I worked on four films with Barry. We began our friendship in the mid-sixties. It survived intact through his last long illness.
His character and his writing were all of a piece. Direct, simple and honest. HIs simplicity was hewn out of a close analysis of others and their place in a society riven by class interests.
To the end, he knew which side he was on. He had been born to the sound of clogs, on their way to Rockingham pit where his father worked.
Though not religious, he insisted on being taken after death from his local church in Hoyland Common, Barnsley, to be buried among the miners and their families. They were his own extended family, a family his work had defended through the decades. Their story is one of dignity and of humour in adversity. He told it with compressed fury.
He had never drifted far, or for long, from Hoyland Common. He was content to sit sipping a pint there with his miner neighbours. He was not impressed by London parties or famous people. Everyone talked too much. Empty vessels, he said. Barry was an angry man with a sweet nature. He was loyal. HIs blue eyes were like shining lamps: you could see into them, They shone out at you, assuming your honesty. He was without guile. He would come to London for meetings, an obedient dog at his heels. For me, who endured the many forced deceptions of show business, he was a balm to my wounds.
He only ever wrote about what he knew. Through the characters he created, he became the voice of his community. What they thought of his work in South Yorkshire was more important to him than any London critic’s opinion. As a teenager he played football for England boys and he could have turned professional. Instead, he became a teacher in a Secondary Modern near Barnsley and, typically, when writing the first draft of “A Kestrel for a Knave”, soght notes from the children in his class. They were, after all, the experts.
In “ The Price of Coal” he revealed not only his angry compassion for the daily dangers of mining, but an acknowledgment of the feudal back
wardness in his community. That saddened this Republican, but he understood the resilience of ancient ideologies: after all, the miners around him once worked underneath, and profited, Earl Fitzwilliam’s Wentworth Estate. He dealt with it through affectionate satire.
HIs first love being football, it was fitting that our last work together was “Born Kicking”, a fantasy around the first female footballer to play for England. He would have been glad to see the women’s game gain in confidence, and sad that the girls still cannot play with the boys.
Barry would look puzzled if you said he was an Englishman. He detested patriotism. He despised professional Yorkshireman,too: that celebrity which demeans as it caricatures. But he was a Yorkshireman, nonetheless: in independence, in humour, in canniness and in sheer bloody stubbornness.