Sussex fondly remembers comedy great Barry Cryer

Barry Cryer, who has died at the age of 86, will be remembered fondly across Sussex where he performed regularly throughout a long and hugely successful career.

Barry Cryer
Barry Cryer

Cryer wrote for comedy giants including The Two Ronnies, Bob Hope, Tommy Cooper and Morecambe & Wise.

But he was also a performer – and regularly toured to the south coast. He was part of the Chichester Festivities in 2008. Three years ago he toured to Guildford.

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He was also booked at the Steyning Festival and played Chichester Festival Theatre and Brighton. 19 years ago, he brought his jokingly-titled The Last Farewell Tour to Worthing. The joke was that it definitely wasn’t.

One of Britain’s truly great comedy writers and performers, Barry Cryer contributed to this country’s entertainment industry for more than 50 years, writing for some of our highest rated shows and for many of our most popular comedians.

Barry’s wit, life experience and huge sense of the comedic was still enjoyed by millions – on radio, on television and on the stage.

His age was frequently part of the joke. 14 years ago, he brought Still Alive to Chichester. The Festivities brochure promised the show would be “a trip down Memory Lane (...) in a decorous orgy of nostalgia” - which wasn’t remotely how Barry saw the show.

Always an absolute pleasure to interview, he told me: “There are memories obviously, but it is not just about the old days. I like talking about the past, but I don’t want to live there!”

As he explained, the big attraction was that the show is different every night - thanks partly to Barry’s bucket, into which the audience – primed with pen and paper – put comments for Barry to work on.

His favourite, he laughed, was the piece of paper which said simply: “Thank you for the pen!”

But otherwise it was all about Barry thinking on his feet: “If I am boring myself, I am boring the audience.”

And if anything stumps him? “Well, you just keep talking and then come back to it.”

It was all part of being Still Alive, a title which Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders were also touring under at the time: “I’m thinking of suing”, laughed Barry. As the oldest, he was confident he’d win.

Why – he said – he even goes back as far as old-time music hall at Chichester Festival Theatre with dancer, singer and actress Jessie Matthews (1907-1981) on the bill.

“Now that was a long time ago!”

Three years ago he was at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford to present Strictly Come Joking alongside Colin Sell, billing themselves as the Ant and Dec of the sanatogen set.

Cryer even gave himself a joke endorsement – “Spritely Veteran” (Undertakers’ Gazette).

My privilege is to interview the greats – and there is no doubt that Barry was one of them.

I have always thought you can tell a lot about someone during an interview.

Barry was among the best – always focused, always friendly, always chatty. He knew precisely what an interview required.

And above all, he was a gentleman. One time, he missed the interview and then missed the rescheduled interview – for reasons quite beyond his control.

“Now what can I do to make it up to you, Phil?” were his first words when we made it third time lucky.