John-Paul Stephenson

Interview: Barry from Watford

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Having accrued loyal fans through his appearances on Iain Lee’s Absolute Radio show and BBC Radio 2’s Steve Wright in the Afternoon, Barry from Watford is braving the Edinburgh Fringe with a solo show at the Pleasance. In our hardest-hitting interview to date, Barry talks about stand-up, and how to break even at the Fringe.

JPS: You’ve only recently taken up stand-up comedy. It’s pretty brave, at your advancing years. Why are you doing it?

BfW: It’s very simple: I’m not getting any younger and I have certain things I want to achieve before I get too old to remember … er … hello? What was I saying? Since I was little I used to go and see a number of low quality variety acts at Watford Palace theatre and it inspired me to perform (and particularly to work up a ventriloquist routine). It’s taken me 75 odd years to get up and do it. It is a risk – of course there’s always a chance that I’ll die on stage. Literally. But, I’ve been insured for £200,000 if I suffer a stroke and £500,000 for a heart attack. If I have both during the run, my producer may just about break even. So every cloud….

JPS: How is the stand-up going so far?

BfW: Splendidly, thanks. Lovely audiences, who possibly know me from Steve Wright ‘s Radio 2 show and Absolute Radio etc. Obviously they’re getting the full-on Barry treatment. I can be slightly more risque onstage than on Steve Wright’s mid-afternoon show. Post-Sachsgate, they are incredibly careful. I mean I said “ankles” once on air, they played the emergency tape and the whole of the BBC went into lock down. That’s not to say that my live show is the charmless ‘swear-a-thon’ that you young comedy types seem to enjoy so much. Oh no.

The rest of my festival experience is a joy. I love the architecture and the wonderful Lothian hills. When I’m not out and about, I log on to a live webcam trained on Watford’s Harlequin Shopping centre to stop me feeling homesick. Just the sight of a few crisp packets swirling in the wind by Watford market bus stop is enough to bring a tear to the eye.

JPS: Fourteen nights at the Fringe can be pretty tough, especially at a venue on a steep hill. Does that not worry you?

BfW: Ah, well, my production company have thought of this and have genuinely hired and “pimped up” a mobility scooter for me to get to and from The Pleasance. It’s got flashing rope lights, horns blaring, flags, and loud speaker system. I am expected to trundle along to the venue and drum up business on the way in. I want you to know that there is nothing wrong with my mobility. I could run home from the venue; I may have to if it’s going badly. it’s purely my laziness that’s the issue.

My Pleasance show also uses some wonderful 1950s and 60s archive clips from the Harold Baim Collection.  He was a film maker who made “Quota quickies” which were the short British documentary films that used to accompany major US films in British cinemas up until about 1980. They are hilarious and inform much of the show. So, it’s worth saying that it’s not just a stand up show. I’m told it’s ‘multi-media’!

JPS: Is your wife Margaret staying with you in Edinburgh? And have you found some decent accommodation?

BfW: Well, we have relatives up in Edinburgh – Margaret’s sister Maureen. So it’s a home from home, but with added cholesterol. Her husband, Brian is also living there. I have to say we get on like two brothers. The Giggs brothers, to be precise. Obviously, when I come in from my show in the evening, Margaret’s in bed but I snuggle up under the covers next to her massive frame (I say ‘frame’, it’s more of a metal cage to keep me away) and whisper into the gingery fuzz of her ear about all the triumphs of the evening.

JPS: Do you have any plans for after Edinburgh? Is a tour on the cards?

BfW: I will hopefully carry on with Steve Wright’s show and I understand they are repeating my pilot BARRY on Sky 1 which originated on Sky Atlantic, so who knows? I wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a tour, but there’s nothing on the cards. I went on tour to Leeds Castle with everyone from our sheltered accommodation once. Bloody good, too.

JPS: Last year, you appeared in your own sitcom – a pilot for Sky Atlantic. Do you have plans to appear more on the tellybox?

BfW: I am delighted it’s going on Sky One, though it’s only a short pilot. If that got taken up, I’d be cock-a-hoop, but apart from that I’m always scheming with different ways of getting my wrinkly old man’s face on the telly! We did a pilot chat show at the Soho Theatre earlier in the year which went really well, so that’s something that interests me. A sort of ‘Mrs Merton’ but with a genuinely old man (me) hosting it, not some young attractive and rather brilliant comic actor pretending. That would be ridiculous.

Barry from Watford is appearing in Shooting from the (New) Hip at the Pleasance Courtyard, 12— 25 August, 10.20pm.