radio review

For thousands of people, today is very special. On 17 June 1946, Barry Alan Pinkus was born in New York. The artist normally known as Barry Manilow has hit 50. In Happy Birthday Barry from Gary (Radio 2, Saturday), Gary Wilmot acknowledged this fact. Gary had good reason to be grateful to Barry, having spent months playing the lead in the sultan of schmaltz's musical, Copacabana. Here he repaid his debt. "We've invited along some party guests," he chirped. "Some old friends of Barry, some fans, and we'll be hearing from Barry himself, telling us of his rise from Brooklyn to Broadway to Hollywood to the world. So, with the candles gently flickering on the cake, and the root beer on ice, let's join the celebrations!"

There was an uneasy moment when Gary first referred to Barry's Brooklyn roots. "He is, without doubt," he said, grappling for the appropriate superlative, "one of the biggest stars to emerge from that part of New York." This didn't sound that impressive. But Gary had come to praise Barry, not bury him. "Could it be magic?" he asked. "It most definitely is," he answered, "when it comes from the pen of Barry Manilow."

All the same, this was a curiously apologetic celebration. It didn't actually let anyone have a go at Barry, but the guests sounded like defence witnesses. "It's sort of embarrassing to reveal you're a fan," remarked one - and that was Manilow himself. A Times reviewer was wheeled out to tell how surprised he'd been to enjoy a Manilow concert; and Gloria Hunniford (why?) explained that, though Barry once took criticism badly, he'd now developed a sense of humour - although how he'd survived without one, working with Bette Midler for four years, beats me.

Bette met Barry when he accompanied her weekly gigs at a men's Turkish baths. She said she'd thought Manilow's melodies were great but "there was something about the lyrics I couldn't quite get a handle on" - fair comment on the man who rhymed "Her name was Lola" with "she was a showgirl".

Bette was a big influence. But it's to Barry's stepfather that the world owes most thanks. Thank you for leading your 13-year-old stepson to a piano but, more importantly, thank you for consigning his accordion to the dustbin of history.

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