Barry Cryer, a legend of British comedy, has died at the age of 86.
Cryer’s family said he “died peacefully, in good spirits and with his family around him”.
The news prompted tributes posted on social media. Stephen Fry wrote: “Such sad news, one of the absolute greats of British comedy, Barry Cryer, is no more. A glorious, gorgeous, hilarious and gifted writer and performer who straddled all the comic traditions. Universally beloved … farewell, Baz.”
Born in Yorkshire in 1935, his career started as the bottom billing act at the Windmill theatre in London’s West End, which put on comedy acts between the risque performances for which it was better known.
Cryer was initially spotted by David Frost, who invited him to write for The Frost Report, which first aired in 1966. His writing team included a collection of future comedy heavyweights, including John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Graham Chapman.
Cryer’s writing was often in partnership with other comedians. He and John Junkin wrote material for The Morecambe and Wise Show in its heyday in the 1970s, and he was also a regular panellist on the BBC radio comedy programme I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.
Cryer said in 1998: “I haven’t had a career, just a series of incidents. I’ve been dogged by good luck all my life.”
Gyles Brandreth tweeted: “Baz was just the loveliest guy: funny & generous. He’d worked with everybody & everybody he worked with liked him. I shall miss his happy company so much – & his regular phone calls: he gave you a gem of a joke with each one.”
He added: “Wherever Barry went he brought laughter with him – even to memorial services. And he went to lots because he’d worked with everyone! He was generous about everyone: a great mentor & friend.”
The novelist Jonathan Coe tweeted: “Every single thing he did was in the name of laughter, and lifting our spirits. That’s what I call a life well lived.”
The boxer Frank Bruno wrote: “RIP Barry Cryer a brilliant funny man … He said to me ‘if your timing with punchlines was like the timing when U fight I could make a comedian out of U’ I could never remember the jokes!!”
Cryer’s family said in a statement on Thursday: “It is our sad duty to inform you that our dear dad Barry (or Baz to his mates) died on Tuesday afternoon at Northwick Park hospital, in Harrow. However, we’re pleased to say that he died peacefully, in good spirits and with his family around him. He was 86.
“Dad was a talented comedy writer and comedian in a particularly golden vintage. Incidentally he never really liked the terms ‘comedy writer’ or ‘comedian’ instead preferring hack and entertainer, and always thought the term ‘national treasure’ meant he’d just been dug up. He was, in his words, arrogant in his humility …
Related: Barry Cryer: a life in pictures
“Baz was, firstly, a loving husband to Terry for nearly 60 years and a gentle father to Tony, David, Jack, Bob. He was a friend to their partners Jayne, Matt, Garry and Suzannah. As a grandfather Ruby, Tom, Evan, Archie, Hope, Martha and Connie all loved him and more recently, Ruby’s daughter, Isobel, had the good fortune to spend time with him as a great-grandfather.”
Among the comedians that Cryer wrote for were Mike Yarwood, Billy Connolly, Russ Abbot, Bobby Davro, Jasper Carrott, Stanley Baxter, Dick Emery, Dave Allen and Frankie Howerd.
In 2013, Cryer was asked by the Yorkshire Post for his favourite joke. He answered: “A man drives down a country lane and runs over a cockerel. He knocks at a nearby farmhouse door and a woman answers.
“‘I appear to have killed your cockerel,’ he says. ‘I’d like to replace it.’ The woman replies: ‘Please yourself – the hens are round the back’.”