Baz has gone, then. I’m Sorry, it’s happened again.
There are few things worse than people who twist the deaths of great artists (“ENTERTAINER, or HACK!” Baz would be yelling) into being all about them. Even though the publication of my first book, The Clue Bible predated even this ancient blog by several years, anyone who did read that book will be aware of its heartbreaking production, during which Sir David Hatch, Geoffrey Perkins and of course, Humphrey Lyttelton all died. In the actual course of writing the book, for which Humph had promised a foreword, the entire story changed.
Fourteen years later, with the 50th anniversary of I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue in the offing, having just done the same for my latest book Fab Fools, I’ve spent the last three months recording my first book in the same way – Cryer’s voice being one of the toughest to get right – except with an updated final chapter, ‘The Clue Apocrypha’, covering the last 14 years of the Humph-less Antidote to Panel Games. One of the essential elements, of course, was paying fitting tribute to Jeremy Hardy, to Tim Brooke-Taylor, to Iain Pattinson. And now, just as I was toying with a line about the life-extending wonders of lager and menthol fags, the Curse of The Clue Bible strikes again.
This morning I was asked to do a thing on BBC Radio Shropshire in tribute – I was in two minds, sitting here worriting about this blog, any hope of making headway with writing ‘The Clue Apocrypha’ totally demolished, head burning with tears, but then it occurred to me, with Barry being the all-time King of the Comedy Obituaries, being asked by the BBC to take part in any tribute to him was a particularly fitting way to celebrate the man.
It was only while chatting on air that I remembered that this entire thing was all Barry’s fault. I’d written a short article on ISIHAC for Kettering, ‘The Magazine of Elderly Comedy’, and then Baz phoned me up to say how much he enjoyed it. I replied that it was a pleasure, and I could have gone on much longer – to which he replied, “Why don’t you, then?” And now I’ve been going on for a decade and a half.
The radio presenter was shocked that HE phoned ME: but that was Barry. His rolodex must have been like some kind of otherworldly oracle of data, famously, just ask anyone who ever had any dealings with him: he knew you, he remembered, and he would get in touch when the spirit moved him. Even an absolute nobody like me. How many times had I been kicking about, feeling miserable, and then had my phone go off: and checked who it was. “Fuck, I’ll have to take this, it’s Baz!” Gawd knows what the pleasure may have been due to: maybe to say something nice about one of my books, or an appearance on radio which he’d heard, perhaps, sometimes even to jog his incredible memory about some comedy knot or other which had been bugging him… but most often, of course, just to share a gag, presumably me being chosen quite at random. But every time, he turned a drab, grey day into one with immovable grins, and a welcome feeling that I had to be someone, because Barry Cryer rang me up.
It’s hard to remember every time we shared smoke breaks outside pubs, for the Bath Comedy Festival or maybe Bristol Slapstick. 14 years is a dizzyingly long time! In fact, we now go back so far that The Comedy God once deigned to bless my comedy outfit, The Unrelated Family, for our first Bath Comedy Festival appearance:
Neither that building nor that comedy sketch troupe still exist, and now we’ve lost Baz too. You’ll note that Baz wasn’t too effusive in his blessing – he probably knew we were doomed, but he was just being nice.
Presenting him with the Bath Plug Award of 2017 was an utterly unavoidable pleasure – taking the stage after his latest show with good old Ronnie Golden at the vast Bradford-on-Avon Music Centre, as we’d unfortunately not been able to arrange a Q&A. But then, what questions were left unanswered by Barry over his several decades in showbiz? It seemed almost everyone did Q&As with him – not everyone shared a fag round the back with him afterwards. Well, okay, lots did. Loads.
The last call I had from Barry Cryer was to check that everyone was happy with the blurb he supplied for Fab Fools, one that he barely had to be asked for, it was written and sent off instantly:
And now I find myself wishing I had better recall of each and every one of those phone calls, let alone the jokes, one thing which I am particularly hopeless at storing safely in mind until required. I cherished every second he was on the line, of course, but for Baz, it was just a quick pass of the time, and he was off, with an “I’ll give you back your day”.
Yes, he was 86, but he’d just only just launched his first podcast, thanks to his son Bob, ‘Now Where Were We?’, and I was looking forward to scores more chats with the great and the giggly.
Of course, he had the best timing in the business, but what a time to go, Baz! There’s a great history of comedians having the worst timing with shuffling off the twig – Baz’s great friend Graham Chapman just before Monty Python’s 20th, Humph the minute Clue’s 50th episode was reached, in the middle of a live tour, and Tim also the very day after Clue’s 48th birthday. Now Baz, the great bringer of joy, has broken a life-long habit of never pooping parties by leaving us just before all the fun of celebrating the big day on April 11th. It reminds me of his wonderful quote after we lost Humph: “He did something totally out of character, he died. And he’s left a big gap, and I’ll never forgive him. Bless him.”
I’ve recently been in touch with Graeme Garden (whose okay also officially triggered my career, of course) and Jon Naismith, talking about their plans for Clue’s glorious Golden Anniversary in less than three months – but what happens now? The tributes to Baz will of course have to come first – follow the #CelebrateBaz hashtag on Twitter – though we’ve barely paid full tribute to poor Tim yet, and thanks to Covid it was only last night that a tribute show was staged for Jeremy Hardy at the Hammersmith Apollo, which I’d had to miss despite paying £50 for tickets. Sory to be mawkish, but you have to feel for Graeme, the creator of ISIHAC and the last man standing, having to celebrate such a marker without his old muckers by his side. But in every possible sense, The Show Must Go On, and The Show Must Be Celebrated. Baz wouldn’t dream of anything different, let alone Tim. But nobody could ever possibly have his comic authority. As every member of the Clue team would tell you, the show or round was never over until Baz had crashed the laughter of a particularly untoppable gag, and declared, “THAT’S IT!”
When, in the Bible, I suggested that young comedians might still be playing Mornington Crescent on air long after he was gone, Baz paused, gave a wee gasp, and fervently replied, “What a lovely thought” – and so they will.
Also, it’s notable that Barry was deferential to his life-long hero Humphrey Lyttelton to the last: Humph died one month before his 87th birthday. Baz has died two months before his.
Millions of us are crying today, but above all thoughts are with Terry, and all four generations of the Cryer family.
Thanks for everything, St. Baz. That’s it.