Barry Cryer

Presentation address by Sir Alan Langlands


Barry Cryer is one of Britain’s truly great comedy writers and performers, known to many of my generation as the mainspring of that antidote to panel games, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.

Barry has impeccable Leeds credentials. He was born in Harehills in 1935, has vivid childhood memories of the Second World War and Winston Churchill’s visit to the city. In 1947 he won a scholarship to Leeds Grammar School, where he shared the acting cup with his friend John Gledhill for playing Falstaff in Henry IV. Just as Falstaff “Misused the King’s press damnably”, Barry was known to profit by selling black market dinner tickets, and short-cut maps for the School cross-country.

He won a bursary to study English Literature at the University of Leeds and in his autobiography The Chronicles of Hernia, he introduced his new university friends as: “Jimmy Simmons, (the cavalier Irish poet), capable of playing his guitar and singing while standing on his head; Wole Soyinka, who sang Tom Lehrer songs, became a hero in the Nigerian civil war and later won the Nobel prize (in Literature); and Tony Harrison, National Theatre glories yet to come.”

Inspired, Barry threw himself into producing and performing in shows and concerts at the University. Later, he said: “The University was divided down the middle by the imaginatively named University Road. The social area on one side and the academic premises on the other. I rarely crossed the road.” He went on to say; “Retribution was at hand… (when)… the first year (exam) results appeared.

Undaunted, he performed at the famous City Varieties in Leeds and at the Windmill Theatre in London. He was a writer on the Frost Report alongside the whole of the Monty Python Team; and for every top comedian in the country. For eight years he wrote the Kenny Everett shows for ITV and BBC with Ray Cameron, winning several awards including BAFTA, The Royal Society, the Press Guild and silver awards from the Montreux Festival which sit proudly alongside a Golden Rose for the Frost Report.

Barry is a tireless charity worker, a member of the Grand Order of Water Rats and a loyal supporter of the Lords Taverners and the Variety Club.

Awarded the OBE in 2001, he once said that: “analysing comedy is like dissecting a frog. Nobody laughs and the frog dies.” He has been making us all laugh for more than sixty years; a comedy genius – always innovative and imaginative and the master of searing social commentary, as fresh today as it was in the 1960’s. The University is proud of all he has achieved.

Chancellor, I am honoured to present to you for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Barry Charles Cryer.