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Tribute to pioneer in black radio broadcasting

PIONEER: Barry Clayton

CLOSE FAMILY members, friends, former colleagues and prominent members of the black community were among 100 people who turned out to pay a final farewell to pioneering black radio broadcaster Barry Clayton.

The funeral service was held in Islington Crematorium in east Finchley, north London, earlier today (Jan 16).

Clayton, who died on December 21 aged 80, had many claims to fame. In the unlikely field of rock music he was known as the voice of ‘the beast’ in Iron Maiden’s 1982 single The Number of the Beast. The band’s original choice to read the lines was Vincent Price, who was too expensive, so Barry was selected.

Therefore, and rather self-deprecatingly, Barry would introduce 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.

He became the voice of choice for promotions producers, who would revel in him grasping, moulding and creating commentaries to promote an extensive and invariably eclectic range of movies. Wrath of the Wendigo was the first shlock-horror voice he performed for producer Chris Wood, who went on to utilise his mellifluous tones in promoting hundreds of films, television series and events. His reading for the trailer for David Kronenburg’s Dead Ringers was compelling, the build-up he creates in Fear, Fright and Fantasy gripping (no amount of alliteration would ever put him off), and his confident delivery sent a chill through the promos for the MTV series Dead at 21.

TOP OF THE POPS: Barry was known as the voice of ‘the beast’ in Iron Maiden’s 1982 single The Number of the Beast

His voice was a major contribution to Chris’s promotions for Hammer House of Horror on Bravo, winning the Promax Gold Award for the UK’s Best Trailer.

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

He was born in Sheffield. And the successful actor, presenter and voice artist had been born with a cleft palate. One could never tell. As a boy he was exceptionally close to his mother, and he recounted an incredibly moving tale of how the two of them found themselves at the quayside in a northern French port 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 the woman her own passport.

Barry was a socialist and an internationalist: the words probably ran through him like the letters in a stick of rock. It is thought his father had fought in the Spanish Civil War.

HIT: Barry lent his voice to popular children's series, Count Duckula

He grew up embracing the concept of a world without borders. In addition to an impressive knowledge of European languages, he was fluent in Esperanto. He trained as an actor and moved to Poland to study at the Polish Film School. If it was good enough for Polanski then it was good enough for Barry.

It was here he met his future wife, Theresa, and from what can be made out, the fact that she was a nuclear scientist and he wasn’t Polish did not fit in too well with the authorities as the Cold War limped impotently forward.

Barry was also fearful of the authorities’ reaction to his final film, and concerned about getting it out of Poland. In the end Theresa wrapped the celluloid around her body, put on a big fur coat, and smuggled the film out of the country.

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 subsequently met Lindsay Anderson who recommended he contact Granada Television, which he did. Barry signed up and worked as a producer with writer and journalist Brian Trueman, and they spent many happy years reporting on topical daily life in the north-west of England in People and Places, the forerunner of Granada Reports.

The two of them, tasked with ensuring that viewers saw their own world reflected on the small screen, would pore over the map of the region, identify a locality they had not visited recently and then dig out the Good Food Guide, before setting off to the likes of historic market town Kirkby Lonsdale for a couple of hours filming, followed by an award-winning and totally disproportionate dinner.

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.

Kenny Everett, another star from Capital, regularly purloined Barry to be narrator in his ridiculously funny space serial Captain Kremmen.

“Oh yes,” Barry recalled, “Kenny would regularly stick his head around the office door, grab me and drag me behind a microphone to read something outrageous...” Barry’s later triumphs in the world of narration would include the popular children’s series Count Duckula.

In 1973, a contingent of people in the field of Race and Community Relations recognising the lack of black representation in the British media, approached BBC local radio and succeeded in obtaining a slot for black programming.

The responsibility for its development was placed in the hands of Barry Clayton as producer and Alex Pascall as the presenter who devised a magazine style format programme for broadcast from November 22, 1974. Radio programme Black Londoners was aired by BBC Radio London for 14 years.

MEMORIES: Alex Pascall paid tribute to the star

Barry’s knowledge of the British media and his support for the direction of the programme, assisted in the programme’s early growth. From a monthly broadcast of one and-a-half hours with a Sunday repeat to once a week, Black Londoners went on to become the first black daily radio programme broadcast in the history of Britain from 1978 until 1988, when the station changed its name and the general format.

Barry left and went on to Capital Radio to host his own book review programme slot.

He and Alex also went off to the Caribbean to arrange a Christmas link up of three of the islands – Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad – for a special Channel Four broadcast, and they developed links that later saw the return of poet Louise Bennett as one of the featured personalities for a Channel Four series produced by Trevor Philips.

In 1994, Barry, Alex and Nick Hughes teamed to produce and present a BBC Radio Three eight-part series on the ‘Impact of the black presence on British music and musicians.’

Barry could not abide politicians and loathed the way the world, and particularly the UK, ran itself. Meals with friends were spent lambasting the status quo and agreeing on the absurdity of people in power making a mess of the world. The world was inevitably put 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. We didn’t bring this to his attention, nor did we 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 6am at the start of the shortest day of the year. He was a very special man; a kind and warm character, immensely talented, perceptive and a demonstrator of exquisite taste. Even better, he truly cared about the world. And he was a very, very good friend to us all.

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