BEHIND every actor there is a good director, behind every singer a good songwriter and behind most British comedians, there is the legend that is Barry Cryer OBE.
The veteran comedian, performer, broadcaster, raconteur, writer and human jokebox is the man behind a multitude of names, having written for the best in the entertainment business.
And in a showbiz career spanning more than 50 years the roll call of people he’s worked with is impressive to say the least – The Two Ronnies, Morecombe and Wise, Rory Bremner, Bob Hope, Kenney Everett, Sir Bruce Forsyth, Mike Yarwood, Les Dawson, Frankie Howerd, Spike Milligan, Willie Rushton and Tommy Cooper..... the list goes on.
Not only that he has become a firm fixture on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, has written several books and has even had a number one song in Finland.
And despite being in his 81st year is definitely not about to go and collect his pension. Far from it. Retirement doesn’t seem to be a word that is in his vocabulary. Indeed he is currently working on a two-hander with his long time friend Ronnie Golden.
The pair are gearing up for their debut appearance at the Balham Comedy Festival on Wednesday, July 15.
“We are looking forward to going to Balham as we’ve not done it before,” he tells me.
“There’s going to be lots of singing – it’s a very song-based show but there will be lots of gags and all sorts of silly stuff, a mix of observational humour and anecdotes.
“We have written all the songs ourselves. They are a bit rock n roll, gospel and bluesy and will cover a multitude of topics.
“I’ve worked with Ronnie for a long time and he’s superb. He plays every guitar known to man - he's brilliant.”
So what sort of subjects will be covered I ask.
“There are no rules,” jokes Ronnie. “We don’t poke fun but will do stuff on anything.
“There is a song featuring a Stannah stairlift that’s a good one. It’s about getting older and is based on a 1960s surf rock song like the early Beach Boys.
“It’s about a woman who’s in the chair but it short circuits half way up the stairs and it kills her. So some of it is quite dark.
“There might also be stuff about zimmer frames, mobile phones and even John Prescott.
“There’s no dancing though – Barry’s too old so there will definitely be no body popping,” he adds chuckling.
The pair have been working together for about 13 years after Barry contacted Ronnie to see if he might collaborate on some music.
“I was making an album with my band Ronnie And The Rex and had written a song with the idea of doing it as a duet,” says Ronnie.
“Barry’s daughter had sung with us before a few times but I didn’t know she was his daughter.
“Anyway he had obviously heard my music, asked me if I was interested in working with him and it went from there. I love working with him.”
It seems collaboration is the theme for Barry’s professional life, that and what he modestly describes as “being dogged by good luck”.
“I went to Leeds University and failed,” he says. “I had a half baked idea about being a journalist but blew my chance of a degree by chasing girls and being in the bar too much and as a result my first year results were awful.”
Fortunately he was spotted telling jokes and performing sketches in a university revue and was asked to perform at Leeds City Varieties.
Any thought of finishing his degree were ditched. He dropped out and eventually he packed his bags and set off to London to find fame and fortune.
“It makes you think about luck and about being in the right place at the right time,” he says.
“I failed academically but I fell into showbiz by accident – I have never had a plan and I don’t really consider I’ve had a career, just a series of incidents.”
These incidents have included writing Danny La Rue’s nightclub show and inviting Ronnie Corbett to a club one night for a drink where they met David Frost which led to working on the Frost Report and meeting Ronnie Barker.
“In those days they didn’t call it stand up,” he says. “It was always a turn or an act. I’d become friends with Anna Quayle and had written a couple of things for a revue she was in. Danny La Rue asked who’d written it and as a result he asked me to write for his nightclub show. You couldn’t plan it. It was just luck.”
This in turn led to Barry, or Uncle Baz as he tells me he's called, meeting and working with a whole host of other famous names.
And as you would expect he has a lifetime of anecdotes about all of them and as he regales them to me other famous names shamelessly get dropped into the conversation - something that is of course entirely forgiveable because it's done with warmth and humour and is utterly entertaining and fascinating.
“I’ve spent my life writing with other people and I’ve loved it,” he says warmly.
“To begin with I was writing mainly in the amazing era of Frankie Howerd, Morecombe and Wise and Kenny Everett. It was the golden age.
“Kenny was amazing and very funny. Some people have got funny bones but the great ones have something else as well and you don’t quite know what it is. It's something indescribable – that’s what Kenny had.
"That’s what Les Dawson had and Tommy Cooper. Tommy could do the most awful jokes but the audience would still laugh.
“It was an amazing time but there’s talent in every generation,” he adds. “Ross Noble is a little imp. He riffs off the audience and is brilliant. Bill Bailey is superb and Josh Widdicombe is another one who’s great.”
So across the years, has he had any favourites I ask?
“Well the obvious ones of course, Eric and Ernie who were the best double act at the time,” he says. “They’d known each other since boys and the bond between them was amazing.
“The speed of Eric’s brain was incredible. He was so quick. Lee Mack is like that – it’s the speed and when you work with him it’s hard to get a word in. He reminds me of Eric.”
Another person he thinks is “brilliant” is Ronnie G, who has had his own very successful career.
He started out as a musician opening shows for the likes of Tom Jones before working with David Bowie and then forming his band the Fabulous Poodles. Their album Mirror Stars outsold both The Clash and The Jam in the early 80s.
“Music was always a passion right from when I was a kid,” he says. “I liked playing in bands but when the Poodles finished I thought what can I do? I’d always mixed a bit of humour into my work even with the Poodles. I did a spot at a place called the Boulevard Theatre as part of the Comic Strip and suddenly I had a different career.”
Since then he’s done voice-overs, most notably on Spitting Image, won awards for radio jingles and was Oscar nominated for the score to the 2008 film Dark Streets.
“It wasn’t a terribly well received film but the sound track was really good,” he says. “It had singers such as Chaka Khan, Dr John and Etta James – it was fantastic and a real trip. It was music I grew up with and to have these people do your songs was really something.
“So my career is quite a broad church!
“And now I'm finally going to do Balham," he adds warmly. "It's a festival I've wanted to do for a while so when John Moloney called and asked we said yes.
“We are really pleased to be there as it's a great festival and it attracts some great names."
And they are both hoping to catch some of these “incredibly talented” individuals when they do their Balham gig as well as introduce more people to their brand of comedy.
"We get all sorts coming to our gigs – students, families, and that’s the marvellous part of my life," says Barry.
“I’ve had a knack of being in the right place at the right time throughout my life.
“But I think if you get a lucky break and the door opens you have to prove you’re worth it,” he adds.
“I work hard to get the job done but I’m not a workaholic - I'm a people-aholic. I go to the pub with my mates as they help me keep my feet on the ground. I want to be with other people as it gives me a good balance in my life.
“My darling wife says never look ahead so I’ve never had a plan, I just go with the flow.”
Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden will be at the Balham Comedy Festival on Wednesday, July 15. Tickets cost £16. Visit www.balhamcomedyfestival.com for full listings and to buy tickets.