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Barry Cryer: Comedy great dies aged 86 – family pays tribute to star who ‘made many people laugh’

Tributes are being paid to British comedy great Barry Cryer following his death at the age of 86.

Born in Leeds in 1935, he started out as a variety performer before going on to write for and with some of the biggest names in British comedy, including Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett, Sir Billy Connelly and Tommy Cooper.

He received an OBE in 2001 and in 2018 was given a lifetime achievement award for his comedy career by the British Music Hall Society.

Cryer’s family said the star died in hospital in Harrow, "peacefully, in good spirits and with his family around him", on Tuesday afternoon.

"Dad was a talented comedy writer and comedian in a particularly golden vintage," they said in a statement paying tribute.

"Incidentally he never really liked the terms ‘comedy writer’ or ‘comedian’, instead preferring hack and entertainer, and always thought the term ‘national treasure’ meant he’d just been dug up. He was, in his words, arrogant in his humility.

"He had a gift for friendship (as anyone who still has a landline will testify) and a genius for putting people at their ease. Oh yes, and he made many people laugh. A lot. Over many years."

During a seven-decade career, Cryer appeared on stage, screen and radio and penned jokes for countless household names.

He was known for his long-running partnership with the late Sir David Frost, with their collaborations including The Frost Report on the BBC, and was also a panellist on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue for more than four decades.

He was also a much-loved family man, known to those who knew him as Baz. One of his sons, actor and writer Bob Cryer, shared the family’s statement on Twitter with the caption "#celebratebaz".

"Baz was, firstly, a loving husband to Terry for nearly 60 years and a gentle father to Tony, David, Jack, Bob," their statement said. "He was a friend to their partners Jayne, Matt, Garry and Suzannah.

"As a grandfather, Ruby, Tom, Evan, Archie, Hope, Martha and Connie all loved him and more recently, Ruby’s daughter, Isobel, had the good fortune to spend time with him as a great-grandfather."

A curiosity with the next generation

One of the lasting legacies of Cryer is his enduring generosity, highlighted by many in the industry in their tributes after his death.

Speaking to Sky News, his son, Bob, said that Cryer had a "relentless curiosity" with other comics and would regularly be seen speaking to the next generation of comics.

"He was uncle Baz to lots of comics because he knew what it was like and never forgot coming down from Leeds on a 16-day return to meet a few agents in London. He never forgot what that feeling was like because on the fifteenth day he got a job at the Windmill Theatre in London," he said.

"He got a huge thrill out of working and being part of some great moments in comedy. He just wanted to be around funny people.

"He loved the green room, he obviously loved performing but loved the chat afterwards. He was a great favourite at the Edinburgh Festival for just that and the relentless curiosity he had for the younger comics especially."

Bob added that his father got joy out of making people laugh and would often rehearse his material at the kitchen table.

He said: "The stuff that he would tell on camera and in the green room and in the pub… he’d rehearse it, in fact, at the kitchen table. He’d get our feedback and it was a joy because he would get just as much of a thrill from making you or mum or any one of my brothers and sister laugh as he would from any of the great comedians that he worked with or visited to write.

"He wanted the person he was with to feel comfortable but mostly to make him laugh. He always had a distant relationship with the idea of fatherhood, he would rather be your mate. He didn’t like the idea of being the authority figure, which is probably evident in his comedy."

Comedians and fans pay tribute

Stephen Fry, Gyles Brandreth and David Baddiel are among the many stars and fans also commemorating Cryer.

Fry described the comedy legend as a "glorious, gorgeous, hilarious and gifted writer and performer who straddled all the comic traditions" and was "universally beloved", while Doctor Who and Sherlock writer Mark Gatiss called the star "the real deal".

Gatiss continued: "An incredibly funny man who worked with – and wrote for – the giants of comedy," he wrote on Twitter. "Yet he remained forever curious and delighted by whatever was fresh and original. Kind, encouraging, generous and a one off. Goodbye, Cheeky."

Writer Neil Gaiman tweeted to say he had worked with Cryer just once, but "being in the room and watching him act and tell jokes was an utter joy".

Comedian Ross Noble described Cryer as "a legend of his generation and more engaged with the many new generations of writers and comics who followed him than anyone else in the business". He added: "Spending time with him was always a great joy. Such a funny and nice man."

Dame Esther Rantzen described Cryer as an "encyclopaedia of humour".

The TV presenter, who first worked with the comedy star in the ’60s and also on That’s Life for some time, said: "In a way Barry was a genius, but so unassuming that he would be astonished, I think, to be called a genius – but he was.

"His jokes were brilliantly crafted and a constant joy. He would ring his friends up with his latest parrot jokes or with some reflection on what was happening. He was so generous with his wit."

The BBC’s director-general Tim Davie also paid tribute, saying Cryer was a "uniquely funny, talented and generous person".

In a statement, Davie said: "He was an incredible comedian and writer. If you heard or saw a great sketch there was always a good chance Barry was behind it. He worked with every major showbiz legend because everyone wanted to work with him.

"Barry will be hugely missed by his many friends at the BBC and the wider public."

‘We’ll all be doing our best to maintain that legacy’

Cryer’s family said his funeral would take place in the coming weeks and would be followed later by a "more inclusive" memorial service.

They also thanked doctors, nurses and consultants who cared for their father, mentioning the names of people from the Macmillan Cancer Support charity.

They said: "It’ll be of no surprise to those that knew and worked with him that he was telling an Archbishop of Canterbury joke to a nurse not long before he died.

"That was one of his gifts, making strangers feel welcome. Making them laugh."

They also asked for messages, photos or videos to be submitted to a book of condolence, with details to be announced on Twitter.

"He leaves behind him a life of fun, joy, love and silliness and we’ll all be doing our best to maintain that legacy," they said.

"He regularly told fantastic stories and anecdotes about others – the many brilliant and fascinating people he’d worked with and knew – but as he was loved and admired by many, why don’t we start telling some stories about Baz and his brilliant and mischievous life and career?

"And to end, as Dad would say: ‘Same time tomorrow?’"

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