The Third Leader: Goodbye from him

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The Independent Online

It's been fashionable to find Barker a safe, comfortable kind of performer, and so think the less of him. And that is exactly what he was, but someone had to do it, hold the line, present the acceptable face of mainstream comedy while the Milligans and Pythons disappeared off up their own surrealities, the Mannings and Davidsons peddled their rarely amusing prejudices, and Morecambe and Wise continued to be just a little bit too northern (for some).

And so Barker carried on from the great days of Fifties wireless in taking the wordplay and the innuendo of the music hall and improving and polishing them, giving them a touch of (middle) class. And while we waited for The Fast Show, Steve Coogan, Little Britain and Peter Kay to take their inspiration and apply some edge, there was a lot to laugh at in the craft, care and, above all, timing of Barker, standing up or sitting down.

His great peer, Barry Cryer, said yesterday, "He was like a chameleon - you couldn't believe it was the same man if you watched Porridge or Open All Hours." Which reminded me of this, from The Two Ronnies: "We had hoped to be bringing you Arthur the Human Chameleon now, but he crawled across a tartan rug this afternoon and died of exhaustion." That's class, too.

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