'His natural environment was on the stage': Northampton actor and entertainer dies aged 85

The son of a Northampton actor has paid tribute to his father who was a "natural entertainer".

Thursday, 13th September 2018, 5:38 pm
Updated Thursday, 13th September 2018, 6:48 pm
Johnny Barrs pictured left portraying Bud Flanagan and right during his younger years with the Kingsley Boys Brigade

Johnny Barrs was born on March 1, 1933, in Kenmuir Crescent in Kingsley, an area of town in which he would spend most of life particularly with the 6th Company of the Kingsley Boys' Brigade.

He was introduced to the theatre by his father who would often take his son to shows and he fell in love with it.

Johnny bought his first magic kit soon after then got into amateur dramatics, but it wasn't until returning from national service that he began pursuing a career in showbiz.

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Johnny pictured with his grandchildren Jack and Charlie

"He never made a lot of money but he loved what he did," said Johnny's son Steve Barrs, 54.

Johnny's acting credits include small roles in Doctor Who, In Loving Memory, Red Dwarf and All Creatures Great and Small.

But he's perhaps best known for his writing for Flanagan and Allen, a singing comedy double act popular in the Second World War and in the 50s.

Johnny would later portray Bud Flanagan in his own show and also wrote a memoir called From Rags to Rags.

Johnny and Jan on their wedding day

Steve said his father "never really retired" as he regularly starred in and helped produce pantomimes across Northampton, including two while in his retirement village.

Though his sons didn't become entertainers themselves, Steve did learn a lot from his father.

"In the 80s he became entertainment manager at a resort on the Isle of Wight," said Steve, who joined his father on the island as a rep for the 10 to 15 age group.

"I did four shows a week. I shared the stage with him as a 17, 18-year-old so that had a great impact on me and gave me lots of confidence.

"It gave me more confidence in me; at school, I used to help out backstage not on stage!"

Johnny spent several years of his career writing for a double act but Steve says the real comedic duo was his mother and father.

"I think my mum was his ghostwriter," said Steve, recalling a witty response his mother Jan had said to Johnny.

"He loved his wife who was always by his side."

The pair met in the am-dram group the Barnstormers; Jan a dancer and Johnny an entertainer.

They continued performing together in the Co-op players with Jan also helping her husband with quick costume changes backstage.

A friend of Johnny's described him as a "quiet, unassuming man.. until he went on stage" - a sentiment Steve agreed with.

"Give him a microphone and he was a different person," he said.

"He was in his element; his natural environment was on the stage."

Johnny, who died on August 31, leaves his wife Jan, two sons Steve and David, and three grandchildren.

His funeral is on Monday, September 24 when at 2.30pm a celebration of his life will be held at Kingsley Park Methodist Church.

The family has asked that any money guests wish to spend on flowers should instead be donated to the Bud Flanagan Leukaemia Fund.