Our Dear Friend Barry Cryer

2013 Barry Cryer 2 1

Hello everyone,

As you will no doubt have heard, yesterday we learnt the news that we had lost a singular comedy genius and very dear festival friend, Barry Cryer.  

We first met Barry in 2009 when he came to Bristol with Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and the Clue team to raise money for the festival with an ISIHAC show at Bristol Hippodrome. Right from the start, Baz was a delight. Year after year, he joined us for our annual celebration of classic comedy in Bristol, bringing with him his trademark charm, generosity, passion for new comedy and extensive knowledge of parrot jokes!

Over the last thirteen years, Baz performed in at least 14 events at Slapstick, most notably when he received the coveted Aardman Slapstick Comedy Legend Award in 2015. Some of the other shows he helped create with us included celebrations of Morecambe & Wise, Tommy Cooper and Kenny Everett, for whom he wrote. He also performed a few times at Slapstick with his musical comedy teammates: Colin Sell and Ronnie Golden.

Barry was a friend, a patron and, without a shadow of a doubt, the godfather of comedy. Barry hasn’t left a hole in the fabric of light entertainment, he’s left a chasm that simply can’t be filled. 

Our hearts go out to Barry’s wife Terry and his whole family at this difficult time.

We will continue to champion Barry’s incomparable legacy for years to come.

We know Barry would want the festival to go on despite this news, and so it will. We spent yesterday exchanging stories about Barry and telling each other some of his best jokes. If you have a fond recollection of Barry – or a favourite joke – we’d love to hear it. 

RIP Barry Cryer. Born 23 March 1935; died 25 January 2022.

Chris Daniels,

Slapstick Director

THE MYSTERY OF BILLY LANCET – AN ALTERNATIVE THEORY

Since I reported the results of my researches into the brief career and subsequent total oblivion of the one-time superstar boy comedian Billy Lancet, I have been having second thoughts (and like them better).  

The  theatrical journalists who wrote about Billy in his own time had been familiar for twenty years with the other “boy comedian”, Wee Georgie Wood.  They recognized Georgie as a victim of a thyroid disorder which condemned him (like the later Jimmie Clitheroe) to remain for life in a boy’s body, with a boy’s unbroken voice.  Sceptical critics of the time, consequently, questioned Billy’s advertised age and assumed him to be a fellow artist turning his glandular defect to artistic and financial advantage.  In my previous speculation, I went along with this notion – which left the mystery of why Billy’s career abruptly came to an end, while Georgie kept on for two more decades.  Now I would like to propose another possibility.

Could the claim that Billy debuted as a very accomplished comic at 9 years old actually be true?   Prodigies usually evince their gifts in their first ten years, and can come with multifarious talents – mathematical wizards, composers, dazzling instrumentalists, actors, poets (in 1955 we saw the publication of the 9-year-old French Minon Drouet’s inspired poetry).  So why not a 9-year-old genius with a talent for inventing non-stop comic monologue to torment the grown-ups around him.

If this explanation of the inspirational comic gift of Billy Lancet is correct, the story becomes less mysterious.  He made his triumphant debut in 1928, at 9.  His success was instant and phenomenal.  But in 1933, at 14, his voice broke….  THE END!

The face of Billy Lancet

THE MYSTERY OF BILLY LANCET (?1919-1965)

Billy Lancet – The Butcher Boy

Someone recently posted on You-tube a recording from an old 8” low-cost shellac gramophone disc released in 1930.

It was entitled “The Butcher Boy” and was labeled as being performed by “Billy Lancet, The Boy Comedian”. It was indeed the voice of a very cheeky boy, and a very lively performer. 

So who was Billy Lancet? There was some speculation on-line when the disc appeared , and vague recollections of an artist of some such name. but then he returned to obscurity.

Since I match the disc in age, I was curious enough to turn to the archives. The startling discovery was that for a few years, between 1928 and 1933, the now forgotten Billy Lancet was a super-star of British vaudeville, touring with his own company, topping the bill In the major British variety theatres. A typical review of the time informs us: 

The chief attraction is Billy Lancet who appears in a sketch “Willie’s Birthday”. with Thelma Rayne and Cameron McKinley. One would not like to guess the age of Mr Lancet. He has the appearance and mannerisms of a boy of ten, but his work suggests many years of experience as a comedian. It is a most laughable sketch. The diminutive comedian has an irresistible personality and gets a grip on the audience before he has been on the stage many seconds. There is no story in the sketch. It is merely an incident in the life of a precocious young lad who knows his mother will always take his side against his stepfather, and his antics are decidedly amusing. Mr Lancet would hold the stage for twice the length of time allotted to him, and he is to be commended on a clean and entertaining act.

Billy Lancet Butchers Boy record

The Bad Boy of Variety

Willie’s Birthday was succeeded by other titles – Willie Lends a Hand, Leave it to Willie, Willie’s Good Deed, but clearly the sketches were constantly changing and updating, so that audiences could see them again and again and encounter new gags. He styled himself “The Boy Comedian” and “The Bad Boy of Variety (or Vaudeville)”. 

As it happens, one of his earliest traceable performances was at the Bristol Hippodrome, in the week of 4 December 1928. Even then, however, the Bristol press announced him as “the eminent Billy Lancet”, so he must have been around before that. Curiously he is also advertised for the same week at the Bath Palace, so it may have been that his popularity led him to revive the old music hall practice for an artist to play several theatres in the same evening, racing by taxi from one to the other.

With his restricted growth and un-breaking voice, he could have continued indefinitely, like his senior, Wee Georgie Wood (1894-1979), who had been performing since the first decade of the 20th century, and went on until 1953, and the later Jimmie Clitheroe (1921-1973) . Lancet evidently shared with them the unexplained glandular disorder that trapped them in permanent boyhood. However it is likely that ill-health abruptly, prematurely and finally ended his starring career in 1933. He was to appear on stage only once more, in February

1938, when he was at Wood Green Empire in the supporting cast of the veteran Charles Austin’s comedy sketch company.

Billy Lancet

He was briefly in the news again for a day in 1952, when he was hospitalized for the spectacular inconvenience of coughing non-stop for two weeks. 

Not even pictures of Billy Lancet have turned up, except for a tiny newspaper print in a variety theatre advert. There is still a haunting vitality in the face.

Another smart critic of the time torments us with the great opportunity that was missed with Billy: 

In the vaudeville houses, there is a delightful delineator of boy parts who is known by the name of Willie Lancet. He is immensely popular and even in these bad times manages to sneak bookings where bookings are said not to be. He reminds one of Georgie Wood as he was in his best days, but without the curls. Willy’s boy is your real little he-man, a rascal of rascals, a good boy gone delightfully wrong. Watching him a few nights ago in one of the fast vanishing variety houses I thought of an ingredient that some British film director might do worse than make use of, namely: one helping of Mrs Richmal Crompton’s William stories, a sprinkling of English countryside and a generous slice of Willie Lancet’s refreshing juvenile nonsense. Season with a selected cast, a smothering of crisp witty dialogue, and you have a dish the cinemas might be glad to add to their programmes” 

SLAPSTICK would have been up for those! 

The face of Billy Lancet

***A post script on Wee Georgie Wood: I remember often seeing his act, which invariably began with Georgie striding onto the stage and catching sight of the microphone placed there. “Take that thing away!”, he would holler; “I was there before it was!”. And even in the biggest variety theatres he could make himself heard to the back the gallery. These eternal boys knew their job. ***And finally – Billy Lancet is known to have made another gramophone record, The Telegraph Boy. One to look out for!

Stop Motion Animation – A Timeless Art Form

Stop Motion Animation – A Timeless Art Form

aardman animation wallace gromit 1

For years animation has been one of the most impressive and entertaining disciplines in cinema. Developing from simple flip books to modern CGI graphics it continues to dazzle and develop year after year. Of Course the technicality of it is incredibly impressive, but the thing that has kept animation at the forefront of film for so many years is its universal humour and unique blend of surrealism and hyperrealism. Animated films were designed to bring joy to everyone, it’s done just that since its inception and it continues to do so. 

Moving images and animation go back thousands of years, from puppeteering and shadow plays all the way up to the first genuine animated film, made using the ‘Théâtre Optique’. A device created by Charles-Émile Reynaud, the Théâtre Optique, allowed transparent paintings to be projected over a background, and shown in a way that emulated movement, It was first used in 1892 to screen a series of animated short films, heralding the beginning of a century of developments in animation. 

Using the Théâtre Optique, drawings came to life and became more fluid through rotoscoping. They also eventually appeared in colour, thanks to the film tinting technique. This continued development would go on for years and years, to this day still animation techniques are getting more and more complex and intricate. 

With all this constant development some films can get lost in the past, but one filmmaker’s innovation is still being used to draw constant inspiration. Wladyslaw Starewicz is the founder of modern stop motion animation, originally a professor of biology he was asked to create an educational film exploring how beatles would engage in a fight. But it appeared the beatles would not fight under the lighting required to film the event, angered by this Sterewicz took matters into his own hands and ended up creating the principles for what would be the basics of stop motion. 

He would attach the separate limbs of the bugs to strings, occasionally replacing specific body parts with plastic, the result was these incredibly realistic and human-like movements. Sterewicz went on to create many more incredible films, all using beatles and other bugs but

telling incredibly human and emotional stories. The Cameraman’s Revenge (1912) tells a simple story of infidelity, a short tragic comedy made using stop motion bugs. The incredible attention to detail is what made this film the masterpiece it is, every minute movement is accounted for and the result is this magical piece of cinema. Stop motion animation would stay true to its originator, continuing to be an art form for absolute perfectionists whose obsession with precise details allows them to create some of the most jaw dropping films.

wladyslaw starewicz stop motion

Think of Fantastic Mr Fox by Wes Anderson or the incredible Wallace and Gromit series by Aardman Animations. 

Both Anderson and Aardman have noted that their inspiration came from Wladyslaw Starewicz. Indeed, if you were to watch Le Roman de Renard – roughly translated to The Story Of The Fox – you would see many similarities between it and Fantastic Mr Fox. 

As we mentioned before, animation is an ever-adapting and changing art form. Contemporary examples of stop motion have become intertwined with CGI technology. But by no means has this changed the principles it was founded on. They are still about perfectionism and continue to tell incredibly human and emotional stories. 

Aardman studios’ recent body of work showcases perfect examples of this. The Academy Award winning studio began as a project by two students, Peter Lord and David Sproxton, animation fanatics who made innovative strides in claymation.

Wallace and Gromit

Now a major film studio, Aardman uses thousands of talented artists in combination with CGI technology while still staying true to the art of stop motion and continuing to tell entertaining and beautifully charming stories. 

At Slapstick, we have an incredibly close relationship with Aardman and appreciate the lengths they go to to keep such a timeless art form alive. We will be welcoming Peter Lord back to the festival this year to discuss some of the animations that inspired him and celebrate the unique blend of surrealism and visual comedy that animation does best.

Best of The Best – Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd

Best of The Best – Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd

Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin. All three began their careers more than a century ago, yet all still maintain their places as the greatest names in on screen comedy. Their films are still constantly discovered by new generations of lucky audiences who can now see them with worthy musical accompaniment – in Chaplin’s case, of his own composition.

What was special about these three was that they were not only the stars, but conceived, wrote and for all practical purposes, directed their own films. They were the total creators. Needless to say, they performed all their own stunts, however perilous: there could be no doubles for such personalities. 

For Slapstick 2022 we have chosen each one’s last or penultimate silent film. Talking pictures had arrived, with The Jazz Singer (1927), but our stars did not rush to adopt sound, and Chaplin, though he was to make use of musical sound-tracks, did not speak on screen until 1940. 

The Camera Man

Keaton’s marvellous The Cameraman (1928) was the first film he made after giving up his own studio to move to MGM – a sacrifice of independence which he rightly came to regard
as the worst mistake of his life. His budget was assured, but he was an employee, subject to the producer’s final word and whim. He was no longer permitted to risk doing his own stunts – and no-one else could do them.

Perhaps the producers had not yet learned to exert their full control when he made his first MGM film The Cameraman (1928). Despite the studio, The Cameraman (1928) still has the qualities of Keaton’s great silent films: his uniquely expressive physical comedy that belies the “stone face”, in the service of a gripping narrative.

The film was Keaton’s penultimate silent movie, as was Harold Lloyd’s spectacular The Kid Brother (1927). Lloyd, like Chaplin, retained his creative autonomy and was one of the comparatively few actors to make a triumphant transition to sound films.

Lloyd, sporting his indispensable lens-less horn-rimmed spectacles, plays Harold Hickory, a hick from Hickoryville, who plays the substitute housewife in a family of overly manly men. He has a chance to prove his worth and clear his family name when a group of con artists menace town.

It is an ingenious blend of slapstick, horror, romance and inventive gags. It was one of Lloyd’s own favourites and one of most impressive monuments of silent comedy 

Upon release, it was a smash hit, both at the box office and among critics. Made at the apex of Lloyd’s career – and of silent film – it is undoubtedly one of the most impressive pieces of silent comedy.

The Kid Brother
4 Chaplin The Circus 1928

It is as common for filmmakers to have a favourite as to have a film they try to forget.

In Chapin’s case the making of The Circus (1928) proved the worst year of his working life. The trouble was not the film but the circumstances surrounding its production.

Throughout the year he was battling a merciless divorce case brought by his wife Lita Grey. Her lawyers fought – and sometimes succeeded – to take possession of Chapin’s assets, including the studio and the negatives, which the crew was always having to secrete or smuggle elsewhere. This was only the start.

The shooting began with the difficult tightrope scenes for which Chaplin and the film’s romantic lead Harry Crocker, had been tirelessly rehearsing. The scenes were successfully shot – but the lab fouled up all the negatives.

Then the set was destroyed by a fire. Because of delays, when they went back to reshoot location scenes, they found the places had been transformed by Hollywood’s rapid development.

Finally, with relief, they set up the film’s final scene in a remote location, where the whole horse-drawn circus train goes off into the distance, leaving Chaplin deserted and alone. All was ready, but when they returned in the morning, everything had disappeared, stolen by mischievous students.

Incredibly the film was finished – to become one of Chaplin’s finest and most faultless silent comedies, with scenes of incredible virtuosity like the hall of mirrors or the climactic scene where Chaplin, balancing on the high wire, is assaulted and de-trousered by a gang of monkeys. It received a special award at the very first Oscar ceremony (nothing like today’s spectacle – just a banquet in the Roosevelt Hotel). But for Chaplin it would always evoke memories of that tormented year.

Forty years later, in 1968, Chaplin finally felt able to return to the film, to release it with his own accompanying score, and a title song, ”Swing Little Girl”, for which a top pop singer of the moment, Matt Monro was contracted. However, Chaplin’s musical arranger Eric James however decided that the 81-year-old Chapin performed it better, so it is his voice we hear over the titles of The Circus.

These three great films all have one notable cast member – a monkey, who saves the day for Keaton, leads the de-bagging of Chaplin, and helps Lloyd sail. This unique simian star is Josephine, whose showcasing career in major films extended from these three films and Street Angel (1928) all the way to Arabian Nights (1942).

But Josephine is not the only thing these films have in common. They represent the finest work of the three great comedy legends of cinema, and they mark the climactic end of the silent era. They also happen to ALL be featured at the 18th edition of Slapstick Festival. Be sure to seize this opportunity.

The Camera Man Monkey

The Goodies Forever

Event Recently Ended

The Goodies Forever

With Robin Ince & Friends

Date: Saturday 29th January 2022
Time: 2:20pm
Venue Website: Watershed
Map: Watershed
Price: £8.50/£5.00

In 2020 Tim, Bill and Graeme attended a special 50th anniversary event at Slapstick celebrating The Goodies onstage with Robin ince.

As Bill Oddie is now sadly unable to make Slapstick 2022 due to complications related to covid, Robin Ince, comedian and host of infinite monkey cage, will be celebrating the work of those super chaps: The Goodies by hosting a celebration of their best moments onscreen.

Robin has reached out to fellow comedians, writers and friends and asked them to record an onscreen introduction to their favourite moment from The Goodies.

Watch out for Tim Vine, Rob Brydon, Harry Hill and a plethora of surprise celebrity fans as they choose their favourite moments from the classic tv series.

Please Note: This Event replaces It’s Only Funny When It Hurts lecture with Bill Oddie which we hope to reschedule in the near future.

the goodies event

Barry Cryer: An Audience With A Comedy Legend

Barry Cryer

We will be issuing an update shortly, following today’s very sad news 27-01-2022

An Audience With A Comedy Legend

Date: Sun 27th March 2022
Time: 3:30pm
Venue Website: Redgrave Theatre
Map: Redgrave Theatre
Price: £18 – £16, plus booking fee

Barry Cryer is currently 86 and a third of his life has passed already! He invites you to join him in a decorous orgy of comic nostalgia in this ‘slapstick conversation’ onstage and in person with his host, BBC’s very own Alex Lovell.

Barry’s long standing career has been nothing short of outstanding. His unique brand of comedy has spread across generations like wildfire, having written for some of the all time comedy greats like Tommy Cooper, Bob Hope and Richard Pryor.

He embodied that golden age of comedy where comedians seem to just glide onto the stage and have you in a laughing fit before they even reach the mic.

Still working today, a testament to his persistent professionalism, Cryer continues to claim his long standing seat on the ubiquitous panel show ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’. 

Join for Jokes, stories and much more as Barry discusses his incredible unmatched life in comedy. A life packed full of memories…if only he can remember them…?! 

Lee Mack’s Desert Island Comedy Flicks

Event Recently Ended

Lee Mack’s Desert Island Comedy Flicks

Date: Sun 27th March 2022
Time: 20:30pm
Venue Website: Redgrave Theatre
Map: Redgrave Theatre
Price: £18/£16 Plus booking fees

Lee Mack teams up with Slapstick Festival as part our Slapstick Sunday’s series of events at the Redgrave Theatre this March. 

The prolific actor, writer comedian, best known for his appearances in his award-winning long running sit-com’ ‘Not Going Out’ and as team captain in ‘Would I Lie To You?’ discusses the comedy feature films he would he choose if he was stranded on a desert island but could only bring 10 films with him. Followed by a Q&A.

Leading the chat will be Bristol’s very own Jayde Adams, winner of multiple stand-up awards, and seen recently in Stephen Merchants Outlaws

Lee Mack

In The Best Possible Taste! Tim Vine salutes Kenny Everett

In The Best Possible Taste!

Tim Vine salutes Kenny Everett

Date: Sun 27th March 2022
Time: 18:30pm
Venue Website: Redgrave Theatre
Map: Redgrave Theatre
Price: £18/£16 Plus booking fees

Tim Vine adores Kenny Everett and wants to tell the world why.

Following his recent successful outing performing in homage to one of his great musical favourites – Elvis Presley (in the guise of Plastic Elvis) Tim returns to Slapstick Festival to champion one of his great comedy heroes, Kenny Everett.

Renowned and revered DJ Kenny exploded onto our small screens in 1981 with his wonderful Kenny Everett Video Show (1981-88).

The series was an instant hit utilising Kenny’s innovative jingles, multi-track recordings and ground breaking comedy sketches. Scripted by Barry Cryer and Ray Cameron the show had an intentionally anarchic and unpredictable live broadcast feel which all contributed to its popularity and legacy.

Tim shares his passion for Kenny with a series of extracts and a brief onstage appearance from none other than the legendary Barry Cryer.

Slapstick 2022 TimVine Instagram