Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Barry Clayton

My friend Barry Clayton died this morning.

I first tracked Barry down twenty years ago.  Tracked down, because once I’d heard him, I had a professional need to find him  I had heard his voice on a TV commercial for a compilation CD of Heavy Metal hits.  Barry had many claims to fame and in the unlikely field of rock music he was known as the voice of ‘the beast’ in Iron Maiden’s single ‘The Number of the Beast, from 1982. The band’s original choice to read the lines was Vincent Price, who was too expensive, so Barry was selected.  I spent days telephoning around record distributors and advertising agencies in order to track down this voice and eventually I found it.  Barry was booked for my next commentary session - I was producing on-air trails for Bravo at the time - and, six weeks after hearing him for the first time, I met him.

Rather deprecatingly, he introduced himself as ‘Vincent “Cut” Price’, but his voice was so much better than that. It could be seductive, mellow, assured, authoritative and powerful within the span of a single phrase.  I came to work with him on a regular basis, and he became my voice of choice: we both revelled with him grasping, moulding and manifesting the commentaries I wrote, promoting Bravo’s extremely dubious range of movies.  “Wrath of the Wendigo” was the first shlock-horror voice he performed for me, and to this day I am proud to have his mellifluous tones on my showreel, promoting all kinds of films and television series and events.  I love his reading for the trailer for David Kronenburg’s ‘Dead Ringers’, marvel at the build-up he creates in ‘Fear, Fright and Fantasy’ (no amount of alliteration would ever put him off) and immerse myself in his confident, all-knowing delivery of the promos for the MTV series ‘Dead at 21’.  Our work together on ‘Hammer House of Horror’ won the Promax Gold Award for Best Trailer.

Not surprisingly our friendship beyond the audio studio developed, and we began to contrive reasons for lunch together after our recording sessions.  During these happy repasts (“I think we could squeeze in another bottle of Pinot Grigio, don’t you?”) I came to learn of his astonishing life story.

He was born in Sheffield.  Every time we met, he would greet me in a thick South Yorkshire accent, congratulating me on managing to escape from “Oop North”. (I usually did a Rita Tushingham impression in return, dumping my bag down on the busy pavement and staring up at the buildings as I whispered in awe: “Lunn-dunn…!”).  I was surprised to learn that he had been born with a cleft palate - not something one would expect in a successful actor, presenter and voice artist - because you could never tell. As a boy he was exceptionally close to his mother and he recounted to me an incredibly moving tale of how the two of them found themselves at the quayside in a northern French port the days after the Second World War broke out.  They were approached by a young Jewish woman whose only chance of survival was to escape to England.  Barry’s mother gave her her own passport... 

Barry was a socialist and an internationalist: the words probably ran through him like the letters in a stick of rock. I believe his father had fought in the Spanish Civil War. Barry grew up embracing the concept of a world without borders: in addition to an impressive repertoire of  European languages, he was fluent in Esperanto.  He trained as an actor and moved to Poland, where he became the English voice of Radio Warsaw. It was here he met his future wife and, from what I can make out, the fact that she was a nuclear scientist and he wasn’t Polish didn’t fit in too well with the authorities as the Cold War limped impotently forward. 

They returned to the UK where Barry joined Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop in Stratford East - anecdotes he would recount from this time were hilarious.  He met Lindsay Anderson who recommended he contact Granada Television, which he did: he signed up and worked as a producer with the writer and journalist Brian Trueman and they spent many happy years reporting on the more topical daily life in the north-west of England in ‘People and Places’ the fore-runner of ‘Granada Reports’.  The two of them, tasked with ensuring the viewers saw their own world reflect on the small screen, would pore over the map of the region, identify a locality they hadn’t visited recently and then dig out the Good Food Guide, before setting off to the likes of Kirkby Lonsdale for a couple of hours filming followed by an award-winning and totally disproportionate dinner.  Barry was always impressed at the supportive way in which the Bernsteins took a personal interest in the way Granada's creative staff worked.

Yet London called, and Barry became producer and presenter on Capital Radio’s “London Tonight”, which he co-hosted with Anna Raeburn.   These were the heady days of commercial radio and Capital was the standard by which all other stations were measured.   Only the other day I found recordings of Kenny Everett, another star from the Capital firmament, and was delighted to hear Barry turn up as narrator in Everett’s ridiculously funny space serial ‘Captain Kremmen’.  “Oh yes,” Barry once told me, “Kenny would regularly stick his head around the office door, grab me and drag me behind a microphone to read something outrageous...”.  Barry moved on to BBC Radio London and launched ‘Black Londoners’ with Alex Pascall.  He also produced films on architecture, about which he was passionate, and he subscribed prolifically to a wide range of the arts.

He could not abide politicians and loathed the way the world ran itself.  Our meals together were spent lambasting the status quo, agreeing on the absurdity of people in power making such a mess of the world they contrive to improve.  We put the world to rights every time.

This last year wasn’t kind to Barry.  His advancing illness meant that during a happy and otherwise totally coherent conversation, he would begin to speak on a subject, not knowing he had already done so a few minutes previously.  I didn’t bring this to his attention and nor did I mind, because he was always such fun to listen to.  Perhaps he thought there was a chance he might get repeat fees - voice artists rarely do these days.

Barry died in a care home at 6 a.m., at the start of the shortest day of the year, and I’m terribly upset.  Because of this, I may have confused some of the details in what I’ve written above, but you get the picture.  He was a very special man, a kind and warm character, immensely talented, perceptive and a demonstrator of exquisite taste.  Even better, he cared about the world.

And he was a very, very good friend.


  1. A wonderful assessment of his life. Thankyou for filling so many blanks. Please contact me asap.
    Nick Hughes.
    07939 20 20 21.

  2. The above is a fitting and accurate tribute to a warm and compassionate man. Alas, I lost touch with Barry over the years but fondly remember our times together as his researcher during the Granada days...I've only just come across this sad news.....over the past year or so I had been trying to get back in touch and invite him to lunch at BAFTA...this cannot be...
    Best regards

  3. David Cronenberg is actually the gent's name. ‘Dead Ringers’ is indeed a wonderful film.

  4. I grew up listening to Barry's dulcet tones as he would open each episode of one of my favourite childrens' shows, Count Duckula; he had a delightful mix of humourous and chilling in his voice that suited the show perfectly. Later in my life, as I discovered my taste was for heavier music, I spent many moments wondering just who it was who opened "The Number Of The Beast" for Iron Maiden; I was surprised and delighted to discover it was Duckula's narrator.
    Reading this account, it seems as though he and I could have spent many, many hours discussing the world at large and, as you and my late grandma would say, setting the world to rights. I think he would have been fascinating to hear, not just for his voice, but for his insight. Would that there were more like him, maybe there might be a little more reason in the world.