Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Cryer, Barry (1935-)

Writer, Actor, Presenter

Main image of Cryer, Barry (1935-)

Over the course of his career, Barry Cryer became one of the most respected comedy writers in the business, and, although he now refers to himself as a 'retired writer', he nevertheless remains revered by a younger generation of comics.

Born in Leeds on 23 March 1935, Cryer began as a performer himself in 1956, first in the variety theatres of his hometown and then in London, where he had a regular bottom-of-the-bill spot at the Windmill Theatre. However, his budding career as a stand-up comedian was cut short when he developed eczema. The resultant condition, coupled with frequent hospitalisations over an eight-year period, obviously hindered a stage career, and he was encouraged instead to write for others. He began in 1960 with four sketches for The Jimmy Logan Show (BBC, 1957-61), co-written with Douglas Camfield.

With performing taking a back seat (although it would not be entirely forsaken), he began to write material for London stage revues, while also becoming head writer for Danny La Rue at the comedian's London nightclub where, he was also occasionally corralled into performing in the routines.

A fortuitous meeting with David Frost at the club led to him being employed as one of the writers on the variety special A Degree of Frost (BBC, tx 18/05/1964). His major breakthrough, however, occurred in 1966 when Frost invited him to join the writing team on his new series The Frost Report (BBC, 1966-67). Fellow writers included John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman, and he was reunited with all three for their starring vehicle At Last the 1948 Show (ITV, 1967), with Cryer supplying additional material in addition to performing in some of the sketches.

The latter was executive produced by Frost, and their working relationship continued with the two sketch/variety series Frost on Saturday and Frost on Sunday (both ITV, 1968-70). In addition to his writing duties Cryer again appeared in the occasional sketch.

Now established as one of Britain's most creative and sharp-witted writers, he found himself in demand from the country's top comedy talent, a situation in which he remained over the following two decades. Although this short biographical entry cannot even begin to do full justice to his prolific career by recounting all those who benefited from his writing, three of his longest working relationships were with Bruce Forsyth (whom he knew from his Windmill days), with such variety shows as Bring on the Girls (ITV, tx 28/7/1976), Nice to See You (ITV, tx 21/12/1981) and the ill-fated Bruce Forsyth's Big Night (ITV, 1978), where he was credited as a production associate; Ronnie Corbett, first writing for him while at Danny La Rue's club, and then in television with such series as The Corbett Follies (ITV, 1969), The Ronnie Corbett Show (BBC, 1987) and, paired with Ronnie Barker, The Two Ronnies (BBC, 1971-87): and Les Dawson, from Sez Les (ITV, 1969-76) to Dawson and Friends (ITV, 1977).

Others on the roster include Tommy Cooper, beginning with Life with Cooper (ITV, 1966-69); Frankie Howerd, including Frankie and Brucie (another Forsyth credit) (ITV, 3/9/1975) and Frankie Howerd Strikes Again (ITV, 1981); and Russ Abbot with The Russ Abbot Show (ITV, 1986-1991). He also aided impressionist Rory Bremner's successful move into television with his first two series, Now - Something Else (BBC, 1986-87) and The Rory Bremner Show (BBC, 1988).

Cryer particularly enjoyed writing for disc jockey turned comedian Kenny Everett, considering his time working on The Kenny Everett Video Show (ITV, 1978-81), The Kenny Everett Television Show (BBC, 1981-88) and the film Bloodbath at the House of Death (1983, d. Ray Cameron) as the highlight of his career.

Although sketches and jokes were his forté, he also occasionally ventured into sitcom territory. Ronnie Corbett was again a major beneficiary, with Cryer, in collaboration with Graham Chapman, writing three sitcoms for him, beginning with his first starring vehicle No - That's Me Over Here! (ITV, 1967-70). Some episodes were also co-written with Eric Idle.

Other sitcoms include three episodes (again working with Chapman) of Doctor in the House (ITV, 1969-70); four episodes (with Dick Vosburgh) of Carry on Laughing (ITV, 1975), a spin-off from the popular cinema series; and, co-writing with David Nobbs, Dawson's Electric Cinema (ITV, tx 3/4/1975), starring Les Dawson as the manager of a 1920s cinema.

In a rare development for a writer, he became a familiar presence on television himself through his hosting of the long-running panel game Joker's Wild (ITV, 1969-74), his first regular television appearance. Others he hosted include Those Wonderful TV Times (ITV, 1976-78), while he also appeared on innumerable panel and game shows as an enlivening guest panelist.

As a comic performer in his own right, his appearances on sketch shows as a resident cast member include the undervalued Hello Cheeky (ITV, 1976), a three-hander with Tim Brooke-Taylor and John Junkin based on their BBC radio series of 1973-79, What's On Next? (ITV, 1976-78), and Assaulted Nuts (Channel 4, 1985). He also made sporadic appearances on such variety shows as The Good Old Days (BBC, 1953-83) and Saturday Night at the Mill (BBC, 1976-81).

With the realisation that the younger generation of comedians preferred to generate their own material, he gradually withdrew from writing for television in the early 1990s. But he remained a familiar face, both on stage, with his one-man shows, and on television, appearing on game shows and hosting the panel game Cryer's Crackers (ITV, 1994-96) and the first two series of The Stand Up Show (BBC, 1994-2002), where he was the older comic hand introducing new talent. Having worked at some point with most television entertainers, he remains a frequent interviewee in documentaries on the medium's past.

His voice and infectious laugh are also pleasantly familiar through his continued participation in the evergreen radio panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (BBC, 1972- ), on which he has appeared since its inception.

He was awarded an OBE in 2001.

John Oliver

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of At Last The 1948 Show (1967-68)At Last The 1948 Show (1967-68)

Sketch comedy series now seen as a dry run for Monty Python

Thumbnail image of Dick Emery Show, The (1963-81)Dick Emery Show, The (1963-81)

'Ooh you are awful...'. Skits and sketches from the cross-dressing comic

Thumbnail image of Frost Report, The (1966-67)Frost Report, The (1966-67)

Topical comedy show, a successor to the more famous TW3

Thumbnail image of Kenny Everett Video Show, The (1978-81)Kenny Everett Video Show, The (1978-81)

First solo series from the irrepressible comic - in the best possible taste

Thumbnail image of Stars and Garters (1963-66)Stars and Garters (1963-66)

Unpretentious, very popular pub-set variety show

Thumbnail image of Two Ronnies, The (1971-86)Two Ronnies, The (1971-86)

Hugely popular sketch series uniting Ronnies Barker and Corbett

Related collections

Related people and organisations