Well, since 2016 I’ve been developing a podcast called Beyond The Title where I interview a broad selection of figures from the world of entertainment and have been lucky enough to meet some remarkable people. Yet I always wanted to delve a little deeper into these interviews as I gradually built up a collection of insights from some respected household names. I didn’t just want to have a catalogue of interviews. I wanted them to say something about the times we were living in and form an everlasting time capsule of British showbiz in the early part of the 21st Century. So Beyond The Title: The Yearbook profiles over forty of Britain’s best loved stars from Jimmy Tarbuck to Shirley Ballas and provides a social analysis of the world they live in.
Your book stems from your website and your interviews with significant figures from the world of entertainment, can you tell us a bit about how the idea for the website and interviews came about?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with the magical world of Light Entertainment. Anything with a shiny floor, live band and an established star at the helm was my cup of tea. I think I had such a strong connection with TV because it was the only thing I could do alone and while it was obvious that as a result of my Cerebral Palsy, I could have never emulated my TV heroes Bruce Forsyth and Cilla Black, I was still able to write about them.
Leaving school I decided to enrol on a Scriptwriting degree at Bournemouth University followed by an MA in Writing For The Media. For my major project on my MA, I opted to write a biographical drama surrounding the life and career of legendary BBC executive Sir Bill Cotton who was Head of Light Entertainment from 1969-1977 and saw the corporation through a golden era of television. For this I required insights from some of the products of the Bill Cotton era. It was here that I realised that I took a lot of satisfaction from creating questions for my subjects to answer and observing their reactions to my line of questioning. In this process I was able to interview amazing people like Barry Cryer, David Jacobs and Paul Jackson. But I knew that I’d hit on something that I loved!
A few years later I decided to attempt to make a radio documentary about the history of theatrical agents and their contribution to the development of television entertainment. Again I knew that I would need to talk to significant figures in the story of Light Entertainment and was overwhelmed when I found myself meeting with the likes of Jimmy Tarbuck, Nicholas Parsons and comedy historian Graham McCann. There was something satisfying about shaping these interviews and took a lot of pleasure from eagerly anticipating their responses. Despite being unable to find a suitable broadcaster to support my documentary, it gave me an invaluable grounding to the art of interviewing and spurred me on to creating my own platform. Beyond The Title went live in October 2016 and I haven’t looked back since!
You’ve interviewed some of the most recognisable figures in Britain, how have you gone about choosing who to interview and how easy has it been to get people on board?
That’s an interesting question and one that I talk at length about in the book because with the rise of social media, celebrities are no longer unattainable and suddenly stars are in reach of a tweet, email or text message. While this has proved a successful technique in securing interviews with some contemporary faces, I’m aware that there’s still people who appreciate a formal letter to their agents. In terms of the changes that I’ve charted in entertainment, I think this is a fascinating aspect because not only has entertainment got more interactive but the stars themselves are now more interactive with their own audience and I think this can only be a good thing.
Yet that’s not to say that I haven’t tirelessly scoured PR databases, websites of agents and spent hours on Google trying to find contact information for the right people. But when I secure an interview, those hours seem justified!
How has the experience been for you interviewing such famous names?
When asked which guest filled him with dread, I think it was a Sir Michael Parkinson who said “all of them!”. And I think I share his sentiment. I think there’s always a certain amount of trepidation when you interview anyone, just because of the unnatural dynamics of the interview setting. You try your best to make it appear like you’re just having a casual conversation but in reality it’s anything but. And for some reason I have the creakiest wheelchair so that always makes me paranoid when recording.
There’s been many examples of this and perhaps you’ll forgive me if I digress a little but when I was creating my documentary on theatrical agents I was lucky enough to interview the legendary TV executive Brian Tesler who was the producer of Sunday Night At The London Palladium, Billy Cotton Band Show and chairman of Thames Television. As a fan of vintage TV, Tesler was a god to me and I couldn’t speak for the entirety of the interview.
As for the podcast, Jeremy Kyle was someone who I found utterly fascinating. Normally when someone accepts my request I tend to get an idea of how they will approach the interview. But I had no idea of his thoughts about the situation and so I just wrote my usual styled questions charting his career. When we arrived I could sense that he wasn’t comfortable but as soon as we realised our mutual love for Parky, the interview went from strength to strength.
Were there any interviews that were particularly memorable or perhaps in which the interviewee was different to what you expected?
My interview with Ben Elton taught me a lot about misrepresentation and the ability to hear two sides of the story. For decades, Ben Elton has beared the brunt of negative stigma relating to the division between Alternative and mainstream comedy which resulted in him being accused of the downfall of Benny Hill. Naively I assumed that this was true and felt I had a duty to present him with this allegation. Yet I hadn’t anticipated what would follow. Here was a man who had spent the last quarter of a century attempting to prove his innocence. He loved Benny Hill and never did anything to hurt his comedy hero. I left the interview quite ashamed that I had allowed such gossip to cloud my judgment of a thoroughly nice and amiable guy. Since the interview, Ben and I have kept in touch and I have been able to witness his pure generosity and humility on many occasions. This is further evidence of why we should make our own minds up about people in the public eye and not bow down to misrepresentation in the British media.
Do you have any celebrities who you’d really love to interview?
You’ll have to read the book to find out!
The book also speaks of how the people you’ve interviewed are able to see beyond your disability, can you tell us a bit about your own experiences and how this has fed into the project?
When devising the concept of Beyond The Title, I was adamant not to market it as Josh Barry’s very own Make a Wish foundation. As soon as people meet me and see a spasming man in a wheelchair, making indecipherable noises, it’s easy for them to get the wrong idea. However, I like to think that as soon as we start recording, my subjects realise that although I can’t deliver the oral interview, I’ve done every step up until that point. Once they realise this, it always makes for entertaining listening!
What particular challenges have you faced that have informed the website and the book?
The biggest challenge we have faced is how to put my voice on recordings because for the listener it must be really confusing because they think they’re listening to Josh Barry but Josh Barry is never heard. I could allow this to bother me but it’s a small sacrifice to make for the opportunity to meet and interview some of the most prolific figures in entertainment.
What do you hope people take away from the book?
Anything is possible!
And finally, if you could have interviewed one figure from the past, who would it have been and why?
Definitely Cilla Black because she had such a varied career and was a pioneer of Light Entertainment!