Saturday, 21 May 2016
Whatever Happened To ... Eric Barker?
Eric Barker is one of those faces you see in all manner of British film and television productions from a certain era. He was at his busiest in the business during the 1950s and 1960s and probably one of the main reasons for this popularity was his recurring involvement in the Carry On films. In this blog I will look back at Eric's roles in the Carry Ons and elsewhere in his long theatrical career as well as trying to find out a bit more about the man himself.
Eric Barker was right there at the start when the legend was created in Carry On Sergeant. He never became a regular in the films but he secured himself a niche playing figures of authority, usually from an army background. Eric also holds a record, along with Kenneth Williams and Kenneth Connor in that he appeared in the very first Carry On (in 1958) and the very last of the original run, Carry On Emmannuelle, in 1978. Although quite ill at the time, he can be spotted at a dinner party in a wordless cameo.
In between these two films Eric also starred as Inspector Mills in Carry On Constable and The Chief in Carry On Spying. All his roles played to type but he was splendid at that type of character. Eric also worked for Rogers and Thomas in the naval comedy Watch Your Stern in 1960 and the music school film Raising The Wind in 1961. He was certainly in that pool of talent the production team called upon during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Furthermore, Eric also submitted an early story treatment in 1961 for what would become the glorious technicolour film, Carry On Cruising which was released in 1962. Even though Norman Hudis wrote the final script, Barker does get a credit in the film titles.
Away from the Carry Ons, Eric Barker starred in many other classic comedy films of the era and of the genre. These included a recurring role as Culpepper-Brown in three St Trinian's films and roles in two of the Dentist series of comedies. He also appeared in one of the Doctor films, Doctor in Clover in 1966 and starred on the big screen with the likes of Stanley Baxter (Father Came Too, The Fast Lady) and Norman Wisdom (On The Beat).
Barker was also a big success on radio, the medium that had led to his big break. As a writer and actor, he contributed to the wartime radio series Merry Go Round which was broadcast on the BBC. After the war the series continued albeit with a new name, The Waterlogged Spa. This series, which also starred his wife Pearl Hackney, provided Eric with a catchphrase "Steady, Barker!" which eventually became the title of his autobiography, published in 1956. In the early 1950s Eric made his first foray into television. He was given his own comedy series, rather imaginatively titled The Eric Barker Half-Hour. The show ran for three series on the BBC between 1951 and 1953 and co-starred Pearl again, alongside the likes of Nicholas Parsons and Deryck Guyler, two actors who would also pop up in Carry Ons in the not too distant future.
Eric Barker was born in Thornton Heath in 1912. Originally he went to work for his father's merchant company in the City of London, however it wasn't long before Barker decided a career in writing was for him. Eric had published his first novel by the time he was 18 years old. Soon Eric had started writing plays and gradually began to build a career as a scriptwriter for theatrical revues and radio progammes. Eric Barker was married to the actress Pearl Hackney and although they did often work together, Hackney had a successful career in her own right. Together they had a daughter, Petronella, who also became an actor. Petronella was married to the actor Anthony Hopkins from 1967 until 1972. Their daughter Abigail is now an actress and singer.
Eric Barker sadly suffered from ill health for many years in later life. He stopped acting professionally in the late 1970s, not long after filming his brief cameo in Carry On Emmannuelle. He died in Canterbury at the age of 78 in 1990. His wife Pearl survived him for many years, passing away at the grand old age of 92 in 2009.
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