitudes are pure fiction but this is not an issue for Barry Cryer.
As well as his prodigious comedic output, what marked Barry out was the way he heralded fellow comedians and particularly the younger breed behind him. Comedians are not known for their generosity. The fastest way to empty a dressing room is another comedian being on stage and struggling.
When I first met Barry I was a bag of jangling nerves. It was at the BBC, ahead of a very early TV appearance on the soon to be defunct The Stand-Up Show, with Barry Cryer hosting – a mix of old and new comedy talent. Barry sensed my terror and was on-hand with his kindly arm and assurances. Afterwards he was full of praise and encouragement for me.
Perhaps most well-known for his appearances on the peerless radio show – Sorry I Haven’t A Clue – Barry a constant presence because when he is speaking on the show, his hearty laugh can be heard throughout and not the forced variety of laugh through gritted teeth. Barry just loved comedy, whether he was making laughter or he was laughing himself. The cliché, Tears of a Clown did not apply.
When my own radio show was broadcast – The Small World of Dominic Holland – Barry was quickly on the phone with his congratulations. And quick also to read Only in America and provide a quote for me. His support of others was instinctive and it marked him out.
Doing a corporate gig with him a few years back – I waived the offer to sit with the clients to make small talk and eat dry hotel-chicken. I prefer to take myself off on my own – to sit with my thoughts and assurances that I am sufficiently funny for the impending gig.
Barry did the opposite.
To pass up a meal with free booze and a chance to chat to all and sundry about his working with the true greats of British comedy: Ronnie Barker, Eric Morecambe, Tommy Cooper…
After dinner Barry finally got to his feet (a little unsteadily) with the mic in hand and the room now became a gig with me at the back skulking and watching keenly. We’d agreed that Barry should do a quick 10 minutes and then introduce me – which somehow became 45 minutes but not because he was trying to make it hard for me – but because Barry just loved comedy. He loved being on stage and why in to his very later years, he was still heading to Edinburgh each year with Ronnie Golden to work on his craft.
We last spoke very recently when Barry phoned me out-of-the-blue – always a lovely surprise.
‘Hello, Dom. Cryer here…’ he began in his usual way.
I am cross now because I cannot recall the specific reason for his call – another phase of life that none of us look forward to.
We chatted for a half hour or so – and after his comedy news and mine, inevitably we got on to Tom and his very different advent in to the business we’ve spent our lives working at and in.
Needless to say, Barry was delighted for Tom and my vicarious success (believe me, not all comics are pleased for me.) Barry told his grandkids watch his movies and he enjoys telling them that Tom’s dad is his mate.
Barry was a splendid guy. Loved by millions of radio listeners but much more rare – Barry was loved and admired by everyone in comedy.
Usually, someone doing 45 minutes on stage before me when they are supposed to do 10 – is dead to me. Beyond the pale. Unprofessional, inappropriate, selfish, rude… unless this person happens to be Cryer.
At this gig, eventually Barry recalled that the client had booked someone else and he got around to bringing me on.
Perhaps he saw me at the back looking agitated.
“Blimey, is that Dominic at the back there? What’s he doing here? Oh, shit…”
As I took the mic, I smiled ruefully ahead of what was undoubtedly a more difficult gig than it needed to be. Bladders have a finite capacity I find and particularly so post boozy lunch… but I didn’t mind because it was Barry Cryer. I was delighted to know him and be able to call him a friend and a colleague.
A life well led.
A great man.
I’m about to send out a new novella to my Book Club/Mailing list and make some big/huge announcements (relatively speaking) – and you can sign up here – everyone is welcome.