Friday 21 June 2019

Obituary: Barry Chuckle

One half of the popular Chuckle Brothers, who hit the big time in his 40s

Slapstick double act: Children’s TV entertainers Barry Chuckle (left), and younger brother Paul
Slapstick double act: Children’s TV entertainers Barry Chuckle (left), and younger brother Paul

Barry Chuckle (real name Barry Elliott), who has died aged 73, was the smaller half of the slapstick comedy duo the Chuckle Brothers, who enjoyed huge success with their BBC series ChuckleVision - the longest-running sitcom in Britain.

The brothers, Barry and Paul Elliott, were the youngest in a showbusiness family of eight and claimed to have been "born in a suitcase" in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, Barry on Christmas Eve, 1944, his brother Paul in 1947. Their father, Jimmy, was a comic who went by the stage name Gene Patton and worked the London club scene, performing with an 18-year-old Peter Sellers in 1943; their mother was a professional dancer. Two older brothers, Jimmy and Brian, would also form a double-act - the Patton Brothers - and would pop up on ChuckleVision as "No Slacking" and "Getoutofit".

Barry and Paul started entertaining from an early age, putting on shows for friends and neighbours in the back garden of their home in Rotherham, before performing in clubs and cabaret shows from their teens.

From the late 1960s they enjoyed some success on television talent shows, winning Opportunity Knocks in 1967 and New Faces in 1974, and making occasional appearances on comedy and game shows. It was not until 1985, however, that they got their big break with the BBC, recording 13 episodes of Chucklehounds - short shows aimed at pre-school children that had no dialogue, and in which the brothers dressed in giant dog costumes.

Two years later came their biggest success, ChuckleVision, a children's sitcom, broadcast first on BBC One and later on CBBC, which notched up a total of 21 series and 292 episodes, the last in 2009. Introduced with the aggravatingly catchy Chu-chu-ChuckleVision theme tune, each episode featured the inept duo embarking on a job or adventure involving banana-skin jokes, pranks, disasters and DIY foul-ups. They travelled around on the "Chuckmobile" (registration plate: CHUCKLE 1), a quadricycle with a red-and-white striped roof, and seasoned their largely visual gags with repetitive catchphrases, most memorably "To me, to you". "It was a family thing," Barry told a paper earlier this year. "We used to say it at home when we were moving furniture."

To adults, or older children, the Chuckle Brothers' appeal may have been a mystery, yet their act was slickly professional, and no matter how daft or surreal the situation, the brothers always performed with total conviction. From 1996 to 1998 they presented a children's game show, To Me, To You, named after their signature catchphrase, and they recorded a charity single with the "grime" rapper Tinchy Stryder entitled To Me, To You (Bruv).

As well as their work on television (which included starring in a commercial for Van Compare and appearances on such shows as The Weakest Link, Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, and Benidorm), the Chuckle Brothers continued to tour, regularly playing to sell-out audiences around the country at local theatres, nightclubs and student venues. Each of their tours had a theme, as Barry once explained: "We obviously keep an eye on the most popular shows and do comedy parodies of them like Doctor What And The Garlicks, Raiders Of The Lost Bark and Barry Potty, based on the Harry Potter films." They also appeared, frequently, in pantomime and were always happy to meet fans, sign autographs and pose for selfies.

Years on the entertainment circuit brought the Chuckle Brothers the trappings of fame, yet they remained something of a rarity among television entertainers of a certain vintage by being largely untouched by scandal. In 2005 The Sun made headlines of Barry, a married grandfather, having a "steamy encounter" with a mother of two young fans. Barry admitted to sending "fruity" emails to the woman and meeting her at a motorway service station, but it seems that things did not progress much further. An appeal by the newspaper at the end of the rather tepid expose - "Have you romped with Barry? Ring The Sun newsdesk" - appears to have come to nothing.

Asked in 2013 to name his ideal dinner companions, Barry, who described himself as "little, friendly and humorous", chose Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett, Jerry Lee Lewis, Stan Laurel and Margaret Thatcher ("I always think she did brilliant as Prime Minister, a lot of people didn't like her but she put the country back on its feet so I'd like to know what she's like").

They were given some international standing during the unexpected close relationship between Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness in the North. Images of the pair laughing and joking together earned them the nickname "The Chuckle Brothers".

In 2007 the brothers were delighted to be made honorary presidents of Rotherham FC, of which they had been lifelong fans. The following year they were presented with a Special Award at the Children's Baftas by Keith Chegwin. In 2015 they performed in front of their largest-ever crowd at the "boutique music festival" Bestival. Their last project together was Chuckle Time, a 12-part series for Channel 5, the first episode of which was broadcast last month. Barry Chuckle, whose death was announced last Sunday, is survived by his wife Ann.


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