David Parkin on laughing with Cryer and doing deals

FAREWELL then Barry Cryer.

Morecambe and Wise, Tommy Cooper, Frankie Howerd, Les Dawson, Bob Hope, The Two Ronnies, Dave Allen, Kenny Everett, Stanley Baxter and Dick Emery.

Not a bad roster of clients to put on your CV.

And unlike many comedy writers, Barry Cryer was funny in his own right: he could deliver a great stand-up comedy performance, appear in a sketch or convulse a room with a brilliant after dinner speech.

And did you know that he once had a chart-topping record…in Finland?

He told that story when he appeared at Mike Firth’s Yorkshire International Business Convention in Harrogate.

In 1957, he joined the cast of the musical Expresso Bongo and recorded a novelty song, The Purple People Eater, originally written and performed by Sheb Wooley, the American actor and country and western singer who appeared in the hit TV show Rawhide.

Because of contractual issues, Wooley’s version could not be released in Scandinavia so the record company used Cryer’s version instead, and it topped the Finnish charts.

A completely useless but nevertheless, quite interesting fact.

Well I thought it was.

Barry Cryer was born in Leeds and went to Leeds Grammar School and then went to read English literature at the University of Leeds but dropped out after a year having, apparently, spent far too much time enjoying himself.

He briefly considered journalism but having been spotted performing comedy in university revues, he was invited to audition for a show at the historic Leeds City Varieties.

My friend Nathan Lane sent me a copy of the playbill from that first show – the original has been kept for posterity by Leeds Libraries – from August 6th 1956.

Called French Capers, it was billed as an “outstanding holiday attraction, a gay show of stars & sex appeal”.

Cryer was bottom of the bill and described as “Leeds Star of ‘Rag Revue’.

Above him on the bill were an intriguing assortment of performers including Gay and Roger Howard, accompanied by the tagline “Bats in the Belfrey”; Coruna & Dodo; Pat Gentiles, billed as “A Wee Bit of Scotch” and “The Beautiful and Daring Dorothe’a French, the Famous Posing Model.”

That last performer was clearly a stripper and Barry went on to perform at the well known Windmill Club in Soho which put on shows featuring nude women and employed up and coming comedians to fill the gaps in between sets.

I once saw Eric Morecambe tell a story on a chat show about Morecambe and Wise’s early days in showbusiness when they were booked to work at the Windmill.

He said all the girls were naked except for black shoes and black gloves.

“When they walked on stage, they looked like the five of clubs,” he said, raising his eyebrows and adjusting his glasses.

Barry Cryer was a long running regular on BBC Radio 4 comedy show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.

He was, unsurprisingly, hilarious and what always stood out to me was how he chuckled and belly laughed at what was said by all the other panellists and the hosts – first Humphrey Lyttleton and then Jack Dee.

The photo above is of one of the greatest comedy writing teams that never was.

The comedy writer extraordinaire Barry Cryer striking a nonchalant pose alongside me at Leeds Beckett University where we both were awarded honorary degrees on the same summer day in 2013.

Barry was set to collect an honorary doctorate from the institution and I had just been presented with an honorary Masters of Business Administration for services to business.

He said he was finally able to return to his home city and get a degree, after flunking out of Leeds University.

Yes, the award I received was a shock to me too.

A huge unexpected honour too, of course, but when I looked down the list of people who got  honorary awards from the university that week, I have to say, I was the only one I had never heard of.

In fact, when I received the letter about the honorary MBA, I mentioned it to colleagues at our office and, all of them, with tears in their eyes, said: “What the hell are you getting that for?”

It struck me that a university with acknowledged strengths in public relations and media had hit on the right way to get maximum publicity.

Give a journalist an honorary degree and he’s sure to write about it.

As I waited in cap and gown at the back of the ‘platform party’ all in full academic regalia, waiting to walk into the graduation ceremony in the tennis centre at the university’s Headingley campus, I could have felt totally overawed.

However Chancellor Sir Bob Murray, the entrepreneur and former Sunderland chairman, put me at ease, chatting about football and how he was concerned that the height of the heels worn by some of the female graduates had almost led to a couple of falls during the previous day’s ceremonies.

One of the deputy vice chancellors leaned towards me looking very serious.

“Be careful not to clap too vigorously early on – there are 400 graduating today,” he whispered conspiratorially.

“I do eight claps per graduate,” he said. “There are 5,000 students graduating this week. That’s 40,000 claps I’ll do this week. The way I see it, I don’t need to go to the gym on Friday to do my upper body work.”

Receiving the honorary degree involved doing a short speech to graduates and their families – almost 1,000 people.

I used it as an impassioned plea to try to explain why I was there.

And I ended it by telling graduates: “If anyone asks you which well known person received an honorary award at your graduation ceremony, you have my permission to say it was Dame Sarah Storey, the most successful British female Paralympian in history or any of the other successful people on the list, NOT David Parkin the journalist.”


I MET up with corporate finance expert Mark Eardley in Harrogate last week.

When he invited me to join him at his “club”, I thought he was joking but the Harrogate Club is a proper old school institution in the storied spa town.

With a dining room, lounges and snooker room it really is an impressive place to meet.

Former members include Victorian industrialists Sir Titus Salt who built the mill village Saltaire and Samson Fox, who made his fortune from inventions including steam boilers and railway bogies that were sold to the rapidly expanding railroad industry in the US.

He made so much money out of it that he paid for the building of the Royal College of Music in London.

Also a member was Cuthbert Brodrick, the Hull-born architect who won a competition – judged by Sir Charles Barry, who designed the Houses of  Parliament – to design Leeds Town Hall and went on to design the Leeds Corn Exchange and the Grand Hotel in Scarborough.

At the modern day Harrogate Club, Mark uses his charm (he’s from Stoke but half Italian) to make sure the catering team get his bacon sandwiches just right.

Although I didn’t see real evidence of that when I visited because I was offered a cup of coffee and a malted milk.

Mark told me that he is exploring a number of options to accelerate the growth of his business Langcliffe International and realise some capital as well.

I’ve watched the growth of this innovative enterprise from afar for some time and it is now Europe’s largest mergers and acquisitions deal originator, connecting potential buyers with live M&A (mergers and acquisitions) opportunities.

His company has established a database of around 12,000 strategic and financial buyers (4,000 of which are formally engaged) of mid-market businesses, with directly sourced and current acquisition criteria, matched with live acquisition opportunities.

Mark told me that more than 90% of UK private equity houses are clients, providing Langcliffe with unique insight on their portfolio companies.

And Langcliffe’s fees are paid by the buy side so vendor advisers are introduced to a wide audience of buyers at no cost and retain control of the process which provides Langcliffe and its clients visibility of more live deals in Europe than anyone else in the world.

The firm has established a highly scalable platform with refined systems and processes and has expected revenue approaching £3m and adjusted EBIT of £1.7m for the year ending April 2022, which even I can work out, shows a very good margin.

Langcliffe has been focused on opportunities in Europe and US markets since 2020 and hired six new members of the team to support that.

Mark feels that there could be a real opportunity to replicate the model in the USA hence the decision to review his strategic options now and find a partner to assist him with this.

I said that was worth a mention in the blog, and, having learned a lot from spending time with corporate financiers, negotiated a commission for myself if Mark does a deal.

He said that if he realises sufficient capital from the exercise he has promised to treat me to a full English breakfast (which is apparently worth the wait) at the Harrogate Club.

Have a great weekend.

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