Eric Barker

The Eric Barker Half Hour

1951 - United Kingdom

Eric Barker was one of the most familiar voices on BBC radio during World War Two as part of the armed forces show Merry Go Round, which he helped to write. His "Steady Barker" catchphrase and verbal stumbling over words beginning with an 'h', became familiar to audiences, as did his versatility at mimicry. 

In his autobiography, My Life in Comedy, Nicholas Parsons observed: "Eric, in appearance, was not an obvious comedian. Reserved by nature, he appeared more like an unassuming bank manager. But he was an intelligent man and a shrewd observer of people with an uncanny ear for recreating them. He was a natural satirist with impeccable comic timing." 

Made with the intention to bring morale-boosting cheer to the Armed Forces, Merry Go Round was set on HMS Waterlogged at Sinking-in-the-Ooze. Barker collaborated on scripts with, and also starred alongside Jon Pertwee. The RAF edition, written by Richard Murdoch and Kenneth Horne, which featured Arthur Haynes, was set in Laughter Command based at Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh. After the war, Merry Go Round continued in similar format although it was retitled The Waterlogged Spa, with Barker and his wife, actress Pearl Hackney. In 1951 Barker began his third successful radio series, Just Fancy. On the back of this success Barker was given the chance to move into television with The Eric Barker Half Hour, which he also wrote. It debuted on 10 October 1951. 

The first two series starred Barker, Hackney and Parsons (also making his first television appearance), along with Cameron Hall, Patricia Gilbert and Daphne Anderson. A different singer or musical group appeared in each show, which went out fortnightly. For the third and final series, in 1953, Deryck Guyler replaced Cameron Hall. Barker's writing was more satirical, more character based and more thoughtful than the standard comedy show on television at that time. 

"He was a pioneer", wrote Nicholas Parsons, "the first person to do 'topical satire' on television, but as the phrase had not yet been coined, and as the sketches were part of conventional variety shows, he never received the credit he deserved for originality." Sadly, all the shows were broadcast live and there are no tele-recordings to preserve what Parsons remembers as ground-breaking television. 

In 1955, Barker was offered a new series, titled Look At It This Way. It was to prove controversial and get Barker into serious trouble with his bosses at the BBC.

Published on December 10th, 2018. Written by Laurence Marcus for Television Heaven.

Read Next...

Bless This House

Devised by Vince Powell and Harry Driver, Bless This House was a starring vehicle for Sid James that showed him in a new and unfamiliar light-as a family man.

Also tagged Britcom

The Army Game

Hugely successful series from Granada TV that started in 1957 as a fortnightly live sitcom, which was moved to a weekly spot when it became so popular. The series followed the misfortunes of a mixed bag of army conscripts.

Also tagged Britcom

Amos n Andy

Amos N' Andy had the distinction of being one of the longest running (since 1929) and most popular US radio shows of all time before it came to TV screens in June of 1951. It also aired in the UK on the BBC between 1954 and 1957, making it the first US sitcom shown on British television.

Also released in 1951

About the Home

Long-running 1950s afternoon programme designed to help women improve their domestic skills with tips on everything they could wish to know about from cookery to soft furnishings and needlework to bringing up baby and doing their own DIY.

Also released in 1951

Billy Bunter of Greyfriars School

Comedic stories of a gluttonous, lazy, deceitful, self-important and conceited schoolboy that was all the rage in the 1950s.

Also tagged 1950S Television

The Bulldog Breed

A single series of seven comedies about Tom, the perennial optimist, as he wanders through life leaving chaos in his wake totally oblivious to the problems he causes for everyone.

Also tagged Britcom

Albert TV play

Single play based on a true story about an ingenious and daring escape from a German POW camp for Allied naval officers during WW2

Also released in 1951

The Ugliest Girl in Town tv show

Boy meets girl....boy loses girl...boy dresses up as girl to be with girl - it wasn't Television Heaven - it was Television Hell

Also starring Nicholas Parsons